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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pitch the Pitch! by Delle Jacobs

I promised last week I'd tell you a new way of managing your editor and agent appointments, but it's taken me a little longer to put it together than I expected due to the fascinating job of coordinating the Royal Ascot. But here it is.

Are your knees knocking like a drum roll at the thought of pitching to an editor or agent at national? I know how you feel. Been there, done that, never going back. Not that I don't do editor/agent appointments-- I do. But I refuse to pitch.

Like a lot of authors, I dreaded more than anything the annual ritual of pitching at national, but it seemed like the only way I could get my toe in that fast-slamming door. I was a nervous wreck. I made awful mistakes. I swear to you, I couldn't find my business card when it was right in my hand! And I went through four years of this. Finally, I was sitting in an interview across from a pleasant, pretty young editor and I suddenly realized she had to be younger than my youngest daughter. And I was afraid of her? Clearly something had to change.

What I did was pitch the pitch. I had to completely eradicate that word from my vocabulary. I was a professional woman who often appeared before judges in courtrooms, going head to head with some very aggressive attorneys and winning more often than they did because I knew what I needed to do and was prepared with a strong case. I wouldn't have taken the case to court if I didn't have my evidence. I had confidence in myself and the work I was doing. I needed to have that same approach in my interviews.

I decided I was a professional author making a presentation. I was interviewing the editor or agent, just as she was doing with me. I had no business behaving like a groveling, begging idiot. . I was not pitching. I was giving a professional presentation. So I designed my presentation according to those lines. Persuasion, just as in a courtroom, depended on presenting factual evidence in a package that attracted and held attention long enough for it to impress its audience and get its point across. No judge would have listened to me if I had tried to approach him the way I approached an editor.

First, I realized that most editors simply cannot follow the usual spiel, no matter how hard they try. We make it impossible for them to listen. That's because we go about it backwards, trying to cram our entire story into a short interview, and talking so fast they couldn't follow the words even if we weren't boring them to death. And to really drive home our point, we refuse to lose eye contact even long enough to blink. Imagine being in the editors' seats. Eeek!

Okay, but how do we get it across then, when we only have eight minutes? Or worse, two? The answer is, we don't. There is no way we can. Nor should we even try.

Instead, I went the opposite direction. How could I capture just the essence of my book? I thought of back cover blurbs. They grab the idea and the hook in just a few sentences. Back then, nobody talked about High Concept, but that was essentially what I was seeking. I decided if I can't put it on the back of a business card in readable size print, it was too long.

Here's one of my very early versions, actually from a card for the published book, but the principle is the same: Get your message across quickly in an intriguing way.

Some others I've done:
THE MUDLARK: The only thing they have in common is their grim determination not to marry each other.

HIS MAJESTY, THE PRINCE OF TOADS: Q: How many kisses does it take to change a Toad into a Handsome Prince? A: We'll never know. Sophie's lost count.

APHRODITE'S BREW: What was supposed to be a restorative tonic for women turns out to have an entirely different effect on men-- and the bachelors of the Ton are running scared.

Here's one I put on the front of the card for LADY WICKED:

And here's my current back blurb for my recent release, SINS OF THE HEART:

You don't have to go to the extent I have in the past, developing a card for each available manuscript with a unique face for each one. Just put your short blurb on the back of your regular business card. Put a few in your pocket and have them handy to give to that editor you chance to meet at your table or in the elevator.

The good thing about putting these blurbs on cards is, if you're losing focus, all you have to do is glance at them to pull yourself back on track.

The next thing to do is to be prepared to answer the questions an editor wants most to know:
1. Who are you? Why should she consider publishing you? In other words, something very basic about your credentials.
2. What kind of story is it? Genre, word count, etc.
3. Who are your hero/heroine? What makes them unique and intriguing?
3. What do they want? (What are their goals and motivation?)
4. Why can't they have it? (What is the conflict?)

Going about it in this way, I design a presentation that lasts less than a minute, with my presentation of the book being under 100 words. I leave the rest of the time for discussion.

I like a visual presentation, and I've discovered editors and agents like to have something to look at besides my face, so I've always had one card for each book. I've actually found myself laying out six cards on the table because the editor asked about my published books. Five of them were for Golden Heart finalists at the time, but some were published as ebooks so weren't available to her, so I just used them to show my credentials. But then I removed the published book cards and showed her the back-side blurbs of the three of the unpublished manuscripts. She asked me to tell her about two of them, kept both cards, and asked to see both manuscripts.

Normally that would be risky, but it just happened that way, and it worked. Also, we didn't have to do that deadly "never-lose-eye-contact" thing because we both had reason to look somewhere else.

You don't even have to do the visual card thing. Just because I like to do pictures doesn't mean it's the best way to approach your interview. But you can still use the basics of my approach. Just remember these few rules:

1. You are a professional, giving a professional presentation, which you have carefully and professionally prepared.
2. In the beginning, introduce yourself and say, "I am the... [insert whatever piece of your credentials best and most quickly identifies you].
3. Speak SLOWLY. You won't need to worry about speeding through a pitch and rattling like an idiot because you aren't pitching. Your very concise PRESENTATION will intrigue the editor into a real conversation about your book. And you can relax, knowing you're prepared, and professional. She'll remember it, simply because you have created a pleasant interaction, not one that strains her nerves and her ears.
4. Express the essence of your book in 100 words or less, stating it in an intriguing, unique way. If you can make it like a slogan, 30 words or less, that's even better.
3. Prepare short, interesting answers to the questions an editor is likely to answer. Again, very short!


At 1:27 AM, Blogger Keli Gwyn said...

Excellent post! Talk about relieving my stress. This will be my first time to meet with an editor or agent, so I've been feeling apprehensive. Instead of putting pressure on myself to perfect my pitch, I'm going to take your advice and focus on slowing down, hitting the high points and having a positive experience.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

And remember: there's no way an agent or editor is going to sign you or buy your book after a pitch session. They're on information overload, probably after five pitches. They're there because they WANT to be, and they want to discover your talent. They can't do that until they see pages. (NO! DON'T BRING THEM! - although I do remember a mystery writer's conference where one agent actually asked for 10 pages and sat at the pitch sessions reading them, but that's the exception -- a big one.)

What does this mean? Unless your story is totally out of the realm of acquisition or representation (Sounds great, but I have 3 clients who write that genre, and I don't have room for more; We publish inspirational, why are you pitching erotica?) the odds are highly in your favor that they're going to ask for a partial at the very least.

So relax. Tell them your sub-genre, word count and that the book is done. Give them the abridged version -- a one or two sentence logline, and the GMC highlights. Smile. Wait for them to ask for questions.

When I was helping with pre-pitch sessions, I used Deb Dixon's approach.

The hero wants X because..., BUT he can't have it because. Do the same for the heroine.

And don't shove manuscript pages under the restroom stalls. EVER.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Fantastic, Delle! Now if I can just DO that! I have been working on my pitch er presentation, as Keli G can attest. I need to spend some time reading over your information and see if I have it right. What your post does is help me to relax about the whole process. I am a retired professional opera singer. I have performed in front of thousands of people. I have auditioned for some of the meanest )*(*&%^&%^% German opera directors on the planet and gotten the role. I can do this! Sounds good, right? Singing is easy. Talking is hard!

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Delle, unfortunately, may not be available to answer questions but the rest of our noodlers will attempt to do so if you have any. When we moved the blog to this day, we moved it to a day Delle couldn't be available! (arrgghh)

(But I'll 'talk' to her anyway)
Delle, I think the most important thing you've said here is to remember we are professionals making a professional presentation. There is no reason to be afraid!

I'm less fond of clever blurbs about a book because they so often don't impart enough information for an editor or agent. I think the blurb should be very clear, even if it isn't clever.

It should contain the "high concept," the element of the book that would make it different from someone else's. "A debutante's elderly aunts help her snag an earl" sounds ordinary, but "A debutante's elderly aunts mistake a military manual, Rules of Engagement, for a how-to manual for getting their niece engaged to an earl" has that high concept. (Kathryn Caskie's first book, Rules of Engagement).
Or "This is a book about a legendary race of Vampire slayers" vs "This is Pride & Prejudice meets Buffy the Vampire slayer, only this time the Vampire slayer is a Regency debutante." Colleen Gleason's The Rest Falls Away.

I realize those are pretty spectacular high concepts, but all our stories have that something special.

What your book is "about" is more important in a pitch than details of the plot, I think.

Does anyone want to try out a pitch here?

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

I think editors and agents are really grateful to have this kind of info in a form they can easily take back to the office. They're so deluged with info. This saves them from even having to take notes, and you come across as thoughtful and prepared. Plus, just chatting to them allows more of your personality to come through, and that's important. I can see them jotting, "Really nice gal" on your card, and then paying more attention to your name later on.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger janegeorge said...

This idea is great for when you talk to panelists after their workshop or in the infamous elevator.

Thanks, Delle!

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Hmmm. So mine would be something like

"Worst First Date meets The Rescuers meets Pride and Prejudice?"

I mean, how many women have a man drive them into a giant sinkhole that ends in an underground cave on their first "date"?

He's a duke who was jilted by her sister. She's a horse thief.

Marcus and Addy fall into a hole, are dragged in marriage, and land the love of their lives.

Does any of that make sense?

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Delle popping in here after a loooong hard day. OMG, there is still so much to do.

Diane, I agree, cleverness is not what counts. Finding what is unique for you story is, and getting it across in a concise, memorable manner does count. What isn't memorable is the eight-minute buzz of non-stop syllables.

Terry, yes, it's Debra Dixon's GMC approach. I hear it as "Who is he? What does he want? Why can't he have it?" But I didn't know those were her words. I heard it from one of my local chapter members just five minutes before I went in for an interview!

I was a singer too, Louisa! Mom had me in front of the entire church congregation by age 3, and I was constantly singing in front of groups, so public speaking just comes naturally for me. Not so much one-on-one with the thirty-something in stilettos and black suit who controls my entire future! It took me quite a while to recognize editors are often very enjoyable people who love books, just like I do.

I like all of the ones you mentioned but I like the second one best. Using Diane's rule, it shows some specific things that give a vivid and clear picture. I don't care much for the "A Movie meets B Movie" type, but sometimes they work. It was especially vivid and helpful in Colleen's book because it said "Regency Vampire Slayer", and that was hot!

I like the comparison to a first date, Regency style. And saying sinkhole eliminates confusion by making it very visual. Also you have a jilted duke and a horsethief. So how can you combine these with the sinkhole into a few sentences?

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Delle, thank you for the post and the help! I can SO understand the Mom pulling you in front of the church thing! And you are SO right. Singing in front of thousands is NOTHING compared to sitting there one on one with someone who could possible make a decision that keeps you from working at Wal-Mart long enough to become a door greeter. SHUDDER!

One version of my pitch was this :

Ever wish the ground would open up and swallow you?
When Adelaide Formsby-Smythe insults Marcus Winfield, the formidable Duke of Selridge, to the point murder lights his smoldering green eyes, her wish that the ground open up and swallow her seems a perfectly reasonable response – until it does. After a night spent in the cave into which they fell, propriety demands they marry. Adelaide has to decide how to tell the poor devil she’s a horse thief. And Marcus, who has his own reasons for wanting to marry Adelaide, must unravel what possible reason the young hoyden with the most delicious lips in Britain could have for turning him down. Does her heart belong to someone else? Over his dead body!

But I think it is too long and might be too stiff. It doesn't sound conversational.


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