Friday, May 2, 2008

PPW conference part 4: The Pitch

I had imagined pitch appointments to take place in a small, drafty room. The agent or editor would sit behind an imposing wooden desk and the author would stand in front of a podium. As the pitch is delivered, the agent or editor would scribble, maybe sigh involuntarily, and peer over her metal-rimmed readers.

Not quite. This is what happened:

I turned up at a room in the hotel with my "ticket"--a card listing my name, the name of the agent, my appointment time--ten minutes early. In one of the two adjoining rooms was a desk and an L-shaped couch. I handed my ticket to someone seated behind the desk. A cheerful woman checked my name against a list and asked me to sit and relax. I sat but couldn't relax. Another author didn't even sit; he paced in the hallway instead.

Exactly one minute before the appointment time, the cheerful woman called out some names and asked us to line up. Yes, line up, just the same way my kindergartener would to go to recess. Except we weren't going out to sit on a swing or climb on monkey bars or run around screaming gleefully. I secretly felt like screaming, not gleefully though.

Cheerful Woman herded us into the other room with an upbeat, "Good luck!" and I was stunned by how many people they could fit in that one room. I had an inkling that the agent and I wouldn't get a whole room to ourselves when I first checked in but seeing all six or seven of them all in the same room still took me aback. Each sat in front of a small round table.

When I walked in, Laurie was staring out the window. She looked so wistful I almost wanted to tiptoe away to let her enjoy her private moment. But I knew that was just my inner chicken talking, so I marched up to her and squeaked what was supposed to be a confident hello. She smiled and told me she remembered what I'd read the day before and quoted something from it. A good start.

Some agents blog about not wanting to be treated as just a means to an end at pitch meetings. They suggest authors take time to talk to the agents to show we care about their well-being. I just couldn't. Small talk scares me. But my worries about how to start was put to rest by Laurie's friendliness and the fact that she remembered what I wrote.

As I pitched, Laurie responded with nods and appropriate facial expressions. When she didn't understand something, she stopped to ask. It was a two-way communication instead of just me delivering a rehearsed speech. After I finished, she asked for my full manuscript. It was the desired outcome so I was happy. I ignored with all my might the little voice that whispered, "It's hard to reject someone face to face. She could be asking just to be polite."

After the formality, we chatted. Yes, chatted! I asked her about that all important first page, about just what constitutes a hook. Not every book published has its conflict by the end of the first page after all, so other things can work as hooks. But what?

That was when we were given a one-minute warning.

So what are some of the things I took away from my pitch experience?
  1. Be able to summarize my book in one, at most two sentences. This is not the time to describe how my book doesn't quite fit into existing genres.
  2. Prepare a pitch, write it out, have the overall progression of what I plan to say in my head, but don't over rehearse it. That way, forgetting one pivotal word won't throw me off, and I am able to modify what I say according how the agent or editor responds.
  3. Just before the appointment time, don't overeat or drink coffee or anything that can up the queasy factor.
  4. Keep remembering that the agent/editor is a person to talk to, not pitched at.
  5. No matter how nervous I am, keep a part of me objective so this experience can teach me about what to do next time, or about myself.


Cheryl Reif said...

Hi! Thank you for sharing your pitch experience with Laurie McLean. Your thoughts are helpful. It sounds as if she was genuinely interested--she definitely didn't ask for fulls from everyone! Good luck--Cheryl

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks, Cheryl. I appreciate your notes on your sessions too. Hope your revisions are going well. Don't ask about mine right now...