Monday, September 29, 2008

The Perfect Pitch

I believed writing would be something almost spiritual. I believed I would sit upon the rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean in a white dress, while the waves would splash my toes with ocean spray. With this perfect setting, I would write feverishly, pen to paper. The muse would sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear.

I've grown up and learned a few things--writing is more like chaining myself to my chair and having the willpower not to check email or visit my friend's blogs. And the muse? I think my muse is busy flirting with somebody else's muse because she has never once been helpful. There's a reason why my muse never gets any credit on the acknowledgement page of my novels.

But worse than the harsh reality of writing is the harsh reality of publishing. I never once imagined that this art form I am so in love with would equate to me having to become a SALESMAN.

Yet here I am.

I went to a pitch session last week with Kevin Wasden (my fav artist) for a project we collaborated on. My legs felt like water, my pulse raced, and the editor had strategically placed himself in front of the window so he was a dark shadow against the bright light of day. I felt like I was facing down a mob boss.

In just a few minutes, I had to give him the perfect pitch--the one that would entice him to ASK for MORE. I had to become a salesman.

I hate selling. It's so crass to consider literature as a product to peddle. And I wonder, is it worth it, especially for people who aren't usually as well-spoken as they are well written?

Yes. Meeting face to face with an editor or agent personalizes you to them. If they like you they will WANT to like your manuscript too. They will want to give you a chance to prove you're worth your weight in words.

First things first, the words you will use in a pitch are not the words you would see on a book flap. You don't want vague danglings of description in your pitch, you want to be brief and concise. Get to the point and do it fast (this is my biggest flaw, I have no ability at brevity).

But I started thinking of my novels as products that needed to be sold. It helped me to understand what exactly I wanted to accomplish at a pitch session. In my younger years, I dreamed of being a high powered advertising executive riding the subway and wearing a black power suit. I put that dream back to use when I realized I needed to sell my own product. Give yourself three to five sentences in which to describe your book. Keep it quick and to the point. Don't tangent on minor characters or minor plots. You need to give them something they can take back to their marketing team and SELL.

Be prepared. My husband has spent a lot of time in an acting career. He never goes to an audition unprepared. This means he records himself doing his monologue and then listens to it while he's driving. He practices everywhere he goes over and over and over until he has it down perfect. Your pitch needs to be like that. You need to be able to smile, say hello, and give your pitch with ease. Practice it. Time yourself so you know how long it takes. Be prepared, so when you meet that favorite agent, you aren't stuttering. Part of being prepared at an actual pitch session is being comfortable talking a bit about you as an author--give your ideas, your vision, prove you can go the distance and deliver. You have to genuinely believe that what you have is what they want.

Whenever someone starts a conversation with the words, "I really don't know what I'm doing and don't have anything to say, I take them at face value and automatically tune them out. If you don't believe in you, don't expect me to.

Know what category your book falls in. Do not say, "Well it's a mystery sort of romance, with some action adventure thrown in. It all takes place in a fantasy world, but with science fiction technology." You have to know where this book sits on a shelf in a bookstore. As in advertising, if a company walks in with a new product, the ad company needs to know who they are going to market it to in order to be able to run a successful campaign. If you were going to walk into a bookstore right now, in what section would you look for your book? What similar books are out there? Why is yours different and therefore worthy of notice?

Know who you're pitching to. If an agent comes to your conference, and they only agent for bodice ripping romances, they may not be the best person for your picture book. Don't waste your time or theirs. Familiarize yourself with what clients the agent has, or what books the publisher has recently produced. Yes, this does sound a little like sucking up, but what it means is that you were clever enough to do your own research. It means you are professional enough to do your homework. It means you're worth working with.

Don't defend yourself. I kid you not, I was standing outside the door of a hotel room once during pitch sessions and I honestly heard an author tell the editor she was pitching to that he had no clue what he was doing. I may be wrong, but that may not be the best way to get a contract. I'm still staggered by the absurdity of not taking the advice of a trained professional simply because you're feeling a little bruised and prideful.

Don't gossip, backbite, or act like a fool. The writing industry is a small community. You never know who knows who. Play nice in the sandbox, remember the golden rule, and don't monopolize an agent or editor's time.

I am giving this advice because I am preparing to go to New York where I will be doing a lot of pitching. This little blog is a good refresher course for me too. May we find favor with the kings and queens of ink and paper.


Heather Moore said...

This advice is so true, so true! The dark side of writing is having to sell your book.

So how did the pitch go with the editor? :)

Heather Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn said...

Good luck in New York! I'm anxiously awaiting (and dreading) the day I will be in your position at some unspecified time in the future. Thanks for the advice for when that time comes.

ali cross said...

That was excellent Julie, thank you!

Though I had a hard time settling down after the initial imagery. I'm still trying to wrinkle my nose and wish my chain to become a lovely gossamer strand of braided flowers that the fairies draped around during the long hours of writing in my magical seaside spot.


Darn it. It's just a big ol' chain. ;)

Julie Wright said...

The pitch Kevin and I did went fabulously! Everything he wanted, we had to offer. And he asked for MORE which is the whole point of meeting an agent. So he has our manuscript and kevin's sketches and we'll see what happens from there. I am very encouraged by his request of the manuscript. :) Thanks for asking. Jen thanks for the well wishes in New York, I am so thrilled to be going! And Ali, yeah . . . mine's just a chain too!

Janette Rallison said...

So true on so many levels!

1) My muse is never around. I think she just rifles through the frige looking for chocolate.

2) How did I get to be a salesman? I thought I was supposed to be a writer.

3)I need to be way bettter on my "elevator pitch". Even when you're published people are constantly asking you what your book is about and you have to pitch it to them.

B. L. Rush said...

I really appreciate your advice. I too had the romantic image of myself as a writer and am learning that it is much more difficult than I had imagined and requires much more WORK. It is not only an art, but also a business. However, I am addicted and must press on!