By Guest Blogger Laurie Schnebly Campbell Most of us grew up knowing it’s not polite to brag about ourselves. Not just ourselves, but also our work / our family / our home / our good fortune. And when we have the good fortune to complete a book worthy of publication, all too often the reminder of “Boast not thyself” stops us from bragging about what we’ve achieved. Maybe our inner promoter argues that it’s NOT boasting if we’ve created a book that other people will love. If that’s the case we’re doing the world a favor by making it possible for them to read our book, right? Even so, pitching an editor or agent is still something a lot of writers dread. Of course there are ways to avoid ever doing a face-to-face pitch, and for anyone who can’t stand the idea of meeting an editor or agent in person -- “I’d just be too nervous!” -- contests and queries and Twitterfests all work fine. But for writers who are going to a conference where editors and agents will be actively looking for books they can make into best-sellers, pitching is an extremely useful tool. Are you thinking about it? If so, you already know the basics. You want to tell them about your work in a way that’ll convince ‘em “I absolutely must read this person’s manuscript the minute I get back to work!” But there might be a few things standing in your way.
1. FEAR OF THE PITCH
This is far and away the biggest problem. Writers aren’t known for being the most extroverted people in the world -- otherwise how could we possibly spend so much time alone at the keyboard? -- so sitting down with a Big Important Person who has the power to Make This Book A Bestseller can be a scary prospect. There are seven techniques for dealing with fear, both during the actual pitch and also before you ever show up at the conference. (We’ll go over all of those next month in my Perfect Pitch class.)
2. NO COMPLETION DATE
If the book is still in your mind but there’s nothing on your hard drive yet, it’s a bit harder to convince the editor or agent that you’ve created exactly the story readers worldwide have been waiting for. Conversely, if it’s ready to send the minute they say “okay,” or if you can confidently say it’ll be ready to send as of two months from today, the pitch is a whole lot easier. And if you’re not sure WHEN the finished manuscript will be ready, you might want to just use the time for getting a feel of what this person likes. You can spend your appointment time asking for advice on your query, discussing your favorite of the books they’ve been involved with, and leaving them with an impression of you as someone they’ll enjoy hearing from again once your book is complete.
3. UNDEFINED AUDIENCE
For writers who are specifically targeting a certain type of reader-- those who want cozy mysteries featuring a chef, or inspirational Regency romance, or middle-grade adventure, or whatever -- it’ll be no problem defining who’s gonna love your book. But what if the answer to “who’s this book for?” is something like “uh, well, everyone who can read English,” that’s a clue it’s time for some homework. Sure, a few writers will say it’s the AGENT’s job to know that -- THEIR only responsibility is getting the story down on paper. Still, an agent will be much more impressed with a writer who’s willing to help them do their job by explaining right up front what audience will be interested in the book.
4. TOO MUCH INFORMATION
We’ve all heard four-year-olds trying to describe the plot of, say, The Three Little Pigs. “So the pig had a hammer. And there’s some wood. There’s another pig who’s eating popcorn. One of the pigs had a hat on. Oh, and the wolf comes! They made a house out of wood. The pig with popcorn doesn’t see the wolf.” And so on.
Clearly these four-year-olds haven’t spent much time analyzing the characters or the plot or the resolution, and there’s no reason they should. But all too often, we authors wind up in the same boat. WE know the story so well, and we love it so much, we can’t help wanting to tell the listener all the most wonderful details. And the listener is baffled. That’s why it’s crucial to outline your answers to the Four Big Questions -- which, again, we’ll cover in class -- before ever sitting down to describe your story.
5. RUNNING OUT OF TIME
You might have a fabulous description in mind already. Your critique partner loves it. Your family loves it. The lady behind you in line at Costco loves it. But none of them was keeping an eye on the clock while they listened. If you’re guaranteed all the time you want with an editor or agent, this won’t be a problem. If you’re at a conference where appointments are limited to a specific duration, though, make sure you time yourself during the “rehearsal.” For what it’s worth, the average person speaking aloud can deliver about 140 words per minute -- so keep that in mind as you plan. And don’t forget to allow time for the listener to ask questions! AND SPEAKING OF QUESTIONS... Here’s one for you: What are some helpful “Do's or memorable “Don’t's you’ve heard (or experienced yourself) when it comes to pitching? Share those with whoever’s reading, and you might be the winner of free registration to Perfecting Your Pitch, coming up from June 3-14. I can’t wait to hear some useful -- and entertaining -- advice!
After winning Romantic Times‘ “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular novel in her classes. With 43 titles there so far, she’s always hoping for more.