I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference last week in New York. It was a great trip—a chance for me to meet my writing critique partner, Karen Stivali, face-to-face (yay!), spend 48 anxiety-soaked hours with her, meet other writers, and learn about the state of publishing. I won’t give a full synopsis of my trip, because that would be dull (my flight was delayed, it was cold outside, I was a bit hung over on Sunday), but I did want to write about the dreaded Pitch Slam.
For those who don’t know, a Pitch Slam is literary speed-dating—600+ writers, 50ish agents, you stand in line waiting for your 90 seconds to pitch your book and the agent has 90 seconds for feedback and questions. Next!
In the weeks leading up to the Pitch Slam, I scoured the Internet for evidence of writers living through such an experience. I didn’t find much. I wanted to know what it would be like, what I should do, what I should wear. I found a blog post on All Things Literary that is nearly the written equivalent of Valium. Unfortunately, written Valium only lasts for a few hours.
So, here’s the deal.
Prepare. Practice, practice, practice and then well, you know. I pitched the cat, I pitched my twelve-year-old daughter, and I pitched the wall sconce in the hotel room (I was sure I would do great with any agent wearing a square lampshade). I wrote my pitch as I wanted to say it, and then I memorized it. Some people say this is a bad idea, but it was my safety net. I still improvised when I was delivering the pitches–that’s me, always revising.
Get a grip. Yes, these are agents. Yes, it feels like they hold your very future, the fate of the manuscript you’ve spent countless hours polishing, in their hands. But the truth is that they only hold that fate as it pertains to them. They’re lovely people, but there are other agents in the sea. If somebody doesn’t like your idea or your pitch, you should listen. Don’t argue. Just listen.
Keep it short. Don’t feel like you really have all of 90 seconds because you don’t. Maybe the guy ahead of you takes forever to get out of the chair or maybe the agent needs to jot down a note. I say budget for 60.
For fiction, they only care about your story. Some agents cared about things like my target audience, but they only asked questions about the story.
Show your enthusiasm. You love your book, you love your characters, you know everything about them and what makes them tick, so let the agent see how much you love your own book. Use your voice, use exciting (but simple) words, gesture. If you’re not excited, nobody’s going to be excited.
Adapt and survive. If an agent pokes a hole in your pitch (as happened to me), consider a tweak to close the hole. I made a change while waiting in line and had a request from the next agent I pitched.
Get out of your own head. This is counter-intuitive for most writers, but I found one of the best things for calming my nerves was chatting with writers more nervous than me. I was able to focus my energy on their worries and remind myself why it’s not worth the stress. I met some really awesome people this way.
Dress decently. Yes, you are already proving to them that you’re not a shut-in by showing up to do the pitch, but if you want people to take you seriously, you should dress like it. Wear what’s comfortable, but look the part of a capable, together person.
Have fun. Yeah, right. Nobody has fun doing this sort of thing, so that seems like terrible advice. I’m thinking a more appropriate ending to my list would be, “Head straight to the hotel bar” or, “Go outside and scream at the top of your lungs”, or as many people did, “Tweet your butt off about it”. The hotel bar is my favorite (see aforementioned hangover), but Sheraton, seriously? Sprite in a margarita? You’re killing me here.
Karen Stivali also has a fabulous post about WDC 11 and the Pitch Slam on her blog. Check it out at karenstivali.com.