My head was pounding. My heart was thudding. My hands were sweating. My throat was dry. And that was just for the pitch coaching session.
Last week, I gave my first, honest-to-goodness author pitch to an agent. It was one of the most terrifying, anxiety-inducing experiences of my life. Two weeks earlier, I had no idea what a pitch WAS, much less how to write and deliver one. What I found online was contradictory, and in spite of the assurances of my critique group, I felt woefully unprepared.
Spoiler, the pitch went well. I didn't keel over dead, and the agent asked to read my manuscript. Woo!
Along the way, I learned a few things that I think will help other writers looking to pitch.
First: Your pitch needs to be short.
Everything I found online suggested that a pitch should be a couple of paragraphs. So that was what I prepared. I took it to my pitch coach the day before my pitch and she scrapped the whole thing.
"It's too much detail," she said.
She had me tell her about my story and wrote down details. Afterwards, she constructed a single sentence:
"A group of engineers in the Arizona desert loses contact with the outside world, only to discover that they are being hunted by a creature of animated stone who feeds on the blood of the living."
It was simple, straightforward, and incredibly accurate. It also highlighted the primary conflict (overcoming the creature) and the main characters (the engineering group). Even better, it focused on what makes my story different (a creature of animated stone). It was also easy to remember (a HUGE plus).
When I repeated this line to the agent, her eyebrows went up, she wrote some notes and asked for more.
Second: Be ready for a conversation.
After rewriting my pitch, my pitch coach (the awesome author Susan Spann) walked me through a conversation about my book. She helped me identify the key points I want to raise: where the creature comes from, why the engineering team is in the desert, what books/movies/TV shows are comparable to my book.
While not every one of these questions came up in the actual pitch session, some did. It also made me think about short, to-the-point summary sentences that helped me pitch better.
Third: Practice, practice, practice.
The night between my coaching session and my pitch, I practiced. A LOT. The morning of my pitch found me making laps through the conference hotel halls repeating my pitch line and reenacting potential conversations in my mind.
Another conference attendee saw this, recognized what I was doing, and stopped me to talk. She asked me for my pitch and engaged me in a conversation. It was awesome, because it helped me see that the pitch worked OK for others. I don't remember her name, but I am very grateful for her help.
Finally: Just do it
In the end, you just need to do it. The very next week, I found myself at another conference. I had a chance to talk to other writers and agents. I used the pitch. The result was some awesome conversations. More important, I will be better prepared the next time.
I'll probably still be terrified.
It's fun to tell people you've written a 100,000 word novel. Their eyes grow huge and they stare at you like you are some kind of freak of nature.
"I could NEVER write that much," they say with an expression of awe usually reserved for rock stars or Deity. We can discuss my opinions of THAT statement another day, but in a way they are right: Stringing together 100K+ words into a coherent plot is a challenge, not to mention the difficulty of actually making said 100K+ words good. But even that is nothing compared to trying to write a pitch.
For those of you not in the know, a pitch is a 1-2 paragraph description of your book designed to hook an editor or agent. I will be pitching my book to an actual agent at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference next week (I'm very nervous), and so I've spent many hours over the past few weeks writing my pitch.
It is so hard!
How am I supposed to distill 350 pages of sweat and tears and ups and downs and life and death into a couple hundred words? And then, to top it all off, YOU AREN'T SUPPOSED TO MEMORIZE IT!
I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if it didn't feel like so many of my hopes and dreams are tied up in these 2 paragraphs. This feels like make-or-break time. Do or die. Fish or cut bait. Paper or plastic!
Okay. Maybe that's a bit much, but it is still amazingly hard.
Incidentally, I'd love to share my pitch with you, but I can't. An unfortunate reality is that, by its nature, it has to spoil the ending. So you'll just have to wait to read the book.