Friday, April 24, 2009

Sitting on Both Sides of the Pitching Table

Today was my first full day at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. It was a day that was devoted to pitching. In the morning, I was a private pitch coach to two writers who had donated $ to PPW for a half hour session with an experienced pitcher and author. With both writers, I helped them hone their pitches about their manuscripts so they could better express what their stories were about to the agent or editor they hope to impress tomorrow in a one-on-one pitch appointment. Mainly we worked on clarity, how to give a clear, specific picture of what genre the book was in, what the main character's goal and motivation was, what conflicts or obstacles the main character had to overcome to reach that goal, and what was learned in the process.

In the afternoon, I was a "secret agent" in two speed-dating-like Pitch Practice sessions. Writers queued up in front of 6-8 experienced pitchers/pitchees. At the signal, the first one in each queue sat down in front of their "secret agent to deliver a 3-minute pitch. Then we "secret agents" had 2 minutes to critique the pitches we heard. Then the signal was given to switch, and a new person sat down in front of each "secret agent" to deliver his/her pitch. I heard 10 pitches in each 50 minute session (that's 20 total!), and most of the writers got to practice on at least 3-4 "secret agents." The purpose was to give novice pitchers a chance to rehearse those lines, get rid of some of those nerves, and receive some feedback before facing real agents and editors the next day. One thing I repeatedly said is to tell the agent/editor 4 things in your first sentence: 1) your name, 2) your manuscript title, 3) the genre, and 4) the word count.

I certainly have a better appreciation for those agents and editors who have to sit through fast 5-8 minute pitches at writing conferences for hours on end. The process really requires you to pay close attention to what's being said and to think on your feet to come up with some useful feedback! It was mentally exhausting, and I only hope that I was able to give some useful advice to the writers who practiced on me.

Then, my literary agent, who is attending the conference, and I ganged up on an editor during the staff-faculty mixer to deliver our own pitch for the first book in my new proposed mystery series. So, after being on the other side of the table most of the day, I was back on the side I was used to in my writing career--pitching my manuscript to an editor. But this time, I had the help of my agent. The pitch was successful. The editor asked my agent to send the manuscript. I hope all of the writers who practiced on me experience similar successes tomorrow--requests for full or partial manuscript submittals.

Last but not least came pitching at the bar at the end of the evening. A PPW friend who I know has writing talent said she was interested in pitching to my agent, so I brought her over and introduced her to my agent, then stood back and let her deliver her pitch. It was well done and thorough, and she was asked to send a partial. Success again!

With all of that pitching out of the way, I'm looking forward to manning the registration desk and listening to workshops and keynote speakers for the next two days. And, of course, there's all the networking that goes on, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.


Lisa Logan said...

What a great concept! And I have to agree with your critique--you can't believe how many submissions I receive with no information in the cover letter and often even the manuscript. Frustrating!


Morgan Mandel said...

Secret agents - that was a great idea. We do something similar at our Chicago-North RWA meetings for those who want to pitch at National, but we usually only use one person as the agent. More is even better.

Morgan Mandel

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Interesting idea and what a great and fun way to hone your pitch.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Feeding the Grey Cells said...

How fun (at least it should be fun now that most of the work is behind you).

Good Luck--I hope to catch you at some or your guest blogs.