What’s My Line, Anyway?

The don’ts (and dos) of preparing for a pitch session

What’s My Line, Anyway?

I’ve spent the last several days at the Sisters in Crime, Hollywood Conference, where attendees were afforded the amazing opportunity to pitch their books to film agents. Naturally, I began dwelling on the myriad details to consider when getting ready to pitch at a writer’s conference. I went to panels, talked to those in the industry, and generally engaged with anyone who might have an opinion.

After compiling all this information, it occurred to me that you’d probably like to hear what you shouldn’t do when preparing for a pitch session. Well, I’m here for you. Below is my list. (I won’t say whether I’ve done them all; you’ll just have to guess.)

Do Not: Go in full cosplay costume. I mean, you might get lucky and find someone who thinks your Naruto rocks, but I suspect it’s more likely that the pitch will turn into the longest five minutes of your life.
Do: Wear something you’re comfortable in and that looks reasonably professional. Put away the holey jeans, yoga pants, and flip-flops. It was hard. I managed. So can you.

Do Not: Leave the book you’re pitching at home on your nightstand. If you’re pitching it, they may ask to have a copy. This is good. You want to encourage them to read it.
Do: Come prepared. Answers may vary, but I’d suggest bringing one book per agent you’ll be meeting with. Three agents, three books. If you have a series you want to pitch, you might want to bring a sample of the books. But if the agent likes what you have to say, you can always send the samples later. It’s more important for you to work on your pitch than to become hunchbacked from carrying all those books around.

Do Not: Scribble your information on an old gum wrapper…particularly if you’ve already wrapped it around a chewed piece of gum.
Do: Liberally pass out cards with your information on it. You want to look professional and you want them to be able to contact you.

Do Not: Scowl, snap at people, or generally make yourself look like an ass.
Do: Put on your “author face.” Are you wearing it? If not, get it together. Seriously.

Do Not: Guzzle strawberry daiquiris into the wee hours the night before giving your pitch. While it seems like a good way to handle nervous excitement, it does not help with “author face” the next morning. Unless you have written a book like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and want to go in character. Then, I’ll consider giving you a pass.
Do: Get ample sleep so you’re well rested and look fresh for your pitch.

Do Not: Oversleep your pitch session. I’ve found agents to be wholly unimpressed by my need to sleep. It sucks, but seems to be industry standard.
Do: Show up on time ready to pitch your book or series.

Do Not: Shrug off the research. Know who you’ll be talking to and what they represent, and think about what they’re looking for in a pitch. What are the elements of your story that they’d be interested in? If they’re looking for a family drama, you might not want to pitch an erotic BDSM novel. If you can fit erotic BDSM into a family drama, you may be my new hero. But since most of us can’t, I suggest you know your audience and highlight the appropriate elements accordingly.
Do: Make eye contact, smile, and let them know how your book or story fits with their lineup.

Do Not: Skip practicing your pitch. Practice makes perfect. Grab a friend. Grab an acquaintance. Heck, if you can, grab a group and add someone with lots of experience pitching, and give them your spiel. Ideally, they’ll give you theirs as well. You’ll be amazed at how someone — who isn’t you — can see the gems in your work and can help tease them out. You can do the same for them.
Do: Get others to help you and return the favor. 

Do Not: Overwork your pitch. Yes, I know I said to practice it, but if you memorize every word, it will come off as stilted. Remember, you’re not just selling your book, you’re also selling yourself. A robotic voice isn’t as engaging as hearing genuine excitement in your voice. One of the best pieces of advice I received at the conference was to pretend you’re telling your idea to a good friend.
Do: Show enthusiasm for your novel.

Do Not: Chicken out. Look, even if you bomb your pitch, so what? I’m always telling my kids to practice, practice, practice anything they want to get good at doing. The same applies here. If you do poorly, look at it as a learning opportunity. What can you do better next time? What do you need to work on?
Do: Be brave. You’ll be surprised how far a little courage can take you.

If you have suggestions for what you shouldn’t or should do in a pitch, I’d love to hear them!

[Editor’s note: Do you have an excellent book manuscript or idea? Attend this year’s Washington Writers Conference and you’ll get three one-on-one pitch sessions with agents! Click here to register while the not-so-early-bird rates still apply!]

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