Conferences: How To Improve Your Pitching

by Laura Drake

It’s conference season! This is the first in our new series, where we will each focus on a different aspect of attending conferences, based on our own strengths/preferences.

I’m probably the biggest ‘conference virgin’ of the group, having attended exactly one. But it was the Grand Dame of them all – RWA National, three years ago in Washington, D.C.

I was lucky enough to attend with my amazing fellow WITS bloggers, who kept me from any major embarrassments. If you have the opportunity, room with a friend and do conferences together. You not only have someone to defrag with at the end of the day (can you say, SLEEPOVER?!) But we attacked the conference in a systematic way; each choosing different sessions to attend, and swapping notes. It allowed us to gain so much more.

Did I mention the fun we had in our jammies at night? OMG, it was legendary. We giggled like high school teenagers on a full load of Boone’s Farm (only our booze was much better.)

Man, I can’t wait for this year’s RWA conference in Anaheim!

But I’m wandering off the subject here, which is…PITCHING!

You may not know this about me, but I tend to be a bit – um – zealous.

I had a novel to pitch at the conference in D.C. – a completed, shiny new novel. The conference experience would be wonderful, but the pitching was my major purpose for being there.

Nervous? No, why do you ask?

Was I nervous?  I was. Visibly shaking knees nervous.

Was I afraid? Fill your pants afraid.

Could anyone tell? Nope. This was a ‘fake it till you make it’ moment. I donned my monkey power suit that morning, spending more than my usual ten minutes on makeup, praying for a good hair day.

Oh yes, and don’t forget your titanium panties.

But let me back up a minute – how did I get hold of those titanium panties??

The work of that day was put in the month before. My wonderful home chapter, OCC, devotes the meeting before conference, getting the unpubbed prepared. I’d walked the gauntlet of practice pitch sessions, with published authors playing the part of an agent. I’d listened to every bit of advice anyone who’d been to a conference could give me.

I’ll share some of that with you here:

  • Relax. Yeah, I know, I couldn’t either. But if you do your homework and choose an editor/agent who reps your genre, they’re going to ask for a partial. It’s what they do. It helped me, knowing that as long as I didn’t throw up on them, they’d ask to see my novel.
  • Make yourself memorable. In a good way – not the crazy-author-stalker way. I chose a photo that I thought well represented my novel, and printed it, in color, on the back of my sheet of notes, so the agent would see it while I read. Did it help? I don’t know. But it gave them something to look at, and I’m sure it was memorable. In fact, I referred to it when I sent the partial, so they’d remember me, among all the authors they met.
  • Pitch, Pitch, Pitch! You’re there. You’re dressed. You have a book. Why not pitch to the widest audience you can? Yes, I know, they’ll allow you only one or two appointments. BUT. There are a lot of cowards less stalwart people than you out there. They chicken out. Almost every session had the monitors calling for people who wanted to pitch to this or that agent. So I volunteered. Five times. Did all of them rep my genre? No. But they had coworkers who did. They gave me their card to include so the person would know I was referred to them.

Did I sell that book? No. Not then (though it has sold since.) But it was an amazing experience. If nothing else, I walked away confident in the fact that I could DO this. I’ll never be that afraid to pitch again.

Put yourself out there. Will you succeed? I don’t know. But I can guarantee you’ll have a better shot than if you don’t!

Do you like to pitch or hate it? What do you remember about your first conference? Any tips for this year’s conference “virgins?”

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23 Responses to Conferences: How To Improve Your Pitching

  1. Snort-worthy pic on “Nervous? Why do you ask?” That was SO me! I blew my first two pitches b/c I wasn’t prepared. And, I was nervous. Deadly combination. My fault. No one else to blame.

    [It's sentence frag day here, btw. I do know how to structure a proper sentence.]

    Another bit of advice (followed by my writing buddy and fellow attendee–Sherry Isaac) is to research all the agents. She knew who repped what. so she was ready to break the ice with sound working knowledge of their agency and what that particular agent represented.

    And, she followed your advice to hang out at the pitch “staging area.”

    Great advice, Laura!

    • LauraDrake says:

      Ugh, Gloria, sorry about the nonproductive pitch session. But it’s a new season, and you learned something for this year’s conferences, right?

      Sherry’s advice is great as well – if you can make a cheat sheet. I don’t know about you, but when I’m nervous, I’m hard-pressed to remember what I write, much less what an agent reps!

      Thanks!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      What an excellent tip from Sherry!! I’ll have to do that before DFW so I don’t embarrass myself to death. Unlike Laura, I HATE pitching. You’ll see how I do it on Wednesday. :-)

  2. Laura, is this where I turn a mean shade of green, spin my head 360 degrees and spew slime??

    No, I can be a good sport and since I don’t have those titanium panties, I will put on my big girl regular panties and smile. Can’t get to a conference yet so I will be “pitching” in the virtual world of cyber space and snail mail. I’ll polish and shine up my queies until they dazzle.

    I’ve told you before. You have a great chapter. Not only because your pub’d members are so generous, but also because of the activities you offer to members. When I get my first in my hand, you should be on your second or third … when I hold that sucker I will think of you reaching back to bring me along. Thanks. A great post from my great biker gal :)

  3. LauraDrake says:

    Thanks, Florence! I’ve always been torn about this – I’m MUCH more comfortable with querying on paper – after all, we write, right? But pitching may be worth it — that you get the opportunity to make an impression as a human — but that sword cuts both ways!

  4. I had my first, and probably only, pitch session at the NJ conference in October last year and loved it. I’d much rather pitch then query. But now I have an agent.

  5. Sharla Rae says:

    Most agents and editors are just people doing a job. I’m published and know this intellectually but . . . I’m “always” nervous. It’s not a crime and if you’re like me, there’s not much you can do about it. I will say this, being nervous makes me so mad at myself that my pride and determination take over. I get through it even when the person on the other side of the desk is wearing a conscending smile that says, Lord-let-this-be-over fast. I’ve also discovered that the more I do something, the less nervous I am. If possible, I’ll save my top agent and editor picks till last, so that I can get in a few practice runs first and my pitch comes off smoothly.

  6. Yvette says:

    Great post Laura! I’m off on holiday in the morning and I’m sure I’ll still be laughing about the titanium panties!! :-)

  7. Julie Glover says:

    Last year was my first writers’ conference, and I was SO NERVOUS for the pitch. The agent was great, though, and the meeting was very comfortable. This year, I’m feeling much more relaxed about it all. In fact, I’m planning to do a lot more pitching outside the scheduled appointment. Why not? I’m there to become a writer, and the agents are there to find writers. No need to be obnoxious about it (and I will still be shaking like a leaf inside), but we’re all people . . . who put on our titanium panties one leg at a time. LOL! Great post.

  8. Thanks for this, Laura. I’m not a conference virgin, but I AM a “pitch virgin.” My conference this summer has a pitch critique session the night before we meet the agents, and I’m still scared to death. I like the idea of a cheat sheet on all the agents in case one has unexpected openings, but this line really helps: “It helped me, knowing that as long as I didn’t throw up on them, they’d ask to see my novel.”

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  13. bronte13 says:

    Thank you SOOO much for this, Laura. I’m already wigging out… a total nervous Nellie. I’ve sent out agent queries on the first novel I wrote but I’ve never pitched in person. I still don’t even know HOW to pitch my book, let alone do it in front of a real, live, person. Aargh. I guess I’ve got a month to prep!

    • Kelly, Don’t panic. You have plenty of time. Write up your hook. One sentence, summarizes the whole book. Yeah, I know. But you have a month. Then, add five lines to flesh out the story. Not this happens, then that happens, but the essentials of the story. Something compelling. Then practice in front of the mirror. When you’re done with that, stop. No, really. Just stop. This is the hardest part! It’s where they’re going to be intrigued (if you’ve done the above steps right) and ask you details.

      When you’ve convinced the mirror, move to a real person. Your dog, if that’s the only one handy. Move up to friends and loved ones. Oh no? If you can’t do it in front of people who love you, how are you going to do it in front of an editor/agent?

      Practice, practice, practice. Hope I get to meet you at conference, and you can tell me how it went!

      Laura

      • Kelly says:

        Thanks, Laura! This is GREAT advice. I do have a dog but she loves everything I tell her (except for “No”).

  14. pdrum says:

    What should we bring with us? Just a chapter synopsis and our notes? Does an agent ever ask for the first ## chapters right then and there or do them always ask you to send it? I’ve only done this once way back at the New Orleans RWA Conference. I don’t remember much of that one.

    • Pam, Just your notes. Honest. Think about it, each agent/editor will see approx. 20-30 authors. They came from NY. They’d have to schlepp 100 lbs. of stuff back. Trust me, they won’t ask for your chapters. They’ll ask you to send a partial (almost always.) Then the second you get home, send it! SO many people chicken out and don’t send, that after National, the agents actually have a lull! I know, I can’t fathom it either. But take advantage of that window of time!

      Good luck!
      Laura

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