Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pitch Perfect

Getting out of the slush pile; isn't that the dream of every writer?  So often we depend on postal or electronic submissions to get our work out there; it's cheap (or even free), you can submit in bulk and, best of all, you can do some work while in the comfort of your own pajamas.  Unfortunately, it's also highly impersonal.  It's likely that your manuscript will never make it onto an editor's or agent's desk, and thanks to modern technology, a "no" is now just a click away.  For these reasons, I would suggest to anyone who has dreams of publication to try to attend a pitch session.  I attended one recently wherein a group of writers, publishers, and general rabble gathered in a room and the writers stood, one by one, to present their book idea in the hopes that a publisher would (gasp!) offer them a contract.  I was one of the writers, and perhaps another time I will fill you in on htat delerious yet horrifying experience.  (I watched, with clinical detachment as my nervous system kicked into high gear and my hands actually turned purple.) For now, I'd like to focus on what I learned while I wasn't having to remind myself to breathe.  While I don't claim to be an expert, I'm hoping that these tips will come in handy. 

1.        Pick one book to pitch.  William Shakespeare. Jules Verne. Edgar Allen Poe. Heck, Douglas Adams. You can buy the collected works of these authors at just about any bookstore you may choose to wander.  It’s considerably harder to find a copy of “The Collected Works of A Rookie Novelist.” Why? Because there are die hard fans who are willing to shell out a good deal of money to carry around a giant, ungainly copy of everything a certain author has ever ever written.  You are not there. Yet. You may get there, and I hope you do.  But, until then  talking about all of your ideas just makes you sound a bit. . . scattered.  Granted, we are artists.  We are, most of us, a bit scattered.  That’s not, however, the best selling point.  Now, the good news is, if your pitch works for one book, it’s likely that you have a home for much of the rest. So, pick a girl to take to the dance, then dance with the girl you came with.

a.       It’s probably best if the book you choose is complete. Or, at least, really REALLY close.  An almost finished manuscript is not nearly as attractive as a completed manuscript.  After all, as it was once said to me, “500 almost finished manuscripts equals 0 manuscripts.”  Also, please refer to the sentences on scattered above.  A publisher will likely be unwilling to commit him or herself to an unfinished project.  They know writers, after all.

2.       Know your book.  Inside and out. Backwards and forwards.  All of the nuances and intricacies.  I mean really, really, let you see my morning hair, going to the bathroom in front of each other, I was there for your unfortunate Kris Kross phase KNOW your book.  That way, when you are asked questions, you will know the answer.  You will know what makes it unique.  You will know what makes it marketable.  And, best of all, you will be able to be clear and succinct.  A bunch of stammering “uh’s” and “ah’s” do not build confidence.  You have to make these publishers, in just a couple hundred seconds, get excited enough about your story to gamble their money on it, and you. 

3.       Love your book. Now, here’s where it gets tricky.  Have you ever had someone newly, completely in love tell you about their intended?  You know how they just a leeeeetle bit manic? And their eyes get a tad bit crazy?  And how if you happen to mention that, oh, say the person they are in love with has raging acne and a rap sheet as long as a giraffe’s tongue and 47 illegitimate children the wide crazy eyes suddenly narrow and become predatory and you just know that they are contemplating your jugular and – erhem. Anyway, people that in love with their book are people who will, potentially, resist any editing or design suggestions because don’t people see their book is PERFECT?!?!  Also, it’s not incredibly believeable.  Is your book the BEST BOOK EVA and will it make you and your publisher A MILLION BILLION DOLLARS.  Maybe. . . but probably not.  Be the kind of in love that gets an uncontrollable grin when talking about their beloved, but is also sane.  Be passionate; you should be, this is your completed manuscript.  It’s a great idea.  It’s well written.  It’s complex and funny and horrifying and everything it should be.  Be visibly excited. But stay sane. 

4.       Practice, practice, practice.  You are pitching.  You already have their ears.  You have one sentence to get their attention. So, figure out what one sentence defines your book.  What genre is it? Is there a special character? What is the twist?  Figure out what that sentence is, polish it ‘til it gleams, and start from there.  From that point, you have three minutes before attention will likely start to lag.  In those three minutes you need to outline the plot, describe your characters, and talk about your platform.  So, way ahead of time you need to figure out what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.  I spent a lot of time watching movie trailers.  You know, the ones where THE VOICE says, “In a world. .. “ Those.  I also spent a lot of time reading the backs of book covers.  Then, I tried to mash them together.  I made something literary but exciting to hear.  Then practice.  Do not practice in front of a mirror.  Practice in front of real, live people.  Take their input, adjust your pitch, and practice again.  When it is allllmost where you want it, stop.  If you keep poking at it you will overcorrect and you will go from really really good to kind of meh again.  Then, recite that thing ‘til you can say it in your sleep.  That way, when your body, which isn’t sure why your brain is telling it that these seemingly nice folks are an imminent threat all it knows is that the brain is shrieking and the adrenaline is flowing and it must draw all blood in towards the heart to protect the organs when you somehow lose a limb to these mild mannered people sitting at a desk, the speech will still be there.  Just get out that first sentence, and the rest will come.

5.       So, you’ve done all of this prep work.  You are there.  Your moment has come.  Just step out.  This is your time. Take a deep breath, smile, make eye contact, and just do it.  You will be great.  I know it!

a.       Erhem.  That was a great closing, and I know I should leave it there, but I feel compelled to add one. . .small. .. thing.  DO NOT INSULT THE PUBLISHERS.  I was at a pitch session where a woman started out our day by referring to the publishers as “you people” and going on a rambling diatribe about the heartlessness of those in the publishing industry.  Don’t do that.  Listen, we most of us have owies.  You know, the only thing that hurts worse than a paper cut is one that comes from a form letter.  And we just know that most publishers really live in a green glass castle where they sit behind a curtain and chuckle gleefully as they throw our beloved creations to their monstrous devouring pets that they’ve named Slush. But we don’t say that.  And we try not to even feel it.  We try to remember those times when someone heard that we were writers and told us their long and mortifying life story and asked us to make a story out of it.  We try to remember the time we were handed a sheaf of the worst poetry ever and asked to critique it.  Then we mentally multiply that by ten thousand, understand that that is the life of a publisher, and try to work up some compassion.  Remember, you are not just selling your book, you are selling you.  So be nice. End PSA.

Best of luck and happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. So when your literary career gets boring, you will become an agent? I call dibs!