So I told you how I bumbled into the opportunity to pitch to agents at KillerCon. I was extremely fortunate because the first slot that I scored belonged to an editor, Angela James. Her job? She critiqued our pitches so that we weren’t complete goons when we stood in front of the agents. Serendipity, thou art divine.
First off, Angela James is absolutely beautiful. She’s friendly, personable, and intelligence rolls off of her in waves. I walked in, shook her hand and introduced myself. And then the misery began.
I told her about my novel, how long it was, and what genre it was in. And then, uh…I basically told her the first paragraph of my query letter. She kept looking at me. I told her about the other pieces that I had completed. She looked at me some more. I told her about the genres that I usually write, and how I planned to help market my work, and then…I finally shut up. We looked at each other. My hands were in my lap. Her fingernails were gorgeous. I think there was a fly in the room. One of us blinked.
She said, “Is this your first pitch?” Was it that obvious? I said yes, and that it was last minute and I didn’t have a chance to prepare. Then she said the magic words.
Breathe? I did. It instantly calmed me down, and I was able to focus on the critique that she gave me.
She said that it was actually one of the better pitches that she had heard that morning, and I just needed to refine it. She appreciated the introduction, because a lot of people get nervous and forget it. She was also glad that I had told her the title, genre, and word count of my novel. “Hello, my name is Mercedes Yardley. My novel is called “My Super Special Awesome Novel of Absolute Awesomeness”. It’s a YA/magical realism book and it is complete at 51,000 words.” Telling her that it’s finished is a good thing, since a lot of people apparently pitch novels that they’re still working on.
She said, “What is your tag? What is going to make me remember your story?” Think about something that makes it different, and hit on that, hard. If it’s a cross between a Stephen King and a Roald Dahl book, tell her that. A pitch is basically your query letter, condensed down into two or three sentences. She suggested that I don’t discuss my other work unless the agent specifically asks about it. She also said that if you have time to research an agent, bring up something that says you’re familiar with them. Like, “Oh, I read your blog and I love that you share recipes on there,” or something. Make yourself stand out from the dull-eyed minions that are wandering around.
And let me tell you, Vegas has a plethora of the dull-eyed.
Another useful piece of advice was this: you will use your pitch everywhere. Wait, what? When? She said that you’ll use it to pitch your agent, sure. But you’ll also use it in the grocery store when you’re telling somebody about your book. You’ll use it in interviews. You’ll use it when you’re telling your mom about your story.
That took some of the scare factor out of it for me. Why, I’ve already told my friends and mother about my story! Have I been pitching to them this entire time? Yes, yes I have. Now I know how to refine it. I know how to make it shine, and it will serve me well in the future.
So the basics are:
1) Smile, shake hands, and introduce yourself. (If you have sweaty palms, use the ole “Hold A Cold Cola” trick beforehand.)
2) Introduce your novel by name, genre, and word count. Tell them it’s completed.
3) Three quick sentences about your novel. What’s your tag?
4) Graciously say goodbye. “Thanks, yo” isn’t going to cut it.
This was an amazing opportunity. Thanks to Angela James for being so gracious and knowledgeable, thanks to my colleagues for their (positive) peer pressure, and yay that I worked up the courage to do it. Using Angela’s excellent advice, I pitched two more agents and both requested to see a partial. If I had sat on the sidelines, I would have missed all of this. This renews my resolve to continue practicing my New Year’s Resolution to Do Things That Scare Me. I think it’s next year’s resolution, as well. Rock on!
Pieces out: 33
How funny. I tend to get verbal diarrhea when I’m nervous. I say the screwiest things. So don’t feel bad about that; party on with those partial requests!
You may be my hero.
I’m taking notes for sure. The biggest “take-away”? “You will use your pitch everywhere.”
You’re a brave lady. I would have crapped my pants. Thanks for all of the helpful information, Mercedes.
Carrie, I do, too! I usually say extraordinarily inappropriate things having to do with physical take-downs and the like. Eek.
Right back atcha, Mason!! When she said that about using your pitch everywhere, it suddenly became relevant. So much of this marketing seems like a “one time use” thing. But she brought this right home, and I appreciate it.
Alan, you would have done a fantastic job. I just know it.
I’m not at this stage yet, but I know it will come in handy when I need it.
I have to ask, your “pieces out: goal” bit – what time frame is this in? It’s a good idea.
Brave Mercedes! Thanks for sharing all the insights you’ve gathered. Lovely!
littlegirl: The “pieces out” are the pieces that I currently have out. The goal of 40 is ASAP. So now I’m under goal, but hopefully I’ll be up to 40 by this weekend. I used to try and have 40 pieces out at all times, but I’ve been focusing more on agents lately. Keep in mind that some of these pieces are tweet fic and the like. They’re not all short stories.
Thank you, Aaron! If I can do it, anybody can!
Would it be overkill to walk in front of potential agents/publishers and scatter rose petals in their wake?
The whole telling your mother thing would sound really good if I didn’t leave mine staring blankly. I normally end with, “You didn’t understand a word of that, did you?”
I’m printing this post out for future use.
Really awesome advice. I had my first pitch earlier this year and god, it made me sweat!
It all sounds good to me. Did the agents suggest when you might hear back?
How was I logged in as stevenpirie. I rather like 7.
Since I twittered, the world’s gone twisted… 🙂
I like your writing voice! I felt like I was sitting next to you as you pitched.
Congrats on getting through your very first pitch and getting the two requests.
Well done on finding that courage and pushing through with it – and thank you very much for sharing the insights.
Immensely useful. Definitely worth a link in my next link salad.
Thanks for the courage to tell us that. I like to hear what others are doing, I am a voyeur that way.
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Heh. I had the pleasure of sitting in a Pitch workshop by Angela back in April during RT. Although I didn’t actually pitch to her, I did come away with some great information to use in the pitches I did do. (Got a request for a full out of it, so not too shabby)
This is just what I needed to read. Thank you!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience! It will make mine go smoother (I hope)!
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Sheryl Greenblatt sent me your way to read up on how to pitch to an agent. (For the first time 🙂 ) Your writing is so forthright, laced with a free-spirit style. I felt as though we were talking over coffee, as you were, explaining in exact but simple terms, your first experience pitching to an agent. I can breathe a little better, still nervous, but breathing. I look forward to meeting you, since I didn’t get the chance when you were the guest speaker for the Las Vegas Writers Group back in May. (My niece was in the Hospital during that time and I couldn’t attend the meeting.) Thank you!
Thank you so much for writing this! Funnily enough, I went from being a panicked pitcher to the one who actually runs the pitches for Killercon and World Horror Con, this year. Sheryl asked for a worksheet of tips to hand out for the con this week, so I hope it will help. Doesn’t mean I still don’t get nervous pitching, but at now I know that we all do. 😀 I can’t wait to meet you this weekend! I’m dying to hear what you’re going to pitch. I might be, as well. 🙂