Pitch perfect

Are you heading to the RWA conference in August? Do you have one or more pitches booked? If so then this blog is for you!

I’m the living proof that pitching can work. In 2008 I pitched to Bernadette Foley. In 2010 the book I pitched hit the shelves as Wings of Fear (Border Watch). I know what it feels like, I know how nerve wracking it can be, but I also know how much fun it can be.

Me with Bernadette and Bronwyn Parry RWA 2009

Remember to breathe. Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but Bernadette told me she had some people who looked so terrified she wanted to come round the table and give them a big hug. Remember the people you are pitching to are human after all – although of course we know them as the gods of publishing!

Yes, you need to know your story and you will by now or you wouldn’t be pitching it. The best way to present that story is to reduce it to a two sentence tag. Much like the back of a book. Bernadette described it as the lines the book reps would use to sell it to a book shop.  Elevator pitches are another name for them – you need to be able to convince someone to buy your book in the time it takes for a lift to travel between floors. These lines need to contain the essence is the hero and heroine with no more than two descriptive words per person along with their motivation and conflict.  Remember you only have ten minutes. A two line pitch wastes no time at all. The editor/agent can then ask questions about it.

Remember what it is you’re selling – you! Your book is a product of you and you as a marketable writer is important.  That means it’s appropriate to treat the person you are pitching to as a new acquaintance you hope to be friends with. Familiar but still a little formal. Those pitching to Bernadette are welcome to call her Bernadette after the first intro.

What’s your point of difference? Are you writing medicals and you’re a health professional? Are you writing rural romance and you and your hubby run a property? Are you in law enforcement writing a crime story? Were you born and raised a Trekky Fan and now write Fantasy Fiction?

Another way is to ask yourself if you were interviewed about your soon to be published book what’s the most interesting thing you’d want to share with your soon to be readers?

When it comes to submission Bernadette suggests you attach a small photo to your covering letter so she can refresh her memory. That doesn’t need to be a posed photo with glamour make-up – just one that looks like you on the day she chatted with you. If you are asked to submit then please do! The number of people who don’t follow up is mind boggling especially after all the angst that goes into pitching in the first place!!

So here are my 5 steps to perfect pitching – starting with BREATHE!!! That’s it you can do it. Air in, lungs filled, let it out gently, do it all again.

1: The person you are pitching to is just another human being who may be sat there feeling a little overwhelmed as well. Warm to them, get them on-side, be yourself. You have 5-10 minutes to help them get to know you. Treat them as someone you’d like to be friends with. Cosy up, talk, laugh and charm. They understand you may be feeling nervous and won’t hold that against you!

2: Know your story’s statistics.  Where does it fit – what line, what category, what genre? What’s your target market? How long is it? Is it a stand-alone or part of a series or sequel? It is good to know other published books that are similar to yours, or have the same feel, but you don’t need to mention them by name unless they ask.

3: Reduce your book to a one or two sentence ‘tag-line’ or ‘elevator pitch.’  You want to introduce your character/s with a descriptive word, their goals, their conflict and the setting.  This may sound difficult to do, but once you set your mind to it you will be able to distill the essence of your story into a few words. ‘Save The Cat,’ by Blake Snyder, has some great points about how to do this. You still need to know your goal, motivation and conflict, but your tag line should help keep you concise and help you stay on message! And read your tag line if you’re more comfortable doing that – no scores are being given for your performance 😉

Here’s one of my examples for Shattered Sky : “For a tenacious Border Watch captain, uncovering an operation trafficking in women for the sex slave trade is the easy part, surviving long enough to free them will prove more challenging. As she heads deep into the Australian wilderness she’ll need the reluctant help of a Navy Patrol Boat captain who’s already demonstrated his contempt for her, to outwit, outrun and ultimately outfly the traffickers.”

4: Know your hook. What is it that makes your story different? What is it that makes you more marketable? For me it was being a pilot and writing about flying. Are you a lawyer, nurse, horse rider, farmer, music expert? Is it set in your home town or a unique area you know well? Sell yourself as well as your story.

5: Have a couple of questions to ask them.  Ask about the market, about what she enjoys in a story. Be more specific and ask about the type of submission  they prefer – email or snail mail, synopsis, partial.

And lastly – ENJOY!!


19 thoughts on “Pitch perfect

  1. It’s gold isn’t Rachael!

    Jenn, pumped is good, terrified is not!! You’ll be having soooo much fun you’ll forget to panic 🙂 Bernadette is lovely!

  2. Okay -I’m geared and pumped and terrified LOL. I know they are only people but they are like the most important people on the planet at that point in time! I am looking forward to meeting Bernadette too. 🙂

    Nice example too Kylie

  3. As a virgin pitcher (who is about face firing squad at the RWA conference) I would like to say a big thank you ladies. Great advice.

    Look forward to meeting some of you down there.


  4. Ditto, Kylie. I remember having no idea what I was supposed to do with a pitch. The lovely Paula Roe go me a quick run down about an hour before I pitched which saved me from the worst embarrassment but I cringe looking back at the moment…

  5. This is a great post, Helene. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and support. Hope to meet you at the conference. Kylie, great comment. love how it pulls the story together. Kind regards, Suz

  6. No problem, Helene! 🙂

    I wish I’d had that example about 4 years ago when I wrote/practised my first ever pitch (which, strangely enough, was to Kristin Nelson). It would have taken out some of the stress and worry about “had I written the right sort of pitch?”

    Back then I had no idea what to put in a pitch, let alone how to successfully pull one off! LOL

  7. Juanita, good luck with your pitches. Kylie and I are the proof that RWA conferences, contests and pitches all help with getting that first sale. Very happy to help other people achieve their dream too!!

  8. Kylie, that’s wonderful advice. Your pitch for Vengeance Born clearly worked and I can see why. If you don’t mind I’ll add you to my list of examples for future posts on pitching!!

  9. Thanks Amanda, hope it helps.

    Rachael it’s supposed to calm the nerves not make them worse!! Yes, Bernadette is lovely as are all our agents and editors who attend conference and they really don’t bite 🙂

  10. Helene, this is a great post and for the practical among us (:-D ), your example of an elevator pitch is excellent.

    My BILD (Book in 50 Days writing group) have experimented with and used this pitching idea…

    Hero(ine) – Who?
    Flaw – What is it?
    Opponent – What or who is stopping your hero(ine) achieving his/her goal?
    Lifechanging Event – What is the thing that takes him/her out of his/her ordinary life and dumps him/her in the middle of change?
    Ally – Who is the person who is going to help him/her in his/her battle? Why?
    Battle – What is it?

    Here’s my elevator pitch for VENGEANCE BORN using the above idea…one line for each idea/hint:

    The healer daughter of a demon king
    whose half-blood status makes her despised by his people
    breaks her father’s law
    when she frees a tortured human from prison.
    Now on the run with him
    she must solve a 500 year-old secret, and survive to change the future of three races

    Good pitching to anyone doing so at conference! 🙂

  11. Ditto what Amanda said! Although you’ve made me realise I really should be starting to think about my pitch now. And starting to think about it has made me nervous 🙂

    Bernadette sounds absolutely lovely!!

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