Friday, July 31, 2009

PITCH PERFECT . . . OR NOT?

I just got back from my very first RWA, and I have to say it was a blast! First of all, traveling with two of my writer peeps, Tammy and Pam, was an adventure in fun all in itself, ‘cause they are so totally cool. And then we arrived at the Marriott in DC! The buzz of excitement, the cacophony of 1850 feminine voices all talking at once, the estrogen-laden air . . . Wow. It was wonderful to be in a place where so many people shared a passion for writing. And I met so many friendly, supportive people, and made two new friends from Panama City and had lunch with Anna Campbell who is a stone hoot and . . .

And, well, you get the picture. I had a really good first RWA conference.

To top it all off, I got to pitch to a number of agents and editors.

I didn’t have an appointment, and so I went down to the basement on Friday and Saturday to see if I could pick up an agent or editor appointment from a no-show. I haven’t been in a room full of so many nervous people since I took the State bar examination after law school. For those of you who haven’t had the joy of taking a bar exam, think ice-water enema. On that long ago day, I walked into the Montgomery Civic Center along with several hundred other law school graduates prepared to take the three-day exam that would determine whether we had just wasted the last three years of our lives or would be able to practice law. I saw some pretty unnerving things during those days. Guys beating their heads against the wall, women throwing up in the bathroom, a girl curled up in one corner in a fetal position. Crying. Sobbing. Lots of praying. One girl got up the first day of the written exam and walked out. That was the worst of all. She was at the top of our class. I was not. If she couldn’t take the pressure, what hope did I have? I found out later she left because she had the flu, but I didn’t know that at the time. Gotta tell you it seriously harshed my mellow.

The atmosphere at the pitch session kind of reminded me of that. Some people walked the floor. One woman looked a little wall-eyed as she mumbled her pitch under her breath. At least I hope it was her pitch. The rest of us tried to memorize the list of agents and editors that handled our genres so we could jump on an appointment if one came available. I think we made the poor volunteers a little nervous. They were fresh meat and we were a bunch of ravening hyenas.

It was wild, and exhilarating in a twisted kind of way.

I am happy to say that I survived the experience unscathed, and even picked up several appointments. The agents and editors I talked to were all very professional and polite. I found the whole thing energizing and exciting. Happily, I did not faint or throw up on anybody (agents hate that), or wet my pants. All in all a positive experience.

What about you? Is pitching a pleasure or a bitch? What has been your experience pitching at conferences? The good, the bad or the ugly?

12 comments:

Karen Beeching said...

I hate pitching. IF I ever do it again, I hope it will be a better experience. I had one great editor and one not so great during my last pitching scenario. That bad-experience editor is no longer in the biz so there may have been more to that hellish experience than I'm aware. What's funny is that I wasn't nervous, and maybe I should have been?

Still, it was so bad that I'm currently sticking to query letters only, and thank goodness I can write those because I get a good response most of the time.

Some day. Maybe next year I'll pitch again.

I definitely recommend reading some of the editor/agent blogs out there and know who is taking what. I also recommend knowing who they represent and read those books. Make sure you have the right editor/agent for your work. It will make the world of difference.

Cari Hislop said...

I'm not a lawyer, and after reading your description of taking the bar exam I'm going to definitely cross it off my list of "things to do before I die". I liked your description though...an icewater enema... I'm glad you had an enjoyable trip. I've never been to a RWA gathering, but it does sound fun.
I should probably join before considering a trip, but in the mean time good luck with your pitching...as a writer, I think I'll skip that process!!!! I'd definately throw up on my dream editor. "Hello, my name is...Ahhhhhhh!"

Jeanie said...

Guess I got lucky, Karen, or was simply too starstruck by the whole thing to notice if they were bored and wished I'd go away. As for the query letter thing, now THAT'S something I truly stink at! Don't have the query letter gene. I really struggle with that part of the process. How do you encapsulate something you've poured so much of yourself into and condense it down to a few lines that will convince an agent they can't live without you as a client?

Cari, try to go to the RWA next year in Nashville. It is quite an experience. Who knows, you might even decide to pitch!

Karen Beeching said...

Ha! You're not kidding. No easy task that query letter.

Every time I sit down to write a query, I think of that deep movie guy voice saying, "In a world where...(insert your book blurb here)."

Somehow it works for me. Go figure. Think about it, you can make anything sound interesting.

In a world where bean burritos were scarce...

Too much fun!

At least now you have the bar to compare everything to. With something like that, your perspective will always be, "--at least I'm not in a fetal position after banging my head against a wall and throwing up."

I doubt it can get much worse than that (and yes, I'm knocking on wood as I write this).

Jeanie said...

Karen, I love it! I'm going to write a book about a world with no bean burritos. That could be the hero's quest, to find a bean burrito. . .

I am going to try your deep-movie-voice-guy trick the next time I sit down to write a query letter. The good thing about query letters? It (usually) means you've finished a book!

Louisa Cornell said...

Cracking up at your descriptions, Jeanie! We DID have a ball, didn't we?

And don't let her fool you, ladies. Jeanie is an animal when it comes to snatching up those appointments that suddenly opened up. She pitched to three editors and three agents. She was NOT playing around.

I've been really lucky in my two years of pitching at RWA. So far everyone has been nice, very professional.

Thank God I have an agent now and only have to pitch to editors !

JoAnn said...

Jeanie and Karen -- If you haven't checked out Query Shark (www.queryshark.blogspot.com), defnitely give it a look-see. It's run by agent Janet Reid, and there's tons of great info there on writing queries.

Pitching? I've only done it a couple of times. The last time, I mentioned to the agent that I also wrote children's books. And she (being an agent who also handles children's authors) asked me to pitch my children's ms. I was not prepared. It did not go well.

Moral? Always be ready to pitch every single thing you've written!

Karen Beeching said...

JoAnn--

YES! I love Janet Reid and go to her blog daily. I read all the agent blogs for months regarding good and bad queries (Bransford, Faust, Nelson, Johnson, Reid, just to name a few). I think it helped me tons!

I think some people find it easier pitching face to face. I'm just not one of them. I think I'm much smoother on paper. I tend to babble when I'm nervous and use words that don't exist. Not good as a writer.

Cari Hislop said...

Jeanie,

I live in England, but if I'm ever in Tennessee (think I spelled that right) when they're having the RWA gathering I shall definitly show up...I shall then probably get lost and end up on a bus to Kansas (I have a bad history with buses).

I enjoyed everyone's comments...I like that idea for using the movie-guy voice to compact the story. I don't know about pitching though...I really struggle with selling myself. I bought that instant self confidence self-hypnosis CD by Paul Mckenna a year or two ago, but I'm still waiting for that confidence to show up. I bable and end up using non-existent words and that's just with friends who like me...add one of those stares over the rims of a pair of reading glasses and I'm a child again looking up at the librarian who I know will kill me if I don't return their book in good condition. Hmmm? That might make a story! Children go missing in library...fed to an alien living in the book return box...I'll probably now have nightmares.

Christine said...

My pitching experience was excellent. I got two requests. I made the appointments during the big PRO sign in day. And I got my dream agent/agency and editor/publisher. After they requested, I was unable to function. But I'd do it again.

Kelly St. John and the HOD group prepared me very well for pitching. I was a bit nervous, but just before I went into the Pitching Dungeons I had a chance encounter with the senior editor of the line I was pitching! She gave me pointers before I went in to pitch to the agent. Who can argue with that kind of serendipity?

Glad your first conference was a blast. Mine was!

Jeanie said...

Cari,

Don't feel bad. I'm so directionally challenged my husband bought me a GPS!

As for the pitch thing, that's why you prepare your pitch, memorize it and practice with your friends. That way, no matter how sternly the agent or editor looks at you over her librarian's glasses, you know your stuff and rattle it off.

I only had four minutes per appointment at the RWA, so you can fill that space of time up. When you finish your thoroughly professional and memorized spiel, they usually ask you questions. If there's any time left after that, you ask THEM questions, like what they're looking for in a client. They're people, too, and enjoy having the guy on the other side of the table show some interest in them.

You can do it!

Diane Richmond said...

Public speaking has always come easy to me. So, after I realized that there are buzz words and concepts that the agent/editor look for, I put my pitch down in writing and then relaxed when the actual talk began.

That was fine until an editor who works at a publishing house I admired squelched my high by saying that we should all just send her our first 3 chapters because she didn't believe in pitches. All they did was show if you were comfortable at public speaking. DARN!!!!