Pitch Slam – Literary speed dating. Where writers pitch their manuscripts to agents and editors while trying not to stumble over their words and/or pass out.
I’m proud to say that I didn’t pass out. One out of two isn’t half bad…oh wait, it literally is...but we’ll get to that.
Leading up to the conference, I made multiple, frantic Google searches in hopes of discovering what to expect. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to find and what was out there wasn’t specific enough to ease my growing anxiety. I needed details. Step by step commentary on what they went through. So, if that's the kind of information you need, you're in the right place.
One last quick note before I jump into it: Writer’s Digest provided an amazing session the day before called Pitch Perfect. It was all about what you need to do to make your pitch…well, perfect. The presenter, Chuck Sambuchino, was hilarious and full of so much information that I left the session feeling a little better about it all. A little bit. If your conference provides such an experience…GO, GO, GO!
Unlike previous years, according to those in the know, this year sessions were broken up into three, one hour sessions instead of one giant three hour lump. Since the final session followed the lunch break, I opted for that one so I could take advantage of the extra prep time. The nerves directed me straight to the line instead of to lunch. I wasn’t the only one with the idea and by the time I got downstairs I was, at least, the twentieth person in line. It was easy to see that everyone had their own way of preparing. Some people chatted away while some stood wide eyed and stone still. Some practiced their pitches on each other while others mouthed them to themselves. In my 45 minutes in line, I did a bit of each, but mostly I paced back and forth whispering my pitch and trying my best not to look my cheat sheet:
There were three agents that I wanted to pitch to for sure and two that I would go to if I had enough time. The goal: get an agent so excited about your manuscript that they hand you their business card. This meant a request for pages and that meant an agent would read my work and potentially want to represent me. This was when I had to remind myself to breathe and that I should be proud of myself for just showing up. Even if I ended up leaving the session empty handed.
When the doors finally opened, everyone fell quiet and headed into the Terrace Ballroom. Tables lined the walls and there were two agents/editors per table. They sat alphabetically which helped a lot.
I ended up being the first in line for...
He was in a conversation with his table mate so both myself and the first woman in line for the other agent had to stand around for a couple of minutes before we were called to sit down. After Agent 1 and I made introductions, he asked me what I was there to pitch. I was so glad that I practiced as much as I did! Making eye contact, I delivered it flawlessly, but despite that he stopped me right before the last line. The last line! Oh well. He told me that he didn’t think this was a good time for books with zombies in them. I told him that I understood and thanked him. BUT THEN…he handed me his card and asked to see the first ten pages and a synopsis. Although he wasn’t as excited about my book as I’d hoped he would be, I was thrilled to know that I wasn’t leaving the session with nothing. I thanked him again and made sure to write down what he requested as I headed over to…
Even before I sat down I knew I liked her. She was smiley and bright eyed, just really welcoming. After introductions, I started my pitch and before I even finished my first line she said, “love it already!”. My heart went nuts, but I had to ignore it and push through. Not only did I get to finish my pitch this time, but she made positive comments throughout. After, she said that she “really, really want to read this” and handed me her card requesting the first 50 pages. As a hugger, it took everything in me not to jump across the table and do just that. I was on such a high as I headed over to…
She already had someone in her chair, so as I stood in line I took note of how serious her face was. I should have told myself not to let that throw me since it was such a stark contrast from the last agent. But, I didn’t. After an awkward introduction, I jumped right into my pitch. Remember the stumbling over my words thing? Yep. I completely botched the beginning and didn’t recover until about the halfway point. When I finished, she obviously had some questions. I apologized for messing up the beginning of the pitch and then answered them. After a little more back and forth, she looked at me…expressionless. Uhhhhh. Then, she handed me her card and even though I heard what she said, I still asked what she would like me to submit…because I had clearly heard her wrong. “The full,” she said. How I didn’t pass out was beyond me. I had somehow hit the holy grail of pitching despite the difficulty I had forming words and pushing them out of my mouth. I thanked her, told her I loved her necklace and got out of there before she realized what she’d done. I headed straight to…
She had only listed Sci-Fi, not horror, on her wishlist. And, although I believe my story to be Sci-Fi, I know that some would also consider it horror since zombies are involved. After introductions, I told her to feel free to kick me out of her chair if my story didn’t fall into the realm of Sci-Fi she was interested in. She was super friendly and I could tell that everything people had written about her in the writing forums was true. When I finished she said she loved the idea and, if the tension was there, she’d definitely be interested. She handed me her card and requested the first 50 pages and a synopsis. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this was happening as I walked over to…
She had also only listed Sci-Fi, but stated that she wanted diverse authors and characters, so I had to try. Again, super friendly and open. After my pitch she looked at me and I don’t know what I was thinking, aside from this is awkward, but before I could stop myself I threw up jazz hands and said…TADA! Thankfully she had a sense of humor and laughed. [Disclaimer: I do not endorse ending pitches with jazz hands and/or Tada’s]. She asked some questions (is it an alternating POV? Is it adult or YA?) and seemed really happy with each answer I gave. She handed me her card and requested the first 50 pages, a query and a synopsis.
In a daze, I wandered to the middle of the room and noted that there was still 15 minutes left in the session. I scoured the list of agents to see if there were any others specifying Sci-Fi, since I’d had such good luck with them, but there were none. With no other options, I floated out of the Terrace Ballroom.
Undeniably, things went great for me, but I truly believe that even if I had zero requests I still wouldn't have left empty handed. I would have left knowing that, not only did I take a huge, scary leap into my writing career, but I survived.
Look, I could tell you not to be nervous, but no matter what, you will be. What I can tell you, now that I’m on the other side, is that however you anticipate the experience to be in your mind, is way worse than it will actually be. Agents aren’t scary, mythological creatures. They’re just people. Remember that and you'll be fine.
Next week I’ll post some tips from both the Pitch Perfect session and my own experience to help you to be as prepared as possible. Until then, feel free to ask questions in the comments below!