Pitch the Pitch! by Delle JacobsI promised last week I'd tell you a new way of managing your editor and agent appointments, but it's taken me a little longer to put it together than I expected due to the fascinating job of coordinating the Royal Ascot. But here it is.
Are your knees knocking like a drum roll at the thought of pitching to an editor or agent at national? I know how you feel. Been there, done that, never going back. Not that I don't do editor/agent appointments-- I do. But I refuse to pitch.
Like a lot of authors, I dreaded more than anything the annual ritual of pitching at national, but it seemed like the only way I could get my toe in that fast-slamming door. I was a nervous wreck. I made awful mistakes. I swear to you, I couldn't find my business card when it was right in my hand! And I went through four years of this. Finally, I was sitting in an interview across from a pleasant, pretty young editor and I suddenly realized she had to be younger than my youngest daughter. And I was afraid of her? Clearly something had to change.
What I did was pitch the pitch. I had to completely eradicate that word from my vocabulary. I was a professional woman who often appeared before judges in courtrooms, going head to head with some very aggressive attorneys and winning more often than they did because I knew what I needed to do and was prepared with a strong case. I wouldn't have taken the case to court if I didn't have my evidence. I had confidence in myself and the work I was doing. I needed to have that same approach in my interviews.
I decided I was a professional author making a presentation. I was interviewing the editor or agent, just as she was doing with me. I had no business behaving like a groveling, begging idiot. . I was not pitching. I was giving a professional presentation. So I designed my presentation according to those lines. Persuasion, just as in a courtroom, depended on presenting factual evidence in a package that attracted and held attention long enough for it to impress its audience and get its point across. No judge would have listened to me if I had tried to approach him the way I approached an editor.
First, I realized that most editors simply cannot follow the usual spiel, no matter how hard they try. We make it impossible for them to listen. That's because we go about it backwards, trying to cram our entire story into a short interview, and talking so fast they couldn't follow the words even if we weren't boring them to death. And to really drive home our point, we refuse to lose eye contact even long enough to blink. Imagine being in the editors' seats. Eeek!
Okay, but how do we get it across then, when we only have eight minutes? Or worse, two? The answer is, we don't. There is no way we can. Nor should we even try.
Instead, I went the opposite direction. How could I capture just the essence of my book? I thought of back cover blurbs. They grab the idea and the hook in just a few sentences. Back then, nobody talked about High Concept, but that was essentially what I was seeking. I decided if I can't put it on the back of a business card in readable size print, it was too long.
Here's one of my very early versions, actually from a card for the published book, but the principle is the same: Get your message across quickly in an intriguing way.
Some others I've done:
THE MUDLARK: The only thing they have in common is their grim determination not to marry each other.
HIS MAJESTY, THE PRINCE OF TOADS: Q: How many kisses does it take to change a Toad into a Handsome Prince? A: We'll never know. Sophie's lost count.
APHRODITE'S BREW: What was supposed to be a restorative tonic for women turns out to have an entirely different effect on men-- and the bachelors of the Ton are running scared.
Here's one I put on the front of the card for LADY WICKED:
And here's my current back blurb for my recent release, SINS OF THE HEART:
You don't have to go to the extent I have in the past, developing a card for each available manuscript with a unique face for each one. Just put your short blurb on the back of your regular business card. Put a few in your pocket and have them handy to give to that editor you chance to meet at your table or in the elevator.
The good thing about putting these blurbs on cards is, if you're losing focus, all you have to do is glance at them to pull yourself back on track.
The next thing to do is to be prepared to answer the questions an editor wants most to know:
1. Who are you? Why should she consider publishing you? In other words, something very basic about your credentials.
2. What kind of story is it? Genre, word count, etc.
3. Who are your hero/heroine? What makes them unique and intriguing?
3. What do they want? (What are their goals and motivation?)
4. Why can't they have it? (What is the conflict?)
Going about it in this way, I design a presentation that lasts less than a minute, with my presentation of the book being under 100 words. I leave the rest of the time for discussion.
I like a visual presentation, and I've discovered editors and agents like to have something to look at besides my face, so I've always had one card for each book. I've actually found myself laying out six cards on the table because the editor asked about my published books. Five of them were for Golden Heart finalists at the time, but some were published as ebooks so weren't available to her, so I just used them to show my credentials. But then I removed the published book cards and showed her the back-side blurbs of the three of the unpublished manuscripts. She asked me to tell her about two of them, kept both cards, and asked to see both manuscripts.
Normally that would be risky, but it just happened that way, and it worked. Also, we didn't have to do that deadly "never-lose-eye-contact" thing because we both had reason to look somewhere else.
You don't even have to do the visual card thing. Just because I like to do pictures doesn't mean it's the best way to approach your interview. But you can still use the basics of my approach. Just remember these few rules:
1. You are a professional, giving a professional presentation, which you have carefully and professionally prepared.
2. In the beginning, introduce yourself and say, "I am the... [insert whatever piece of your credentials best and most quickly identifies you].
3. Speak SLOWLY. You won't need to worry about speeding through a pitch and rattling like an idiot because you aren't pitching. Your very concise PRESENTATION will intrigue the editor into a real conversation about your book. And you can relax, knowing you're prepared, and professional. She'll remember it, simply because you have created a pleasant interaction, not one that strains her nerves and her ears.
4. Express the essence of your book in 100 words or less, stating it in an intriguing, unique way. If you can make it like a slogan, 30 words or less, that's even better.
3. Prepare short, interesting answers to the questions an editor is likely to answer. Again, very short!