Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just a Wookie Pitcher

In May, six agents will descend upon Atlanta. Authors will line up to tell them about their book. Give them the ole verbal pitch. Authors, the introverts, verbally selling their book, by talking, out loud. Oh boy!

I knew this would be a great opportunity, but like other writers, I am terrified of the thought.  Lucky for me, the Atlanta Writers Club offered two sets of Pitch Critique Workshops; one in  December and one in January. I participated in the one that just passed.

Here’s how it worked. First, I sent in the first 20 pages of Iron Thirst to have critiqued by Joshilyn Jackson (there were three authors to choose from), and then showed up on Dec 5th to receive her critique of those pages. In addition, I sat down with her a second time and gave her my pitch, and she critiqued that as well.

Preparing for the pitch was unlike anything that I’ve ever done before. I started off with my query letter and ballooned it and made it more conversational. Then I removed all the extra buzz words, rehearsed it a few times, realized that it sucked, threw it in the trash, started over, and stumbled upon something…

The verbal pitch is a golden opportunity. It’s not just the opportunity to meet the agent and put a face with the name. It’s a chance to read the agent, not just have them read the query.

What is the biggest problem with the query letter? It’s not just that the agent receives hundreds of them either daily or weekly. It’s not just that you are trying to sell your 80K word story in 250 words or less. It’s that you can’t see their reaction. You can’t tell when you are losing them. You can’t answer their questions when they get a puzzled look on their face.

Writers are not generally great talkers, but we are excellent readers. We are good at watching people’s body posture, and at reading their emotions. It’s what we do with our characters, right? The verbal pitch lets us see when we need to detour, speed it up, slow it down, or wrap it up.

Watching their body cues is the greatest advice I can give when it comes to giving a verbal pitch. But in addition to that, here are a few other tips I will offer from my experience.

  •   Research the person that you are going to be pitching to, and find a way to make a connection with them. Do they represent an author that you admire? Share a common bond of scuba-diving? Do they have a blog?

  • When you first sit down, do not launch directly into your pitch. Take a moment to speak to them as people and not as someone you wouldn’t be talking to unless your book’s life depended on it. No one likes to feel used. (But don’t worry, they know why you are there.) Then throw in that common bond or that you loved the book they wrote or represent.

  • Your pitch should be prepared, but not sound rehearsed. Know what you are going to say, but don’t sound like you are delivering something from a manuscript. Just talk to them, and tell them the story.

  • Don’t use all of your time pitching. Leave room for questions.

  • Anticipate questions. Have answers ready.

  • And ask questions. Agents are a wealth of knowledge.

  • The beauty of a pitch is that you can actually talk a little bit more about your book and why it is different. You don’t get that opportunity in the query letter.

  • Be excited about your book. If you sound bored when you are pitching it to them, they don’t want to read it. You wrote it and you don’t seem impressed.

  • Relax. These are people. People that love books. 

The critique of my mock pitch went very well. Joshilyn said that she would ask for pages. Stupid me didn’t take her up on it. Granted she is an author and not an agent, but she seemed very interested in the story, and it would have been flippin awesome to have her read it. *slaps forehead*  She is an awesome person, and a lot of fun. Her blog cracks me up.
If you are in the Atlanta area, there is another critique workshop next month. Head over to the Atlanta Writers Club website. If you are not a member, ah-hem, do that first. Clubs are awesome, but that’s another post. (Yay, an idea for another post!!)
The big conference is in May. Wish me luck!
So, have you ever participated in a verbal pitch? How did it go? What is some of the best advice that you have received regarding the verbal pitch?


  1. Well, that is helpful. I blew my chance at a verbal pitch. I knew as much as I could about the agent, had a few minutes to chat with him, and, reading his body language, knew my moment had come. He was ready for it - I chickened out.

    Something about taking my one shot at a pitch (query) and possibly tripping over my tongue at just the wrong phrase scared me to death. So I shook his hand, told him how pleased I was to meet him in person, and ran away as fast as I could.

    I admire anyone who can successfully, verbally pitch. As you say, it's probably the best way to land an agent. But I'm not sure its the easiest - emotionally.

    I really enjoyed the tips. Thanks.


  2. Awesome. I'm going to join the ATL writers club. I don;t know why I have been putting it off, and I definitely plan in attending the may conference. This was a great post AJ.. thanks! :)

  3. What a great post! I haven't had a chance to do a verbal pitch, living in Alaska, but maybe one of these days. I did go to a conference in August and learned a lot about pitching. I was supposed to have a chance to talk to Janet Reid, but she didn't make her plane so she did a critique and edit of some sample pages instead.

    All of those opportunities are soooo helpful!

  4. Donna - There's always other shots. And it's not for everyone. You have to find what works for you.

    JM - Hope to see you at one of the meetings. AWC is on facebook now. Their on my friends list.

    Stephanie- Wow, Janet Reid's a big deal. Thanks for following! I've seen you on Roni's blog a few times.

    I hope to get to a few more conferences this year. There is nothing like being in a room of like-minded individuals who all share the same passion.

  5. Hi Stephanie, I DID make the plane...TWICE! It just didn't take off! I was sooooooo bummed to miss out.

    However, this year (2010) I will be there. I'm riding my broom not a plane!