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Monday, April 30, 2012

How to Screw Up Your Pitch at a Writing Conference

This guest post is brought to you courtesy of my writer friend Lindsey Schaefer. She and I recently ran the pitch room at a writing conference, and some of it wasn't pretty.  Hey, I've been there and made many of these mistakes in my rookie years at writing conferences. Hopefully we can help you avoid some of them.

My comments are below Lindsey's in italics. If anyone else has tidbits of wisdom they'd like to share, like Dumbo, I'm all ears.

How to Screw Up Pitching Your Novel
Do not relay your life story - regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with your work - if it involves being abducted by aliens, possessed by a demon or attacked by a ghost. Agents tend to be skeptics.
These kinds of projects are ideal for self-publishing. Agents won't be able to take it on because they can't prove the supernatural is real. Unless you have been on Oprah and she has ooed and ahhed over your story, the best person to publish your story is you.

Do not read from a letter. I have seen agents rip up pitches in front of writers to force them to talk. Use your words.
Guilty. Carried that paper around like a security blanket and often avoided eye contact. Talk to them like you would anyone that you're telling about your novel.

Do not linger after the pitch has been made. Refusing to leave or struggling to make small talk is either going to distract the agent from your initial proposal or simply irritate him/her.
And the writer who has the next appointment. Please don't take up more than your share of time. Just like we learned in kindergarten - you have to share.

Do not pitch an incomplete story or mere idea. A query letter is one thing. But when you sit down face-to-face with an agent, they tend to believe you have something concrete to bring to the table. Don't disappoint.
Guilty. I get that many people want to practice pitching, but the agents and editors are here for complete projects they can run with. You don't want to excite them about dessert only to reveal you haven't baked the cake yet.

Do not pitch a mystery story to a romance agent or a non-fiction piece to someone who specializes in YA fiction. If they don't work in that field, they don't care. Don't waste your time or theirs. Do your research ahead of time.
I have a feeling the people who really need to be reading this never will. Sometimes it isn't your fault and their preferences have shifted since they put them up on their website. But often you can do research about who their clients are and show them you know what you are talking about when you say your project is for them.

Do not seem so desperate. Pitching to every editor in the room doesn't make you look like you're keeping your options open, it makes you look like you don't have enough confidence in your work to think it will grab the attention of the agent who specializes in your genre.
Guilty. It's hard when you are passionate about something and someone tells you it won't work or it isn't marketable. For them it's not. Find someone as excited about your work as you are.

Do not show up late...or not at all. Quite simply, it's not professional. And the agents you're set to meet with typically has your name in front of them. Who's to say they won't remember your name if you happen to run into them later.
Enough said.

Do not pitch the same idea that EVERYONE else is pitching. Just because dystopian fiction is big in 2012 doesn't mean you have to write a post-apocalyptic piece. Supernatural YA fiction might be a big seller, but if the agent you sit down with has heard 27 pitches in that genre already, what's going to make your story stand out? Agents want what readers want...a good story. Don't worry about what sells, just worry about what you can write.
One caveat to this; if that is what you read and the only thing you want to write about, that's the best genre for you. Just realize if its a crowded market, you're going to have a tougher time getting an agent interested. They get fatigue after hearing the same old thing day after day. However those of us who read a specific type of book don't. E-publishing ala Amanda Hocking, may be the way to go...


Cozy in Texas said...

Good post. I remember pitching to an agent and she started to pass me a business card and then suddenly scooped all her cards up and put them in her purse. I have no idea what I said, but decided then that independent publishing was the way to go.

Tricia Grissom said...

Ouch! I'm beginning to agree. I think there's a far greater likelyhood we will find our audience by self publishing rather than trying to get just one person interested enough to take a chance on our book. Much better odds...