Best of cheapblackpens | The Dreaded Pitch Slam, or “Where My Pitches At?”

[Original post here]

[Note: Apparently an agent yelled “Where my pitches at?” in the first session. I saw it on Twitter, but did not witness a repeat during my session.]

I’m attending the Writer’s Digest Conference West (WDCW) this weekend in LA, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I’ll post a nice wrap-up later this week, but I wanted to get this post out while my thoughts (and let’s face it, emotions!) were still fresh.

What made WDCW memorable for me was Pitch Slam, an event where you pitch your manuscript to an agent. Live. In-person. You have ninety seconds to pitch, and they have ninety seconds to ask questions and/or give feedback. As I learned yesterday, there is actually someone keeping time and announcing three minutes have elapsed. As an author,  you want those three minutes to end with a card (or instructions for submitting a query, if the agent doesn’t have a card). At the very least, you may get an opportunity to receive feedback on your pitch or further questions which can help you with other agents.

Prior to Pitch Slam, I attended an online boot camp to help develop my pitch. I’ve never submitted a query letter or pitched my manuscript before, so I wanted some guidance on that aspect. I also read a few blog posts about what to expect:

They gave me a better idea of what kind of scene I was about to enter, and what I needed to do beforehand to prepare myself. I also reviewed the list of agents appearing, taking note of who was interesting and worthwhile. I went a step further and Googled the agent/agency to get a better idea of who might be a good fit for me. There were three agents that I knew I wanted to see, plus several “I hope I have time” agents on my list.

I wrote my pitch and practiced a few times at home, but I didn’t want to get too comfortable with what I prepared – on the opening night of WDCW, there was a “Pitchcraft” session with additional tips. I made some tweaks to my pitch, then crammed. One trick I used was to outline the main points so I could keep on track and speak comfortably to the key ideas. I didn’t want to sound like I prepared a memorized speech. I videochatted with the fella back home, and he gave me two thumbs up – much better than I what I was doing Thursday night. After that, it was just a waiting game until my session.

A lot of people talk about the “strategy” of pitching. I had one going in, and some elements worked. I can give some general tips on this process:

  1. Do your research. I knew who I wanted to see, and the first three agents I approached were the ones from my list. My pitfall? I’m pitching a genre manuscript, and while an agent’s bio might say they’re drawn to great characters and interesting scenarios, it might mean just from a general fiction perspective. Two of my three picks let me know they didn’t represent fantasy, period. One of them was really kind about it, offering to still give me feedback on my pitch itself. The other was, shall we say, cruel to be kind: she interrupted my pitch, asked for the specific genre, and flat-out told me she did not represent that area. I was on my merry way, but my next pitch generated interest, and a business card. Had I stayed the entire three minutes, I would not have had time to pitch to a fifth agent, or possibly a fourth.
  2. Pay it forward. It was crowded, busy, and loud. It was hard to find the end of the line for some agents – everything kind of swirled together into a conference room Charybdis. I was searching for an agent’s line at the same time another woman was. She was there before me, but I was able to break through the crowd and get to the end first. I gestured her over and let her get ahead of me since she was “there” before I was. She was appreciative, and we struck up a conversation. She had managed to pitch three other agents already (I was only at two) and we shared some feedback on the ones from our lists. One of my “I hope I have time” agents was reportedly very nice and engaging, so I went to that booth next and landed a card.
  3. Have an open mind. Look, ultimately you’re hoping to generate interest in your work and connect with an agent. Even if your pitch doesn’t work out, you can still get a lot from the experience. One of the agents gave me feedback on my pitch and let me use my three minutes to answer questions – I was so grateful, because I was nervous and I’d like to think she sensed that and gave me an outlet for that energy. It made a world of difference; the next agent I pitched told me to submit something.
  4. Timing is everything. Give yourself options, because the time goes by fast. The first pitch session was apparently packed, and some people had a solid strategy that allowed them to see many agents. Others only saw one or two. I opted for the second session, which was smaller and way easier to navigate. There were a few agents on my “I hope I have time” list, but the lines were long. Just think: if each pitch is three minutes and ten people are in front of you, you just decided to spend a third of your time in line.
  5. Make the most of it. Talk (quietly) to the people in line with you. Network. I bonded with fellow writers and event staff. Trade business cards, if you have them (another lesson learned: have them).
  6. Take chances. There were only a few rounds left in the session, and I had already pitched to four agents; everyone else on my list was closed due to time constraints. I recognized one name from my list – someone from my genre but at the YA level. I wasn’t expecting a card or a request for submission. I just wanted to talk to one last person about my pitch. I gave my pitch and she asked questions. Since there was no one in line behind me (the event was ending soon), she let me stay and asked a couple more. This was probably one of the best parts of the session for me: I got to feel what it was like to not feel any pressure giving my pitch. I got to associate a feeling of tranquility speaking about my manuscript. I can draw on that moving forward. I can also polish my answers to questions that I stumbled answering. I wasn’t surprised when she said it was interesting but not for her. For me, I wasn’t in it for the outcome – I was in it for the experience.
  7. When in doubt, go to your happy place. Breathe deep. Dance to your favorite song in your hotel room beforehand. Have a cup of tea at lunch. Repeat your calming word. Do whatever you need to do prior to (and during, within reason!) the session to relax.
  8. Smile.

2 thoughts on “Best of cheapblackpens | The Dreaded Pitch Slam, or “Where My Pitches At?”

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