7 Newbie Tips for Pitching at RWA Nationals

July 29, 2014

I'm home from my first national conference in San Antonio.  What a rush!  I met some really neat people and got to act like a drooling fangirl around some of my favorite authors.  The best part?  I made lots of new lovely writer friends, particularly over prickly pear margaritas at Boudros on the River.

This glorious concoction is a prickly pear margarita.

Pitching was the whole reason I went to nationals, and I'm glad to report that my pitches went well--I got requests for a full and a partial. Whew!  Thank you, Jeebus.  And now the real work begins: delivering on what I pitched.

Here's the process for pitching at nationals: A few weeks before, you sign up online for 10-minute pitching appointments.  Everyone can get one agent and one editor appointment.  At the conference, you can sign up for as many empty slots as you want, since some people don't show up for their appointments.

As a newbie, I took three workshops on pitching and read countless blog posts on how to craft the perfect pitch.  There are tons of resources online, particularly Laurie Campbell's Ten Minutes to Glory and Diane Holmes' Pitch University.  I'm far from being an expert on this topic, but the following seven points are what helped me the most. 

7 Newbie Tips for Pitching at RWA Nationals

Image from Business Insider.

1.  Psych yourself out.  This tip from Lee Michael Cohn helped me immensely.  Pretend you're at Starbucks and you see a friend in line.  You only have five minutes before you both have to get back to work, but you want to tell your friend this great story that you think she'll love.  Think of your pitch as this story, and the excitement you feel about your story will show.

2.  Calm the f*** down.  Look around you in the pitching room.  Lots of people are doing this, and they're just fine.  If you flub, if you blank out, if you start speaking in tongues out of nervousness, take a deep breath and realize that the person on the other side of the table is just that--a person, and probably a nice one.  Start again.  

3.  Shorter is better.  Think about it: 10-minute back-to-back pitches for three hours at a time?  Even the most attentive listener will start to fade.  Write out your pitch.  Read it aloud a few times, sounding more and more natural each time.  Try to average about 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.  This short pitch will be the basis for a discussion about your work.  Trust me.  Your ten minutes will be over before you know it.

4.  Be ready for questions.  The editor or agent will ask you questions about your story.  I got some good ones about conflict, but because I've spent lots of time rewriting and editing and tinkering, I had a solid answer ready at once.  Also, be ready to ask questions in the off chance that there's a lull during your appointment.  Here's an idea.  "Do you have any advice for a first-time novelist like me?"

5.  They're buying in bulk.  Do you like Costco?  I do.  Your editor or agent will perk up at the mention of series potential.  If your book is part of a trilogy or five-part series or something even bigger, say so.  This shows you're not a one-trick pony.  I am convinced that mentioning series potential put me over the edge.

The Far Side.  Image from www.pinterest.com
6.  Plenty of fish.  The editors and agents who are taking pitch appointments at RWA are actively looking for new talent.  Just like there are a lot of writers at RWA, there are a lot of agents and editors, too.  If something feels off about the editor or agent you're pitching to, or if she is less than kind to you, don't sweat it.  You want to work with people who feel right.  If your Spidey sense is tingling, listen to it.  Chalk this one up as a mulligan and start again.

7.  You've got this.  Did you see the movie Gladiator?  Do you remember how Russell Crowe's character was just so awesome that he moved through the different types of competitions until he was fighting in front of the emperor himself? As in all things, the circles get more rarefied the harder you push.  Millions of people want to write a book.  Some people start one.  Fewer people finish one.  Even fewer people start the long journey to getting their book published.  You are now in this tiny circle.  Don't lose your nerve.  Look how far you've come.

There you have it.  Go get 'em, tigers.  And come say hi to me at nationals in New York City in 2015. 

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