Posted by Lauren Ruth
Last weekend, I participated in my first round of pitch appointments at the New Jersey Romance Writers’ Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, which was lovely. I’ve never been pitched a verbal query before, so I was surprised by how nervous everybody was, and by how nervous I was myself.
As I sat at my narrow little table, hoping my iPhone didn’t chirp in the middle of someone’s pitch, I was actually quite startled and a little uncomfortable at the extreme nervous energy in the room. Each author who came to tell me about his/her book looked like they were currently in the process of surmounting an obstacle. Right then and there, each author was climbing a mountain. And I totally get it. It’s terrifying to take something that came from your mind and your heart and show it to someone else whose function is first and foremost to judge you. I mean, it’s akin to sitting down naked in front of the agent…and not being comfortable with how you look.
But each author did it. Nobody choked. Nobody cried, to my hallelujah-like relief. Nobody got angry at me when I offered my criticism, if I did. I’ll admit it: I was nervous too. What if I zoned out while the author was pitching and had to ask her to repeat herself? What if I hurt someone’s feelings, in a fit of tact-lapse? I don’t think that happened either. If I did hurt your feelings, pitch appointment authors who might be reading, it was unintentional. I was pleasantly surprised that I really wanted to read almost every manuscript pitched to me. But, true to my nature, I want to offer some advice to conference pitchers:
1. Tell the agent or editor you’re nervous. Just put it out there. It might make you feel better to not try and hide it.
2. Don’t speak too quickly. We need to be able to understand you and your book. I know you probably want to just get through it, but its important to be clear and calm.
3. Don’t say “um”. Pause, if you need to, during which you say nothing and collect your thoughts. But filler-words can be very annoying and muddling, particularly when its excessive.When every other word is “uh” or “um” I’m narrowing my eyes and concentrating too hard on trying to understand you. Let me hear your pitch as you would write it to me.
4. Memorize your pitch. When I took public speaking, I would memorize 5-minute speeches deliberately so if I got nervous, it wouldn’t matter. The words I was supposed to say came like second-nature to me because I’d drilled them into my head. My professor accused me of cheating when she caught on to me. My reaction, “Well, not really. But, yeah, I’ve made this easier on myself, if that’s what you mean.” Make it easier on yourself if you’re not good at pitching. Memorize it, practice it in front of people. Then, when the agent or editor is staring at you expectantly and you’re suddenly faced with putting your heart out there on the table, you’ll find comfort and familiarity in your memorized speech.
5. Don’t ramble. Get to the point right away. Your pitch doesn’t need to be more than 250 words initially. Wait for a reaction or a question from the agent or editor and then give them the information they’ve requested. Rambling will cause the person whose interest you’re trying to spark to tune out. Don’t go on and on about how you really wanted to write this, but it was too something, so you thought to write that and then it just came out as…because I’m not marvelling at your process, I’m thinking about lunch.
6. This last is really not advice, but rather a kudos/success story from my first conference. One author had written a book about ghosts. She came to the appointment with a chocolate ghost to give to me. While I won’t say you must bring me gifts when you see me, I will say that I was just tickled by this. I loved the creativity and enthusiasm it showed, I loved the chocolate, I suddenly really loved the author. I showed the ghost to my colleagues, Jessica Faust and Jessica Alvarez who were in attendance at the conference and they really liked it too. The general reception was: Huh. Neat! I think they were jealous while I chowed down on my chocolate ghost, all smiles. When asked about my pitches, The Ghost Lady is the one I remember with the most clarity. Will she be successful because of the chocolate ghost? Uh, no. But she will stand out…
What advice or anecdotes do all of you have about your conference jitters?