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Secrets for Making a Great Pitch

Agent Rachelle Gardner has this advice.

Today is my official post for the ACFW Blog Tour. Only 78 days left until the ACFW conference! Let’s talk about those all-important agent-and-editor pitches.

As one of my blog readers wrote, we can probably all agree on the “don’ts” of pitching your project. Don’t pitch in the bathroom. Don’t pitch incomplete projects. Don’t pitch with your mouth full. What are some positive tips we can all use?

Taking into account that I’m only one person and I can only speak for myself, I think the secret to making a great pitch is to give me the information I need so that I can understand what you’re talking about. Start with a bit of context or background, THEN tell me about your book. This doesn’t have to be in-depth, considering your time restraints. But take a moment to introduce yourself before pitching.

Too often, people sit down and nervously launch into some kind of description of their book and I find myself dizzy with confusion. I sit there like a deer in the headlights and then I say something like, “Let’s back up. Tell me about youself. And what genre is this?”

To me, the best pitches include the following information without me having to ask for it:

My name is _____ and I wanted to meet with you because _____.

I’m represented by _____ (agent name if applicable).

I’m writing ______ (what genre).

My publishing history includes _____. OR I’m currently unpublished but have been writing for ___ years.

Today I want to tell you about my book called _____ which is a ____(genre).

This book won the _____ award (if relevant).

I’m writing about this topic because ____ (if relevant. For example, you are a police officer and you’re writing a cop thriller).

My tagline is _____ (20 words or so that capture your book).

Then, launch into your pitch. This should be a couple of minutes long, max, allowing time for the agent or editor to ask questions. Have a 1-minute pitch prepared, too, in case of mealtime or elevator pitches.

What should your pitch include?

a Don’t try to tell the whole story. Start with the plot catalyst, the event that gets the story started.

a Then give the set-up, i.e. what happens in the first 30 to 50 pages that drives the reader into the rest of the book. Include the pressing story question or the major story conflict.

a Round out your pitch with any of the following: plot elements, character information, setting, backstory, or theme. You want to include just enough information to really intrigue your listener. Note that your pitch doesn’t have to be all “plot.” If your story is more character driven, then fill out your pitch with interesting character details. If the setting is an important element, talk about that. If the backstory plays heavily, round out your pitch with that. Be intentional in how you structure your pitch.

a The most common error I see is trying to tell too much of the story in the pitch. The pitch is supposed to get somebody interested, not tell the whole story. Stick to the high points.

a Include only a couple of characters.

a Include one plot thread, or two if they’re closely intertwined. You can hint at the existence of other characters and plot lines.

A good way to learn how to craft your pitch is to spend an afternoon in the bookstore, reading back covers. You’ll notice the cover copy doesn’t tell the whole story, it simply gives the setup, maybe talks a little about theme (i.e. what the reader may get out of the book), and makes you want to read it.

However, beware that back cover copy varies widely in length and style, so you can only take this comparison so far. The one element you’ll see in back cover copy that you shouldn’t include in your pitch is “hype” language such as “this revolutionary book” or “this breathless story.” Don’t use adjectives to describe your book, just convey the story so that we want to read more. Show, don’t tell.

Be prepared to answer questions like:
a How does your story end?
a What published author’s style would you compare your writing to?
a Who are your favorite authors in your genre?
a Tell me about the Christian content in this book?
a Is this a series? And if so, what are the subsequent books about?
a How long have you been writing?
a Have you worked with a critique group or a professional editor?
a Have you pitched this to publishers in the past? If so, what was the response?

Important: Know all the key points of your pitch! But don’t memorize your pitch verbatim. You want to be ready to speak it aloud and sound natural, whether during a planned meeting, a meal, in an elevator or a random encounter. Having your pitches prepared ahead of time (and adjusting them as necessary if you learn new things in workshops) will raise your confidence level.

What to bring: I think it’s a good idea to have a professional-looking one sheet about your book, and make sure you have several so that you can give them to anyone who wants to keep it (although most editors and agents won’t want to carry things). Click here for Mary DeMuth’s instructions on how to write a one-sheet. You should also have the first couple of chapters printed out and with you. Often an agent or editor will want to glance at your pages during the meeting. If you want to bring a couple copies of this just in case someone wants to take it, that’s probably a good idea. Finally, be sure to bring a business card, and ask if the person you’re meeting with wants to take it with them.

And most important: To help raise your confidence and lower the nervousness, realize that agents and editors are regular people just like you. We clean our toilets, we change our kids’ poopy diapers, we stress over what to wear and whether we’re having a bad hair day. Also, we REALLY like chocolate. How much more normal could we be?

Click here to find and read all the other bloggers’ posts on the ACFW Blog Tour.

You can access all my other posts on conferences by clicking here.

Happy pitching!

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