Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pitching: A Newbie Guide

The American Christian Fiction Writers' annual conference will begin on Friday, and advice is swirling around on the internet as writers--published and aspiring, ascend, descend or otherwise arrive in Indianapolis, with one-sheets, business cards, synopses, and full proposals in hand. Waving enough paper to decimate a small rain forest, we're hoping to catch the eye of an agent or an editor, or in our wildest dreams, both, as we hope to pitch our completed novels.

And we're open to advice, we really are. And advice we're getting. And from some very good, well-meaning, and noteworthy people. The only problem is, the advice is often contradictory.

In the last few weeks I've learned that a pitch sheet and a one-sheet (with or without hyphens) are two different things, except for when they are the same thing. They should be colorful and creative, but business-like with a minimum of color and graphics. Huh?

Business cards should be professional, but attention-getting, with all your contact information, but not too much personal information. ???

And an elevator pitch should be 14 words, and last 30-60 seconds, and not sound like a tag line. Hmmm... Only... if... I... talk... very... very... slowly...

And I've been told to bring chocolate--and no gifts of any kind.

Some agents and editors want to know about the theme, some don't. Some want to know about marketing, some don't. And don't even get me started about the synopses.

What is a writer to do?

Take a deep breath, people.

I'm by no means a conference veteran. I've only been to a couple conferences before this one. But I know running around at the last minute like Chicken Little is going to be counter-productive. It's time to take a step back and look at the big picture.

What are you trying to do when you pitch?

Get someone interested in your book.

How can you best do that?

Be excited about what you have written--and use some method to convey that excitement and what the novel is about. Here are some guidelines from me, a newbie.

The one-sheet (or pitch sheet). As best I can tell, the one-sheet is a creature belonging to Christian fiction alone. The idea behind it is to have something to catch the agent/editor's eye, give them something to remember you by, and perhaps help you get through the pitch if you sit down and suddenly go brain dead. There is no unwritten law of the universe that says you have to have one, or that governs the font, amount of text, or contents--whatever you think will best help you sell the book. But for the most part,proponents of a one-sheet suggest it be clear, professional looking, with font and graphics that draw attention to your story without distracting an agent from your pitch.

The business card. Again,there is no rule saying you even have to have one. But if you want a quick way of sharing contact information with people you meet, why not? And if your picture is on it, even better--they might remember your face. If you want them to remember your face. As far as not wanting personal information on it--hey, if you want people to be able to contact you, I'd put it down. Only be careful of who you hand it to--the fellow writer? the agent? the editor? These people are unlikely to stalk you. The panhandler in front of the hotel, not so much.

As far as an elevator pitch? These had me so keyed up, I was thinking about using the stairs. But basically, an elevator pitch is telling about your story. I played around with several versions, but instead of launching into a canned spiel, I hope to be able to simple tell as much of the story as I can in the time allotted and only as long as I hope to hold the person's attention. The purpose of an elevator pitch is to attract interest--not to be like some dreaded door-to-door salesman or customer support rep from India reading from a script. Bait. Connect. Don't drone. And don't stalk. Agents and editors need private time and potty breaks like everybody else--these are not times to pitch.

Sample pages and synopses? Have them on hand. Tell the person you're pitching to you have them on hand.

But relax. Like a query, the default answer is still no. And most books simply will not sell, no matter how perfect your pitch or one-sheet. So pray up and give it your best shot. But get everything you can out of the conference. Learn. Connect. Network. Make friends. You might as well enjoy yourself--because here's where that vacation money went.

But breathe.