Pitching Your Work at Conferences

Pitching your story to a publisher/agent panel is nerve wracking to say the least. I’ve done it twice and now I’m hanging up my pitching shoes, but I wanted to share the things I’ve learned to help anyone planning to pitch their work at a conference.

Although it’s scary, pitching offers a chance to hone your story concept, to get professional feedback on your work, and hopefully get some interest from the panel.

WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT

  1. It’s a chance to step out of your comfort zone, and make new publishing contacts. A little fear can be good for your creativity 🙂
  2. When you prepare your pitch it helps you get your head around what your story is really about. If you can’t summarise it succinctly enough to pitch, it might mean that you have too much going on, or that your story concept isn’t strong enough. Do you know who your character really is? Is there enough at stake for them?
  3. It helps you really own your story

The panel itself is actually the second step. First you have to get past the selection committee, and to do this your story concept needs to be fresh and clear, and your writing strong.

HOW TO CONVEY THE AWESOMENESS OF YOUR STORY

When it comes to presenting to the panel, there are some things you can do to help calm your nerves, and convey how truly awesome your story is.

I. I usually start with my personal connection to the story … this tells the publisher something about me and why I had to write this piece … and why I am the person to write it. For example, when I pitched my WW2 holocaust novel, Beyond Belief, I mentioned that my father had fled Austria because of Hitler, and this was my connection to the story.

2. Don’t try to tell the whole story. You need to say who your main character is, and what their story problem is and how it’s about to get even worse. Leave the panel wanting to know more.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t confuse people with detail. Focus on the high points of your story – the best bits, these are probably the parts you enjoyed writing most. You have to convey the essence of your book.

4. Make your pitch clear and coherent. In a way, the publisher panel is under just as much pressure as you are. They have to listen to your pitch, and give ‘on the spot’ feedback. Make it easy for them. Give them a story concept that can be summed up in a short paragraph, one that’s easy for them to comprehend.

For example, 12 year-old Abby is mortified when her embarrassing parents sign them all up for reality tv show, Happy Families. To make matters worse, Abby discovers one of the other contestants Is her arch enemy Melissa Hill with the perfect family. Melissa is going to make her life hell, but Abby can’t back out now because her parents desperately need the prize money to save them from bankruptcy.

Here I introduce the character and her story problem. I make things even worse for her, and I show what’s at stake and why she has to work through her problem.

5. Go to bookstores and libraries and research competitor books in the marketplace. If you have time, in your pitch, state why your book is unique and why it will appeal to readers.

6. Remember that agents and publishers are real people. They can relate. They may have a dog like yours, an allergy to capsicums or suffer from bad hair days. They are people and they want to hear your story so be proud to tell it.

7. Be prepared for questions. You know your story backwards, but the people you are pitching to won’t have read it. So try and anticipate questions that might be asked and have answers prepared.

8. Plan to read about one page of your work. You only have three minutes to sell yourself and your story. Your writing will speak for itself so one page is plenty. If you try to read too much, you’ll find yourself talking too fast, and the beauty of your writing won’t be clearly conveyed. Allow yourself time to get the panel connected with your character, engaged with your story and wowed by your writing. 3 minutes is not a long time.

You might decide to edit the first pages just for the pitch … so you can give your reading the most impact. You don’t have long to introduce the main character and hook people into their story.

9. Prepare and practice your pitch. Don’t go in cold turkey. Prepare what you are going to say in advance and practice, practice, practice. Practice it in front of your mirror, your dog, your cat, your goat or anyone who’ll listen.

10. When you practice your pitch listen to feedback. If someone says they’re not sure about something, your concept is unclear or your story doesn’t excite them … then keep working on your pitch. All is not lost. Your pitch just needs honing.

Even if you don’t plan to pitch publicly, preparing a pitch is actually a great activity to do in order to help you get to the heart of your story.

EXPECTATIONS

Even if publishers love the sound of your story, don’t expect them to sign you up on the spot. They will want to read the whole thing. The pitching helps them get to know you and whether they think they could work with you … and it helps them get to know your story.

Don’t be disappointed if they don’t jump on your pitch straight away. Look at it as information gathering … it’s a chance to test the viability of your concept … and for you to assess which publishers you might like to work with.

Have fun and be proud of your story … and the fact that you have taken this brave step.

Good luck 🙂

If you have any additional tips on pitching, please feel free to include them in a comment below.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post if you think it might be helpful to others.

Dee

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2 thoughts on “Pitching Your Work at Conferences

  1. And you are a prime example of practising what you preach so well, Dee. Brava! You aced your recent SBCWI pitch and it was a joy for us to hear, as well. Thank you for your insights as ever. Dimity x

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