One of the hardest tasks to befall a writer is turning months, years of labour and hundreds of pages, thousands of words, into a few brief sentences.
But that is the task that you will take on if you decide to take part in one of the pitches at Conflux 9.
So far, we’ve got three agents lined up to hear pitches at various times during the conference, and we’re talking to several publishers as well. But don’t think you’ll have forever to win them over – five minutes, folks. That’s all you get.
Some lucky folk are going to get to participate in a workshop on pitching with Rowena Cory Daniells before they pitch to Angry Robot Head Mechanic (aka publisher) Marc Gascoigne. There’s also going to be a panel on pitching on the first day of the convention, for people to share their tips and thoughts. CSFG member Chris Andrews is running a workshop on Friday about it.
But what if you can’t attend any of those things but you’re desperate to sit down in front of an agent or publisher and convince them that they want your work?
First – choose what you’re going to pitch. Only go with one thing per agent/publisher. You’ll only have time to sell one thing well – don’t try to sell everything.
The main thing to do is develop that two to three sentence description of your book. It’s called the elevator pitch because that’s the sort of timeframe being considered. Imagine – you’re in an elevator, door opens, in steps Famous Publisher. It’s just the two of you and you’ve only got until the door opens again to convince them to keep listening to you…
One idea (first heard from Jennifer Fallon) is to break your book down in steps, from biggest to smallest. First thing you do – turn it into a synopsis, no more than five pages. Next, turn those five pages into two. Then turn two into one. Then turn one into a couple of paragraphs and finally, a few sentences.
The thing to keep in mind as you do this is that what you’re trying to find is the ESSENCE of your story. It’s bare bones – the thing that makes it compelling. There’s undoubtedly lots of wonderful stuff in your story, but you won’t have time to explain it all. So your wholly unique magic system – don’t talk about it. The politics of the planetary war that’s overtaken the system – nope. The long history of how that ghost became so vengeful – no time.
Another idea – go at it from the other perspective. Write down five words that describe your story. Don’t use genre words eg urban fantasy or young adult. Now, use those five words to write your sentences. Did that work for you?
Here’s another idea – write the answers to these questions about your book: Who? What? Where? When? Why? Take those answers and make your pitch out of that.
Once you’ve got the pitch written, you need to edit it. That sucker needs to sing. Make sure every verb there is action-packed. If you’re got adjectives, make them the best they can be. But make sure it’s not full of superlatives – that really turns an agent or editor off.
If you’re not sure if you are going too over the top – go to http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/ and make sure you’re not doing that!
Once the pitch is ready – practice it. Get it perfectly in your mind. Memorise it. But also take the thing into the meeting written down. You’re going to be nervous and don’t want to fluff the lines (hence the practice) but at the same time, you don’t want to have nothing to say if your nerves defeat you and you forget (hence the written version).
But don’t get too nervous – the agent/publisher WANTS to hear what you have to say. They want to fall in love with your book, and be excited. They’re on your side.
The pitch won’t be the only thing you’ll say. The agent or publisher will want to have a chat – either before to break the ice, or after they hear your pitch. They might ask about your writing history so far. They might ask about why you wrote this book. They might ask about what your dreams are for your future.
Once you know who you’re pitching to, do a bit of research. Find out who they’ve published/represented and make it clear you’ve done that research – that shows you’re professional, that you care, that this is really important to you.
That’s what they’re looking for – not just a great story, but a great story written by a writer who is a professional.
And finally, remember this – MOST PEOPLE WHO ARE ASKED TO SEND IN A MANUSCRIPT DON’T DO SO.
Honestly, the numbers are staggering – so if you get asked, send the story in. And do it quickly. Ideally, you’ll have the story ready to submit when you pitch but if you don’t, then break whatever records are needed to get it to them asap, while you’re still kinda fresh in their minds.
And once you have pitched to someone – make sure you act in a professional manner for the rest of the convention. If they’re truly interested in you and your work they’ll be watching you. Prove that if they find themselves needing to make a choice, they should choose you because you’re going to be great to work with.
The pitches at Conflux 9 will be announced in a couple of weeks, when the program goes live.
Nicole R Murphy
Co-chair, Conflux 9