Writers’ Workshop: Why You Don’t Need a Conference Pitch


BitingNailsHa! I got your attention, didn’t I? If you’re headed to ACFW this week, and you haven’t worked on your pitch yet, you’re probably celebrating right now. If you’ve been stressing over your pitch for the last three weeks, you’re probably calling me all sorts of names.

Let me clarify then. I’m not saying you don’t have to be prepared. You certainly have to be prepared. But what you don’t want is a canned pitch, a scripted explanation of your book. For one thing, agents and editors want to get a feel for you as a person and a writer during your appointment, and if you’re focused on rattling off the short synopsis word-for-word, all they see is a pitch-spewing robot. For another, editors and agents have a tendency to ask you questions you didn’t expect, and if you’re only prepared to answer the handful of topics you scrawled down in your notebook on the plane, you’re likely to end up like a deer in the headlights: frozen and unsure of where to go next.

But fortunately, the solution to a great pitch is easier than you think. No doubt you can talk for hours about your book. You know it backwards and forwards.

1. Have your one-line summary ready. Sometimes people refer to this as an elevator pitch, but it can be your marketing handle (Beth Vogt used the line “Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right?” when pitching her novel Wish You Were Here) or a simple summary (beginning with “My book is about…”) There is no one right way to begin a pitch. You should pick whatever feels natural and conversational for you… because after all, you want to encourage a connection with your appointment expert. Practice saying it out loud to family members and friends. If the result makes you want to hide under your bed, keep working on it or pick a different approach.

Personally, I went with a simple approach: “Five Days in Skye is about an American hospitality consultant who falls in love with her celebrity chef client during a business trip to Scotland.” I picked that because it highlighted a couple of things that I thought would make my book appealing: an American protagonist in a foreign setting, a celebrity chef hero, and Scotland. That earned me a nod and “tell me more.” Which brings me to the next point…

2. Know everything possible about your book. What it’s about, why you wrote it, your inspiration for it. Its themes. What you want your readers to learn from it and how you hope they feel when it’s finished. What makes this book different from other books. If you’re writing about a foreign setting or an unusual job, for example, be prepared to explain what qualifies you to write about it.

When I pitched Five Days in Skye to my editor at David C Cook, he immediately asked me was, “Have you been to Skye?” I quickly explained that I had traveled quite extensively in Scotland, I had lived in London as a teenager, and the set-up for the book was something taken from my own experiences. Once I had proven that I knew what I was doing, then we moved into discussion about actual plot. I also explained that my goal had been to write a book that felt like a general market romance without the objectionable content and with a subtle faith thread. I think that helped set expectations that yes, I did know the market, and I had consciously chosen a different storytelling style than other books he might have seen.

3. Leave your baggage at home. No, I don’t mean emotional baggage, though that’s a good idea too. I mean this literally. When going into a pitch, I only bring the necessities: my handbag and a presentation folder with my pitch materials. (Thanks to Beth Vogt for the idea!) This always includes my business card, a one sheet, a single page synopsis, and three sample chapters. Occasionally someone will take your one sheet and business card (very rarely your sample chapters or proposal!), but it looks neat and professional to have a single folder with all your necessary pieces. I’d rather project the image of a writer who is completely prepared for an appointment, rather than leave him or her with the memory of me digging for my one sheet in an overfilled tote bag.

Overall, just remember this: agents and editors are people, too, and you’ll probably never find anyone who loves writers and stories more. They are cheering you on to do well, hoping for the next great story. So take a deep breath, remember what it is that made you write your book in the first place, and then enjoy the conversation!

Is your pitch ready? What is your favorite conference pitch advice?

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  1. Laura Frantz says:

    Great post. My advice is to be passionate about your pitch! Great writing is infused with passion and editors/agents need to see that in person and on the page. But then I’ve not yet pitched ;).

    I just finished your book and enjoyed it immensely. I rarely venture into the contemp realm but have been to Scotland twice this year and am headed to Skye next so it really struck a chord with me. Love that Jamie! Thanks for writing such a memorable novel.

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