I’m in New York City today for the Writers Digest Conference. Next month I’ll be at San Francisco Writers Conference, and this spring I’ll be at several more such events. Most of these events have some sort of agent or acquisitions editor pitching event, so I thought today it would be appropriate to write a post about how to pitch your book.
Aspiring writers come to conferences from all over the country—and even the world—hoping to get in an elevator with an agent and to give their “elevator pitch.” They pay to go to pitch sessions where they have 3-10 minutes to tell an agent or editor about their idea. They hope to leave with a card in hand and having heard the words “Send me your proposal. I’m interested.”
I’ve been involved in helping judge the San Francisco Writers Conference, which I won once, for several years now. I’ve heard a lot of pitches. So, let me tell you what I know…
Begin by writing down your pitch as written draft of 75 words or so. Then hone it down to something under 50 words. At the San Francisco Writers Conference, the rule used to be 25 words (when I won); now it’s about 50 words.
Nonfiction writers should focus a pitch on the benefits of the book. What’s the added value to your readers? Also, if you can include any information on your market, any unique features, or any comparison to another best-selling book, that’s great.
Fiction writers shouldn’t make the mistake that I see most often: telling the whole story. Just offer the narrative arc of your story in the most creative way possible to hook the listener. I have heard some really creative pitches for fiction where I felt I was right on the first page hearing the character speak. Again think about the benefits you book offers (yes, even fiction benefits the reader in some way); that’s how I focused my pitch the year I won, and that pitch was for fiction.
Be prepared for these three words that you want to hear from the agent or editor when you finished but your pitch session has not ended: “Tell me more.” Have three bullet points with more information that you can provide.
Always come to a conference with a query letter and a book proposal finished and ready to put in the be mail. Don’t expect an agent or editor to take this home with them. In some cases they will take three pages of a novel or a one-page proposal, but don’t expect that either. Do give them your card, though. I know of one instance in which an editor was so taken with an idea she called the writer the next day.
Don’t be nervous…well, you will be. Take a deep breath, admit you are nervous, but the agent or editor knows you are. It’s okay. And then pitch. Be yourself. They want to say “yes.” Every editor or agent is looking for the next great book and author–and business partner.
Good luck, and happy pitching!