Pitch Sessions 101, Part Three: Some thoughts on preparation.

The big truth is that there are as many ways to pitch as there are people. There’s no “one true path” here. That trick is to find what works for you.

The small truth is that thinking of the pitch as a conversation rather than a presentation is almost always going to get you the best results no matter how you prepare or what method you use.

There are all kinds of recommended ways to prepare.

One school recommends using index cards: one for each main character and three for your plot (one each for beginning, middle, and end). No more than four points per card, and just notes, not full sentences–phrases that will cue you and help you remember what you want to say.

Another recommends (as I mentioned in an earlier post) one double-spaced sheet of standard 8.5 x 11 paper for each minute of pitch, again broken down into sections for plot and for each main character.

There’s the “write it down in a notebook so that you always have it with you, in case you literally meet an editor in the elevator” school and the “memorize everything until you are word-perfect so that you can reel off the whole thing smoothly given the barest opening” school.

Here’s what I recommend as a start: Think of your book as if it were a book.

A finished, published book.

You’ve read and enjoyed this book and you want to recommend it to a friend. What would you tell that person about the book?

What’s the last book you recommended to someone? Why? Was it the story, the protagonist, the writing? Did you learn something when you read it? Did it speak to your emotions?

Okay, I can hear you thinking that it’s pretentious to claim that your book will teach someone about working in a textile mill (except wouldn’t that be a cool thing, if your research and writing made that world really come to life for a reader) or move them to tears or scare their pants off…. But if those things are some of your goals as a writer, it’s good to tell me that stuff. It helps me see you as a person and to understand some of your hopes beyond “publish my book” and “make money”.

In any case, what I’m driving at is that I want to be engaged by the pitch–just the way I’m engaged when someone I know tells me about a book they really enjoyed.

Sticking to a written or memorized script can make your presentation stiff. While it’s important to know your talking points, it’s equally important not to be glued to them. Be flexible–especially since I’m likely to be poking at you a little, as described in the previous post in this series (https://editingandgeekery.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/pitch-sessions-101-part-two-what-should-be-in-the-pitch/).

Figure out what you most want to say and keep those things in mind, but don’t worry too much if, in the thick of pitching, some element gets skipped over or never comes up at all.

Remember that your goal is not to fill the entire time allotted for your pitch. For one thing, even if you have a 7 minute slot, those 7 minutes don’t necessarily start the minute you open your mouth. Sometimes there’s one timekeeper for the entire room and they may start the session before your butt is in your seat. Sometimes you will spend more time than you think getting settled (I’ll talk a little bit about this and other practical matters in part four). So by the time you’re ready to talk, your 7 minutes may already be 6.

You want to come in at 2 minutes less than your allotted time at the most. 2.5 minutes less is probably even better.

If you can, record yourself giving the pitch. I don’t know about you, but I hate hearing my own voice on a recording (though seeing/hearing myself on tv is okay, which is weird). But part of my job as an editor is to make brief audio-only recordings about some of my books for our sales reps to listen to. I have 1 minute or less to talk about each book!

When I first started doing this, I tried to listen to myself at least a couple of times a year.

It was enlightening.

Sometimes I sounded like I was reading (well, I was reading, but you know what I mean). So I practiced sounding like I was talking, trying to capture the natural highs and lows of my own speech pattern. I’d run the script out loud, half under my breath most of the time, trying to “hear” where the stresses naturally fell.

Sometimes I talk too fast, trying to cram as many words as possible into that minute. Even now, with years of experience behind me, before I start each recording, I take a good breath and think, “go slow.” I’ve told the sound engineer to stop me if I start to race. Getting a little faster when I’m excited is okay, but zipping along at 1,000 miles an hour for a full minute or more? Not good, and hard to listen to.

Listening to yourself may also enable you to identify and change phrases that don’t sound as good out loud as they do written down.

Once you have your basic points set, try pitching a few people. Try ones who have read your book as well as those who haven’t. Encourage them to ask questions during the pitch, to simulate the real experience. And keep an eye on time….

If you pitch someone who has already read your book, ask them if there’s something important you left out of your pitch. Their response may tell you what people are responding to in your novel…and it may not be what you expect.

If you pitch someone who hasn’t read your book, ask them what they think were the most and least interesting things you said. Ask them if they want to read the book based on your pitch alone.

Try not to pitch the same person more than once unless you radically change your pitch after you try them the first time.

Once you have your basic pitch settled, don’t practice it into the ground. Run it with a few people and then put it away. When you get to the event itself, you’re likely to meet other people who are also going to pitch. If you have a chance before you go to see the agents and editors, pitch each other–but only once each–as a warm-up.

I’ve got one more post planned for this series, so come back on Monday, June 8, for the last part of Pitch Sessions 101.

Part One: https://editingandgeekery.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/pitch-sessions-101-part-one/

Part Two: https://editingandgeekery.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/pitch-sessions-101-part-two-what-should-be-in-the-pitch/

Part Four: https://editingandgeekery.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/pitch-sessions-101-part-four-mechanics-practical-matters/

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