Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pitch Workshop by Angela Drake

Good morning, everyone! Chris, thank you for having me today. I’m really looking forward to sharing the information. This workshop was created with the help of Editor, Chris Keesler when I needed to make my first pitch. The information was later confirmed by an agent at a conference. It was like she was reading from my handout!

Incidently, if you’d like a copy feel free to email me – AngelaDrake@webname.com

Perhaps the question asked most of editors or agents is – “What’s your best advice to someone making a pitch?” The response 99 percent of the time—“Don’t be nervous”.

Easy for them to say! Have they ever lost sleep or alienated their family, laboring late into the night over a crucial scene? This manuscript is your sweat and blood. Why wouldn’t you be nervous?

In essence, this is a job interview and it is human nature to be nervous. You are asking them to trust your ability to tell a great story and make their deadline. In return, they are asking you to trust them to do what is right for your manuscript and for you.

So how do you prepare yourself for that all-important five minutes? Just as with any job interview, there are certain steps you must take. You know the position you want, you learn about the company, dress appropriately, and build your confidence.

Keep in mind that each editor and agent is a different person. Their styles and questions will vary. There is no such thing as a “text book” interview. And while no two appointments are alike, the steps are basically the same. Today I’m giving you a brief overview of the Top 10.

#1 – Have the book done. This is crucial! Often times, ‘is it finished?’ will be the first question your interviewer will ask. Whether you are asked to submit a partial or a complete, it had better be finished. Know your characters. Know their goals and their conflicts. Be able to synopsis the story in one hundred words or less.

Not only should the manuscript be finished but also edited, in proper format, and flawless. They can’t do their job if you haven’t done yours.

#2 - Know your qualifications. In the case of fiction, your resume will vary. Do you have firsthand knowledge of the setting of your story? Do you have any experiences in the issues your heroine is dealing with? When writing non-fiction, you should have credentials to list.

Do you have any publishing credits? Do you teach a class on writing, lead a critique group, or have a degree in English Literature? Anything that lends credibility to you and your work is important. This is the time to pat yourself on the back.

#3 - Know the house. Who is the acquisitions editor? Are they publishing what you write? What is their expected word count? How many titles do they release in a month? A year?

If you can not answer these questions, how do you know your book is right for them? The best presentation you can give is the one that does not waste their time or yours.

#4 - Know the editor or agent Not only do you need to be familiar with the house but know who the acquisitions editor is. What are they looking for? Is there a new line being launched in the future? Does this editor look for non-traditional stories? If you are marketing a historical, is there a time period or setting they prefer? The interviewer may even ask if there are any authors you share a similar style. Do you know? If your can bring the story to life for them, they’ll know their readers will have the same reaction.

If you are pitching to an agent, a lot of the same things apply. However, there are other important facts you need to know. How long have they been in the business? Who do they represent—both now and in the past? How many new clients are they looking for? Which houses do they work with the most? How reputable are they?

#5 - Prepare the pitch. The pitch is the flap-copy synopsis. Be prepared to answer any other questions the interviewer will ask. This is accomplished by your knowledge of the manuscript.

Sit—don’t stand—in front of a mirror and recite your pitch. Look at your reflection. Eye contact is important, displaying your confidence. Let the passion for your story come through.

Pitching to a fellow writer is also great, particularly if they have pitched before. Another writer will understand your nervousness and recognize what you need to correct. This is a great exercise for your next chapter meeting!

#6 – Business Cards. Business cards are a must and serve multiple purposes. Black print on a white background is best. Although a graphic is fine, your personal information should be the predominant feature.

The BACK of the card should include Title, Target line or Theme, and Word count. Back at the office, this bit of information will be your stepping stone in the white water of dozens of pitches she has heard.

#7 - Dress Appropriately. Basic business attire is best. If you are a woman, pants or skirt, with a blouse and blazer, or a nice dress is perfect. Shoes should have a low heel.

For a man, dress pants with a nice shirt will work. Depending on the genre, you may even be able to wear new denim jeans with a shirt and blazer. When it comes to business, navy blue or black is preferred. Stay away from bright colors or prints.

No cologne, perfume or distracting jewelry. No gum. A breath mint before is fine and often available at the check-in table. Neat, clean and tidy is the key. You are not out to impress with your fashion sense. Dress with confidence.

#8 – Be On Time. 10-15 minutes early is recommended. It isn’t unusual for someone to lose their confidence at the last minute, moving everyone’s time slot up. Check in, find a seat and breathe.

#9 – Be Confident. You are ready—or are you? How do you feel? Are you still wondering what you are doing here? If you have gone through each step, you have nothing to worry about. The only thing left to do is ask yourself, “what if?”. What if you do not go through with this appointment? What if you do not give this your best shot? Then what?

You have to believe that your manuscript is the best it can be. You have to believe in your ability as a writer to tell a great story. You believed in your ability enough to get this far, do not throw it away now. You are doing great!

#10 – The Pitch. If you are called into the room before the previous appointment is through, stand quietly to the side until you are signaled. At that time, approach the table, extend your hand, smile, and thank her—by name—for setting aside this time for you. This is not brown-nosing. It is basic etiquette. This serves two purposes. It is a great icebreaker and puts the meeting on a business level. Remember, she is your client as much as you are hers.

Ask to begin. This gives her a chance to ask any preliminary questions. Do not let the questions throw you—they are not meant to. The interviewer is just trying to make the transition from one appointment to the next.

Tell your story. You have rehearsed this flap until you can say it in your sleep. Let your characters take over, as we know they can. The passion for your story should come through naturally.

Once you are finished, the interviewer will ask questions. These are not meant to trip you up either, so do not let them. To gain a better understanding of where, if at all, their house can fit your story into their line, these questions are important. Answer them with the same confidence.

When the meeting has concluded, thank her again. Exchange business cards and shake hands. You have just breezed through five minutes.

If you have been asked to submit either a partial or a complete, congratulations! Plan to mail the requested material when you get back home. As soon as you leave the interview, make a notation about the appointment on the back of your business card. A detail as small as the conference date or a suggestion the interviewer made will serve the purpose. This will further allow your appointment to stand out. Paperclip this card to your cover letter with your submission.

Should your story not be what they are accepting, ask what they will be looking at over the next six to eight months. In either case, you will come out of the interview a winner.
Kelly Henkins, writing as Angela Drake, began actively pursuing a writing career twenty years ago. Since then she has won many awards for short pieces, partials and poetry and published in art magazines.

Kelly is member of Ozark Creative Writers, Mid-South Writers Group, Sleuths Ink and Ozark Romance Authors.

For eight years, she hosted a weekly workshop on AOL. She continues to moderate a yahoo group extension of that workshop, The Writers Zone, and is owner of the World Romance Writers and World Romance Readers loops.

When not writing, she speaks at conferences and enjoys time with her granddaughter, gardening, journaling, and a myriad of artistic pursuits. Her husband and best friend of twenty-seven years, Bob, supports her many avenues of creativity.

1 comment:

Angela Drake said...

Good morning everyone!
Just stopping in to let you know I'll be in and out all day to chat with you. I'm on my way to the cafe for breakfast but I'll be back shortly. Leave your questions and comments.