Live Pitching – It’s not for the faint of heart!
“You’ll be great at it!” one writer friend said.
“Oh, that sounds horrible, but I’m sure you’ll do fine,” said another.
“I couldn’t do it, but you’ll be fantastic!” another said.
Have you figured it out yet? What is this amazing thing that none of my writer friends wanted to do but all seemed so sure I’d enjoy? (Possibly the title of this post gave it away?) It’s live pitching!
Haven’t heard of it? It’s a staple at writers’ conferences in which you and your manuscript get to speed date agents and editors, frequently at little tables in big rooms. And just like writing a query letter is a completely different skill set than writing a novel, live pitching is it’s own beast, and I do mean beast!
By mid-August 2016 I had been trying to find an agent in hopes of getting my first novel published for a year. In that time I had swapped with critique partners, revised more than once, queried more than I care to think about, entered contests with varying levels of success, paid for professional feedback and webinars, and applied to conferences. It seemed that live pitching was the final frontier but I don’t have a ton of resources (money or time) to travel to conferences. Enter Hippocamp!
Hippocamp is a conference (based in my city!) for creative non-fiction writers, a genre which I enjoy writing and reading, but which is not currently my focus. While I couldn’t spare the time or the cash to attend the whole conference, the live pitch session was a post-conference add on that I could do ala carte. For $40 bucks I booked a five-minute “date” with one of my dream agents (who I had been twitter-stalking for several months). I’m not sure who should feel cheaper about this situation, him or me, but regardless, this is how it’s done.
I started researching as soon as I booked my “date.” It involved a ton of googling and desperate messages to friends via text, twitter and email (see below for helpful links)!
When the day came, it was sort of a mixed bag. The organizers had offered the opportunity to pitch to a second agent a few days earlier, so I ended up feverishly researching another agent and pitching to two people during my first ever live pitch session. One of them liked what I had to say, but already had a similar title on his list. He offered to take a look and share with his colleagues. The other stopped me mid pitch to assign me a craft book to read and a revision exercise to do.
Clearly what my friends meant when they said I’d be great at live pitching is that I’m an extrovert who loves to talk about my book. That’s true, but the problem is, throw nerves into the mix and all bets are off. And here’s the thing about preparing for a live pitch: unless you speak to someone who has live pitched the exact agent you’re pitching, there’s no way to fully prepare. Some agents like rehearsed elevator pitches, some like to talk casually as if you’re old friends; some want to talk plot, others want to talk theme. And then there are the questions:
“Who is your work in conversation with?”
“What do you want someone to get out of this book?”
“Why did you write this book?”
“What else are you working on?”
“Tell me about your platform?”
You can prepare for all of these inevitabilities, but frankly, sitting that close to someone who could completely change your life is pretty unnerving.
After the event a writer friend asked how it went. “O.K.” I said, “With the emphasis on O.K.” He said that whenever he thinks he has nailed something it always turns out he’s wrong, so “OK” was probably the best I could hope for. That’s certainly the way it felt. I’m still waiting to hear from the agent who requested 50 pages, and I’m still working on the revision assignment for the second agent. In the meantime, I’m grateful that I’ll never be a live pitch virgin again. Back to the dating pool…