My first pitch experience
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
I recently attended the Colorado Writers’ Workshop online. It was an amazing opportunity, thanks in no small part to the pandemic! I would not have had the luxury of time or finances to attend a conference in person for which I would have to travel. Thank goodness for small mercies in challenging times.
Ironically, I wasn’t even looking to attend such an event. Of late, I have been chiseling away at my book revisions with my critique group, and gradually educating myself about the publishing process, a little every day. One of my tasks has been to steadily explore the myriad of agencies out there, specifically for literary agents who would be a good match for me and my books. One of the web pages I opened, showed an agent attending the Colorado Writers’ Workshop where she would be accepting pitches. I noticed that this workshop would be in five weeks. Why hadn’t I heard about it? More importantly, could I still sign up?
Well, it turned out that I could, and I did. And then, the cold hard truth hit me: what was I thinking??? Was I really going to present my books directly to agents? What if they hated my ideas? What if I spoke too fast in my South African accent and they couldn’t understand a word of what I was saying? What if …
I took a breath. I am a debut author. There is no reason to think I will stand out amongst the literally hundreds of thousands of debut authors trying to be published every year. But they were not going to be attending this workshop. I was. And, gosh darn it, even if I fell flat on my face, I would still have learned something that took me one step closer to my goal.
I am very blessed to have family, friends and fellow debut authors who are very supportive. I followed my husband around the house, spouting my pitch-in-progress at him, while he tried to eat his lunch or write his emails. He was very patient, and actually had really good instincts for what was working and what wasn’t. I took my now rough but complete pitch and Skyped my mom and a close friend in South Africa to practice on. I could trust them to be honest and not let me make a fool of myself. Once I had a decent version of what I wanted to say, I had a formal practice session with an author friend, who asked me questions and made suggestions for critical elements I should include. I cannot emphasize enough what this variety of exposure meant to the quality of my pitch. Each person added a new layer of insight. Just like the agents I would pitch, each was an individual, who spotted different things that either bothered or pleased them. The cumulative effect was what made the final pitch “work.”
Being well prepared went a long way toward keeping me calm on the day. I had selected three agents I felt were a promising fit. I researched absolutely everything I could find out about them: their agencies, their manuscript wish lists, reviews done on Query tracker by other hopefuls who had submitted queries to them, interviews they had done, anything that would help me understand them better, and what was important to them (even outside of publishing). I was nervous anyway.
Two minutes before each pitch, I would begin to softly sing my introductory paragraph. ‘Sounds crazy, I know, but it warmed up my voice and made it tremble less. It also helped me focus on the words with which I wanted to start my interview.
There was that moment, when the Zoom started loading the agent’s video, that my heart would begin to pound like a hammer. But then a friendly face would appear, and I would relax. I think that was what struck me most overall: the fact that agents are human too. I mean, of course they’re human. But, as a newbie in the publishing industry, fighting against great odds to be seen and heard among the masses of other hopefuls, one tends to think of agents as bridges to cross, ladders to climb, gatekeepers to the ivory tower. But they were lovely, lovely people! They were the kind of humans you wanted to go and have a coffee with, regardless of whether they signed you up or not.
With each agent I went through the same process. I pitched my book, she asked some questions, I asked some questions, and the ten minutes were up! I had assumed I would not receive any manuscript requests and was just really keen to gain experience and insight into the process. I guess what I was really asking myself was: did I have any business being in the world of books at all, or was I kidding myself? Imagine my shock, delight, and sheer astonishment when all three requested my work! For the first time, I had been acknowledged by professionals in the industry. My concepts had promise. There was hope!
It can be hard for a non-author to understand the fluctuations in the confidence of a writer:
Yay, my friend loves my chapters!
Hang on, is she just saying that because we’re friends?
Gosh, I’m really proud of that turn of phrase / paragraph.
Reads another writer’s work: I could never write like that! Who am I kidding?
(You get the idea.)
So, when an actual agent says, hey, I like what you’re saying, let’s see some of that writing of yours, you do that same kind of double dance:
Hooo-weee! She loves my work!
Wait a minute, she hasn’t actually read any yet. What if she likes my idea but hates my writing? What if I’m a fraud who talks great but isn’t good enough to publish?
Still, she liked my concept, right? So, I’ll just quickly go and rewrite the whole book so that it’s even better! But will it ever be good enough?
And so on.
All in all, though, it all just means I care. I care about being published. I care about delivering high quality work. I care about being a professional partner in the author-agent relationship. I may not be there yet, but I’m one step closer. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to blog about getting an agent. It could be this year. It could be years from now. Whatever happens, I will be grateful for having shared that journey with you.
P.S. If you’re reading this and you’re a debut author too, take courage. The mountain of publishing is climbed one step at a time. Which is why I am going straight back to my manuscript to tighten it up even more. Every step needs to be solid if you’re going to put the full weight of your hopes on it.