Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conference Pitch Tricks

If you are anything like me, anxiety does weird little twisty things to your thought and speech patterns. This tends to present HUGE problems when pitching a book to agents and editors during conference time. Some people might suggest over-planning your pitch. Write it out, bounce it off at least five writer friends, type the sucker on a 3x5, and practice, practice, practice.

Nice, right? Uh huh, except when I took this approach my first two conferences, I was so terrified, I couldn’t remember a word of what I’d memorized. What's more my hands shook so badly, I couldn’t read off my cue card. Oy. I cringe to admit I even had a case of spur-of-the-moment body odor—the sort that radiates from your underarms in the space of three seconds. Had to keep my elbows pinned to my sides for fear I’d stink everyone out. Ruined my top as well as my pitch.

But I'm happy to relate, I’ve come a long way since then. I am not going to give you a how-to in terms of honing your pitch or how to express conflict and character arc in a few choice lines. There are far more qualified experts than I to do so. I am, however, going to share a little psychological game I put myself through before every pitch session.

I think about death.

Yes, you read that right. As I’m sitting in the waiting area—suffering from the nervous pees—I imagine I may die tomorrow. Sounds morbid, I know, but stay with me a moment. I imagine tomorrow is most assuredly my time and I keep running it through my mind until I believe it.

You see, death has an amazing ability to prioritize what is truly important in life. If I died tomorrow—if you died tomorrow—would we spend all this nervous energy on the dreaded pitch? Would we care about anything save adoring our loved ones?

A resounding NO, I can tell you ... and I can even answer for you.

So this is what I do. Since those first two conferences, I’ve been imagining my death before each and every pitch session. When I truly accept the possibility I may pass on, my anxiety levels drop instantly. Plummet really. I then sit down at the little table—the important priorities in my life crystal clear—and calmly go through my book in such a way as my composure affects not only me, but the person to whom I’m pitching. And between you and me, I truly don’t think editors or agents enjoy pitch sessions with the nervous Nellie types anyway. Who wants to sit through that? Ever watch someone about to have a stress-induced coronary perform on stage? Not fun for anyone.

So wish me luck. I’m pitching to an editor and I will be imagining my death. If you’re pitching this week, please try it. All the people to whom I’ve shared my secret swear by it.

Now it's your turn. Do you have any pitch tricks to share? I need all the help I can get.


Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning,

When I was younger and going on interviews I discovered (at least for me) that I did the best on interviews that I didn't really want. In other words, if I was going to XYZ interview just for the experience,...not really wanting the job but practicing for the one I really wanted, then I did better at the practice than at the one I was anxious to win.

SO, from then on, I told myself, over and over, that the interview didn't matter except to practice for the big one. It worked for me.

Good luck on your big day.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Nerves are a funny thing. Some of us perform better when nervous!
I try to think of it as interviewing the editor or agent. Sure I want to be published, but I'm picky about who I want to work with on a project. Works for me!

Linsey Lanier said...

Great post, J. And a great trick. I'll have to try that at M&M. For me, no matter how hard I try, I'm always a nervous Nellie. It helps to remember you don't always look as nervous as you feel.

I read my pitch off a card, since my mind tends to go blank in that situation, LOL.

Good luck to everyone pitching at Nationals this week!


Marilyn Baron said...

Great post. What a novel, death-defying idea. I put my pitch on notecards because I try to convey the humorous tone of my books and if I memorize my pitch, I'm afraid it won't capture that tone. Good luck.

Marilyn Baron

J Perry Stone said...

Hallo from DC. I'm headed out to get a tres leches cake for Eloisa James' get-together.

Thanks for all the comments everyone. Great ideas. I'm going to try them Friday (pitch day).

I'll try to leave messages where internet is available.

Maxine Davis said...

I loved your post and you are exactly right. I'll have to try that. Hm-m, death . . .

Sandy, I'm like you. I do much better if I don't really give a rip, so I try to think that way.

Of course, I was really out of the loop at my 1st M&M last yr. I didn't know what 'pitch' was - when I heard, I gave this calm, "oh, okay." then immediately felt like I was going to throw up. They did ask for my 1st 3 chapters but I got a resounding no-sale. BUT I'll try again this year.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks for the advice, and I'm so jealous you're in DC! I'll have to picture my death before my pitch at M&M.


Tami Brothers said...

Too funny, JP! Best of luck and I hope you guys had fun at Eloise's party! I, too, am jealous.

I'm in the same camp as those who have to have it written down. No matter how much I memorize, when the time comes, I can't say it! Nice to know it's not JUST me..grin...

Have fun and think of us often...hehehehe....


Ana Aragón said...

You are so funny! I can just see you sitting there, pretty as can be, contemplating your death as you wait for your name to be called. So what is the most astounding way to kick the bucket you've come up with?

Good luck to you. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.


J Perry Stone said...

You guys are so sweet. I went to Eloisa's party and in walks Carol and Darcy. We took lots of group pics with Julia Quinn and Eloisa. I'm sure we'll be posting them soon.

Love you.


Anna Steffl said...

Now that's a way better trick than imagining the other person nude. That can go way bad, fast.

No pitch secrets to share. Your book has such a terrific hook that even a clean bill of health couldn't ruin your pitch.

Cinthia Hamer said...

J, I still can't figure out why you get yourself so worked up over pitching. You are a wonderful writer and have an awesome book.

Instead of imagining your death, (I really oughta smack you for that!) just keep telling yourself that when the time is perfect, your perfect editor will appear with the perfect offer.

Miss you! Hope you've been having a great conference.