Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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.