I would rather have a tooth pulled without Novocain. I would rather clean the men’s restroom at the rest area without gloves. Oddly enough, I would rather stand before an audience the size of a football field and read my poetry than pitch my novel, one-on-one, to an agent or publisher.
I have pitched one of my books several times, in fact, and I did a lousy job every time. How is it possible for an author to forget the plot of her own book? I spent months thinking of little else but that story. I worked hard to develop the beginning, middle and ending. I wrote and rewrote in my pursuit for the perfect “arc.” I lived inside the story. Then a person across the table from me said, “Tell me about your book,” and I could barely remember writing a book.
Do you know what the rule is? As crazy as it sounds, here it is: be able to describe your book in three sentences, or less. Right. I have written 80,000 words all about the lives and times, the thoughts and emotions of characters as real to me as living people, and now I have to pitch their story in three sentences. Or less? I can’t do it. My mouth goes dry as the Mojave and my tongue weighs five pounds. My hands grip each other for dear life. The worst thing is the breathing, or rather not breathing. And what follows not breathing? Gasping, that’s what. When I get nervous I tend to ramble and I can’t keep my thoughts in order.
I have written and rewritten my pitches until I, at last, felt like I had something that made sense and sounded interesting, if not downright fascinating. Then, I removed all of the unnecessary words … and I didn’t have anything left. I did it again. I read my pitch until it sounded ridiculous. There came a point when I had to say, “Enough.”
I am proud to say (again and again) that my first novel is being published by Pen-L Publishing, but I have another and there will be more, and if necessary a’ pitching I will go. Here are some things I have (finally) learned that will help me do a better job. I think the first and most difficult thing for me to do is read my own words aloud without an audience. Many, many times I have stood before a gathering of people to share my poetry and believe me THAT was not easy in the beginning. But eventually, I began to think of it as giving something to those kind and attentive people who were taking the time to listen to me. Reading aloud to no one is different; it can feel as hollow as an echo. So, I must practice, practice, and practice reading my pitch. I have to read it until it comes to me smooth and natural. I also need to read it in a more conversational manner so that when I look across the table at the agent who wants to hear about my book I am able to sell it in a more conversational tone.
The pitchee’s (my word) manner can make or break a session. I have been lucky to have had agents who knew how to help the pitcher. They asked questions that required specific answers about characters or plot, allowing me to share important points about my story. Dreadful empty pauses make me squirm and because I feel the need to fill them I begin my rambling.
Speaking of pauses, at one writer’s convention, I signed up to pitch to an agent whom I had researched and believed we would be a good match: she was accepting queries for my kind of writing, she was relatively new to her job and was “looking” for clients. When I sat across the table from her my first thought was that she was young enough to be my granddaughter. I introduced myself and at her request began my pitch. Not one time did the young lady change expression or speak. She sat very still with her hands clasped on the table and peered into my face. When I came to a pause, or the end of my pitch, she said not a word. I waited. She waited. And I began to ramble. When I finally shut my mouth and took a breath she said, “Is this your first novel?” I dumbly nodded. “I suggest you continue writing until it becomes more comfortable for you. I’m sure you have some good ideas.”
And that was it, folks. But, it was a lesson. I learned that I should not count on the agent to carry me through the process. I must relax, breathe and tell my story as if it is the best thing I have ever written because I have worked to be sure that it is. If I can do it, you can do it.