Imagine the bullpen overflowing with pitchers. Each will get a turn at the mound, but there’s no room for error. One mistake and it’s game over.
Welcome to Pitch Slam, biggest draw of the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. What’s it like knowing you have three minutes to make an agent fall for your story, or at least request a second date?
Three minutes. That’s 90 seconds for the pitch and 90 seconds for questions. Once three minutes passes, a bell sounds and your time is up. Those who linger beyond the deadline can expect an unfriendly tap from the on deck author.
As any relief pitcher will tell you, the work doesn’t begin when you walk on the field. The work begins well before, in this case by crafting and rehearsing the pitch, and knowing whom you’ll be facing before the game gets started.
That in mind, here are 10 tips to help you step it up, whether you’re pitching at a slam or chatting up an agent between innings at a ballgame. Credit for 5-10 go to Writer’s Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino.
1 – Make your first line your best line. It’s true – you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Great is subjective, so let’s say make the opener the best you can make it. Mine was:
Pretender is the story of a disgraced journalist who learns a startling secret about a racist U.S. senator that he once helped send to prison.
2 – Be concise. You have lots of competition, meaning that the agents need a quick, clear synopsis that highlights story, conflict and protagonist. In my hour-long session, 130 authors were pitching to 50 agents.
3 – Know the players. Besides a Google search, many of the conference agents are on Twitter. You can learn a lot by monitoring what they tweet, and then use the info to frame your pitch based on what most interests them.
4 – Practice your lines. You should know your pitch cold and deliver it with passion. Don’t expect excitement from the other side of the table if you’re not passionate about your work. That said, you should also be nimble enough to adjust on the fly if an agent wants to drill down on something specific.
5 – Be comfortable. Reading your pitch is a bad idea, no matter how nervous you feel. This is an amateur move that eliminates the possibility of good eye contact, one of the core principles of effective communication. Really, this is not optional. If you’re having trouble, go back to Tip 3.
6 – Think DVD. That is, think of the back of a DVD box, which tells the story without giving away the ending. Example: It’s about a great white shark that terrorizes a New England town.
7 – Don’t lead with a question. While the provocative question opener might work in some situations, agents are usually on overload. Don’t make them work too hard to figure out where your story is going.
8 – Be specific. Don’t say your novel is a humorous romp. Craft a pitch that draws a laugh. Or at least a smile. (Notice this applies to good writing as well.)
9 – A few more Sambuchino “don’ts:” Don’t sing your pitch. (Would you consider it?) Don’t talk about yourself in the third person. I’m Steve. Steve doesn’t like hunting. Don’t say your family loved your book. Don’t sit down, exhale, and say you’re looking for an agent.
10 – Remember the mission. The pitch is about the book, not you. If interested in the work, the agent will ask more about you. That’s the time to talk about the author.
If you reach that last hurdle, you’ve done well. Now’s the time to remember that you’re a writer capable of incredible storytelling. Don’t list your credentials; turn your resume into a story that’s as memorable as your work.