One of the panels I served on at last weekend’s Imaginarium Convention was “Pitch Perfect.” Along with Imaginator Tim Waggoner and Tony Acree of Hydra Publications, we talked about what makes for a good pitch, what makes for a bad pitch, answered questions, and gave critiques to the three brave souls willing to give their pitch on the spot.
What makes a good pitch?
A common theme was being concise, confident and clear. Tony felt that a good pitch is about 10 to 15 minutes. If the pitch connects, the publisher will ask you for more. He also spoke to the importance of good eye contact and paying attention to body language during a pitch. A nervous tick can be a big distraction.
Tim emphasized highlighting what excites you most about the story. In his situation as an educator, he’s most often hearing pitches for a thesis novel, so he wants to know that it’s a project the author will stay committed to over two years. He spoke to the fact that a pitch is a conversation, not a presentation, with room for interaction. The more confident and comfortable you are, the more comfortable the person you’re pitching will be.
I spoke a little about how important it is to be able to vary or tailor your pitch, either for length (you really should have a version you could give during the length of an elevator ride) or to highlight different elements that might speak more to a particular person. I also put in a plug for avoiding “special snowflake syndrome“: where you are so afraid to sound derivative that you don’t make your premise accessible enough.
What makes a bad pitch?
Rambling on for too long was the biggest no-no. We all recounted authors taking up to an hour giving their pitch. It’s also important to take the context of when and where you’re pitching into account. At an event like Imaginarium, a creative writing convention, publishers are actively looking for new authors. At a sales-focused event, taking up an hour of our time is literally costing us money in lost sales. Which is not likely to endear you to a publisher.
Another big problem is not doing your due diligence in researching a publisher before you pitch. If your book is nonfiction, and the house only publishes SciFi, fantasy and horror, please don’t try to tell them why they’ll really like your book anyway. Spend a little time looking at what they publish, and reading the free samples of the eBooks they’ve already produced to see if your stuff fits.
If you can’t explain why you want to work with this particular publisher, it’s harder for us to feel like we aren’t just a name on a list you’re working your way down.
How important is the author?
One astute audience member asked if publishers looked at personality or other aspects of the author themselves when considering acquiring a book. We all agreed that it is an element, particularly for a small press publisher. You’re going to be in a business relationship with this person, and nobody wants to partner with a jerk. Tony spoke to the fact that Hydra (like most publishers) expects authors to attend events and help in the promotion of their book. So the ability to present yourself (and your work) well is a factor in how well we can market you.
A few more tips on pitching
The three pitches we heard were all very good, including one from an attendee who was just 14 years old(!) Some of the critique we provided, anonymized out of respect for the authors:
- When pitching a speculative story, make sure it’s clear what the speculative elements are.
- Compelling conflict sells stories; make sure we know your main character’s motivations and goals, the stakes, and what stands in his or her way.
- Strike a good balance of world building/setting, plot, and character in the time you have allotted. All three pitches were a bit light on the last one.
- If there’s important backstory, make sure your description is 25% backstory to 75% main conflict. A lot of authors spend a lot more time on the setup than they need.
- Focus on the elements you’re the most genuinely excited about. That enthusiasm will rub off on your audience.
Have you pitched a publisher at an event? How did it go? Or as a writer, have you faced the dreaded “I have a great idea for a book! You write it, and we’ll split the profits!” pitch?