Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tell Me About It!

I just attended my final pitch event of the year, and between conferences and one-day local events, I’ve met hundreds of writers (and heard hundreds of pitches) in 2010. From this side of the desk, I can tell you that it’s a harrowing experience to sort out the pitches I heard and the flood of requested submissions that fills my inbox in the days and weeks following a conference. (And if you’re still waiting to hear from me, rest assured that you will. I’m bailing my way out!)

Sometimes, that submission that I was anxiously awaiting turns out to be exactly what the writer pitched and exactly what I’m looking for. Most often, what I receive is quite different from what I was expecting, and this can be a disappointment or a pleasant surprise.

If there’s one thing that I could share – which I’ve repeated to the numerous writers I’ve met this year – it’s that pitching your book and writing your book are two very different skills. Some writers embrace this and approach the pitch with energy and optimism. Others feel that it’s a form of torture, which we sadistic publishing industry folk enjoy putting them through. Whether you view it as fun or evil, you should think of it as necessary.

While I would never sign a client on a pitch alone, being able to pitch your work is vital for several reasons. For one, it shows that you can sell your book – to agents, to publishers, and most importantly, to readers. In the current publishing climate, where much of the publicity and promotion falls to the writer, it’s important to know that a client can promote their own book, whether it’s in front of a crowd at a book signing, in an informal chat with friends, or in a tweet to your followers. For another, being able to talk about your work successfully shows that you know your book. You’ve finished the manuscript or proposal, and you’ve done your research on the market to find out where and how it fits into the big picture.

Regardless of whether you plan to attend a conference or pitch event, you should still learn to talk about your writing. What I recommend: Start by writing a one-page synopsis (F) or overview for a proposal (NF); then write a query letter; then a paragraph; then a three- or four-sentence blurb. You should have multiple versions of the pitch for your book because you never know when you might have a ten-minute face-to-face meeting or a 30-second opportunity at the lunch buffet. If you’re prepared, you’ll be able to take advantage of those magic words: “So, tell me about your book…”