Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Stepping Up to the Plate: The Art of the Pitch

Pitching your work to editors and agents at conferences is nerve-racking as hell. Writers tend to be introverts, so it’s hard for us to market ourselves and our work in person to someone. And it’s a major pain trying to distill an entire novel into a short synopsis that you can deliver verbally to someone else. But pitch sessions are a great way for writers to make a first connection with an agent or editor, and even if the idea of giving a pitch makes you break out in a cold sweat, you should do it as often as you can. So here are some tips on the art of the pitch.
  • Know pitch sessions for what they, and what they aren’t. You aren’t selling your work at a pitch session. You’re trying to get someone interested in taking a closer look at your work. You want to intrigue them, entice them. Give them a delicious taste so they want more.
  • Research the people you’re pitching to ahead of time. Read editors’ and agents’ bios on the con website. Google them to see if you can find print or video interviews with them. See what other clients they have/books they’ve published. Not only will this research enable you to shape your pitch to their needs, it’ll show that you’re a serious professional.
  • Your work must be complete. No agent or editor is interested in your ideas by themselves. They’re only interested in work that you have finished and can send to them tomorrow. If you don’t have anything finished, you’re wasting their time and yours.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. A pitch isn’t about you. It’s about the person listening to your pitch. Agents and editors want to know who a book’s target audience is and how they can best market it to that audience. They don’t care about your inspiration for writing the book, how much time you put into it, or how much in love you are with your own world and characters. Writers can – by necessity – be very self-absorbed when it comes to the creation of their work. But when it comes time to market it to others, you have to forget about yourself and think about the other person’s needs. How will your book fulfill those needs? How will it do that better than another book?
  • Be able to categorize your book and its audience. No one likes to put labels on art as if it’s a can of peas, but that’s exactly what has to be done in order to market a book to readers. Even literary novels are categorized to market them: “An insightful coming-of-age tale set in the Great Depression.” What genre (and subgenre) does your book fit into? How long is it? Who do you envision as the audience for it? What makes your book different from all the bajillion other books out there?
  • Here’s a pitch formula I ran across a while ago that I find useful: Write one sentence about the character, one sentence about the conflict, and one sentence about the cool concept.
  • Make damn sure you talk about the conflict. The most common complaint I’ve heard about listening to pitches from agents and editors is that writers will say a ton about their characters and world but never mention what the conflict is. Conflict is drama. Conflict is story. If you make certain to talk about the conflict in your story, you’ll be far ahead of many of the others pitching at the con.
  • Don’t tell everything about your story, character, or world. Pitches are supposed to be short. They’re supposed to deliver an intriguing taste of your work, and nothing more.
  • If your book is part of a series, mention that, but don’t go into detail about the other books at this point. Agents and editors only want to know about the first book. Knowing there’s series potential there is good, but their focus is solely on the current book.
  • Prepare. Don’t wander into a pitch session and wing it. Prepare first. That will help you take maximum advantage of the short time you have to pitch, plus preparation is the best way to head off nervousness. If you can get a look at the space where the pitches will be held ahead of time, do it. Familiarizing yourself with the room will give you some idea of how noisy or quiet it will be, how loud you’ll need to talk, etc. It’ll also help decrease your nervousness.
  • Practice. Go through your pitch several times before your scheduled meeting. Practice on you own, or with family and friends. Video yourself and see how you did. You can practice before your pitch, too. I often see people practice pitching to each other in the hallway before their scheduled meetings.
  • Time yourself when you practice. You want to make sure you get your entire pitch in during your meeting, but you also want to leave some time for the editor or agent to ask questions. Time yourself in practice so you don’t go over time – or too far under time – during your meeting.
  • How should you dress? Editors and agents don’t really care how you dress. Writers tend to be casual people anyway. Plus, agents and editors are often the only people dressed in business attire at a con, so writers tend not to dress very formally. But you want to look professional, and more importantly, you need to be comfortable. Tight, uncomfortable clothing will only exacerbate your nervousness. I usually wear a polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers. A turtleneck or mock turtleneck if it’s wintertime. Business casual is a good look to go for, but honestly, agents and editors are far more interested in what you have to say than what you have on.
  • Write your pitch down and read it during the meeting if you have to. I always bring print-outs with my pitches on them to pitch meetings. I usually don’t have to read the print-outs, but they’re there if I need them. And if you’re extremely nervous, it’s okay to read from your print-out. It’s best if you can speak without notes, meet the other person’s eyes, etc. But you have to do what you need to in order to get through the pitch, and if that means reading your notes, so be it.
  • Don’t booze it up, over-caffeinate, eat a big meal beforehand, etc. Have fresh breath. Bathe. You need a clear head, so avoid alcohol. You don’t need extra nervous energy, so avoid caffeine. Plus, both alcohol and coffee can give you dry mouth – and they’ll make you feel like you need to pee, especially if you’re nervous. Eating a big meal can make you uncomfortable and your nerves might cause an upset stomach. Brush your teeth beforehand, eat a mint, chew some gum so you have fresh breath. (Just don’t chew the gum during your meeting.) Make sure you’ve bathed and are wearing deodorant. It’s easy to let some of your hygiene standards slide a bit when you’re super busy at cons. Don’t. You don’t want agents and editors to remember you as that person with the terrible body odor and horrible death-stench breath. You want them to remember your work.
  • Only bring water if you think going to have serious dry mouth during the meeting. Having water is a temptation when your nervous. You’re tempted to play with it because your hands need something to do. You’re tempted to sip it periodically because you’re nervous. Both of these are distractions during your meeting. You may feel like you have to pee if you drink too much, of course, but worst of all, you might spill your water on the table, the floor, and maybe even on the agent or editor. Only bring water if you will physically be unable to get through the pitch without it.
  • Don’t speak too fast. When people are nervous, they tend to speak faster than normal. That can make you hard to listen to. Plus, your nervousness will make the person you’re pitching to feel uncomfortable. You want the agent and editor to focus on your work, not on how nervous you are. Practice will help you speak at a normal pace during the actual meeting.
  • Don’t oversell yourself or your work. Yes, we have to market ourselves, but it’s often difficult to know how much and how far we should push. Billing yourself as the next Stephen King or saying that your novel will be a huge bestseller and change the genre forever will only make you look ridiculous. Be enthusiastic about your work, talk about why you think readers will like it, yes, but don’t act as if you think you’re the greatest writer since Shakespeare. You’re not. Me neither. Remember, a pitch is about your story, not you.
  • Leave a little time for questions/conversation. Don’t take up the entire meeting talking about your story. Leave some time for the agent or editor to ask you some questions or for you to ask questions of your own. If you’ve researched the agent or editor and can ask questions directly related to them and the places they work, you’ll come across as far more professional. Plus, a pitch meeting goes both ways. You want to know if this agent or editor is right for you.
  • Ask how they like to work with writers. This will give you a good sense of what the editor or agent’s working style is like. It’s important that you feel this is a person you could work with and hopefully develop a good business relationship with.
  • It doesn't hurt to bring some material -- say a synopsis and three chapters of your book -- to a pitch meeting, just in case an agent or editor asks to see it right then. But most agents and editors don't want to carry paper around with them at the con or schlep it onto the plane when they go home. If they're interested in your work, they'll most likely ask you to email it to them later.
  • You can pitch even if you already have an agent. It doesn’t hurt to meet editors and get a sense of who they are and how they work – and to give them a sense of who you are. Your agent can follow up with them later if they’re interested in taking a look at your work. In my case, I often pitch to movie and TV people looking for literary works to adapt. My agent follows up with them afterward.
  • Hallway pitches. If you can’t get a formal meeting with an agent or an editor, you can always approach them after a panel, in the hallway, in the bar, etc., and ask if you could pitch to them. They may listen to your pitch right there or they may make an appointment with you to pitch later. Be courteous when you do this. Don’t bug them while they’re eating, having a conversation with someone else, or sitting on the toilet. Being assertive is one thing. Being rudely aggressive is another.
  • Be yourself – or at least the best version of yourself. I said earlier that agents and editors are primarily interested in your story, and that’s true. But they also like to get a sense of who you are as a person and what it might be like to work with you. Do your best to be yourself, but it’s okay to be the best version of yourself. Be more outgoing if you’re an introvert. Be more calm if you’re usually a spaz. If you normally swear like a sailor, tone down your language. The main thing is to treat a pitch like it’s a conversation between two people, because in the end, that’s all it is.


Just Released!

My tie-in novel, Supernatural: Children of Anubis, is now out!

Sam and Dean travel to Indiana to investigate a murder that could be the work of a werewolf. But they soon discover that werewolves aren't the only things going bump in the night. The town is also home to a pack of jakkals who worship the god Anubis: carrion-eating scavengers who hate werewolves. With the help of Garth, the Winchester brothers must stop the werewolf-jakkal turf war before it engulfs the town – and before the god Anubis is awakened...

I had a lot of fun writing the werewolf family in this book, and it was great to invent a new monster species – the jakkals – for it as well. This the fifth Supernatural tie-in I’ve done, and I think it’s my best one yet. I hope you check it out and see for yourselves!

Cover Reveal!

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Alien’s release, Titan Books revealed the cover to Alien Prototype, my forthcoming tie-in novel set in the Alien universe.

When an industrial spy steals a Xenomorph egg, former Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks must prevent an alien from killing everyone on an isolated colony planet.

Corporate spy Tamar Prather steals a Xenomorph egg from Weyland-Yutani, taking it to a lab facility run by Venture, a Weyland-Yutani competitor. Former Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks--now allied with the underground resistance--infiltrates Venture's security team. When a human test subject is impregnated, the result is a Xenomorph that, unless it's stopped, will kill every human being on the planet.

What the official synopsis doesn’t reveal is that the Xenomorph is born from a host who carries a deadly virus inside him – a virus that mutates the Xenomorph, making the creature even more deadly than its kind usually are. Part horror, part science fiction, and part action, this novel was a blast to write, and I hope people will enjoy it!

Release Date: Oct. 29. 2019

Coming Soon!

My next horror novel for Flame Tree Press, They Kill, is due out in July, but you can get a review copy now at the NetGalley site:

Here’s a synopsis:

What are you willing to do, what are you willing to become, to save someone you love? Sierra Sowell’s dead brother Jeffrey is resurrected by a mysterious man known only as Corliss. Corliss also transforms four people in Sierra’s life into inhuman monsters determined to kill her. Sierra and Jeffrey’s boyfriend Marc work to discover the reason for her brother’s return to life while struggling to survive attacks by this monstrous quartet. Corliss gives Sierra a chance to make Jeffrey’s resurrection permanent – if she makes a dreadful bargain. Can she do what it will take to save her brother, no matter how much blood is shed along the way?

My story “Voices Like Barbed Wire” has been selected to appear in Year's Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. It’s my third appearance in this series! Available now in both print and e-editions.

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