Pitching at a Conference? Set Fire to the Rain!

advice animals memes  - Animal Memes: Lame Pun Coon - No Stairway to HeavenWe’re in the full swing of conference season, and one of the aspects that can make a writer gnaw their fingers down to the second joint is pitching. I’ve only done it once, so I’m no expert, but I also didn’t throw up on myself, or stare and blubber and wipe drool off myself while staring at the agent or any other combination of blowing it. I’ve heard/read horror stories of writers first experiences at this and they aren’t made up. So I thought I’d share what I did in case it helps even one other writer.

Okay, I think there’s two kinds of nerves that come into play while doing this:

  1. The Oh Shit I Have No Idea What I’m Doing nerves
  2. The Pre-Flight Jitters

I’ll share how I handled both.

The Oh Shit I Have No Idea What I’m Doing nerves

Starting about a week before my first conference, I felt like I had a big ole lead ball in my stomach and it only got worse. I had the The Oh Shit I Have No Idea What I’m Doing nerves. When I get in that state, my left brain kicks in and I go into research mode. This is natural to me and so I was surprised when I met other conference goers who’d done no preparation or even research. One hadn’t even written her book, so if she’d done research, she’d obviously missed that admonishment to never, ever do that. For others that naturally research, I probably won’t be sharing anything new, but for the others, seriously, research. What do you need to research?

  • Look up blog posts on pitching at conferences. You’ll get a feel for how other writers have experienced it, what they wore, their horror stories, etc. I even got nervous about what to wear (others obviously didn’t and went in looking like slobs) and brought 5 different outfits. Best advice I saw on this was to wear what you’d wear to your first book signing. Appearance does matter, but you don’t want to over dress. You want to look sharp and capable.
  • Look up what and how to pitch. You’ll feel more comfortable going in knowing the format and with a well-honed pitch. If you’re interested in the links I found, see my pre-conference post. Remember, this is marketing. You are not giving a book report. You want to intrigue them enough about your premise, that they HAVE to see your story.
  • Research your agents! I got seriously left-brain anal and made dossiers. Got out my label printer and made a folder for each and inside I put my one page cheat sheet. The sheet had a photo of the agent I scraped off the interwebs, their name big and bold, their agency, and then a bulleted list of facts I’d found out about them that were relevant to my project, or that I had in common with them (favorite book, etc). This was a great ice breaker when I went up to each. I’d lead in with whatever it was I had in common with them, or if I liked one of their clients, etc., and then we were rolling!

I found that once I had done these three things (which was about 2-3 days before I left for the conference) and had written my pitch, that lead ball had dissolved. I think it was knowing that I had done all that I could do to prepare myself.

One last thing I did to help with this was practice my pitch. I said it out loud to any friend or co-worker who was willing to indulge me. And I also just stood and said it out loud over and over. You can’t do it in your head or even whisper it. I did that at first to get it memorized. But when I used my full voice for the first time, it was a completely different experience. I stumbled. I said ‘uh” too many times. So out loud, folks. Full-voice out loud. On the car ride to the conference, I also said it out loud over and over.

Note: I’ve seen posts that say you shouldn’t memorize. I did, but I tried to make the lines sound casual.

Pre-Flight Jitters

Okay, so I was as prepared as I could be and had a pitch I believed in. Now I just had to do it. I did get nervous again, but each time I felt its fingers curling around my stomach I slapped it away. I would NOT let it take hold. I reminded myself that I was prepared, etc.

I have a trick I always do, dating back to high school exams, which is to envision a mental gear shift and switch it up right before I need to perform (for an exam, job interview, pitch session), I can literally feel my brain shift to a calmer, sharper state. I also remind myself that I cannot die doing this.

Another thing I did, which I found out isn’t too common (at least in the sample I took at the conference), was play my theme song in my head. Whenever I started getting the jitters, I mentally blasted the line from Adele’s song “I Set Fire to the Rain” in my head. Seriously, this works. Maybe not this song for you, but come up with some song that signifies power and confidence to you and gets your blood pumping. Then just play that little snippet mentally in your head. I found this extremely useful when my name was called to walk into the pitch room. I closed my dossier on the agent where I reviewed the bulleted list, straightened and blasted that song in my head during the whole walk to the agent’s table.

I Won’t Lie

The first agent I pitched to was over Skype and thank God, with no visual. I opened with my thing I had in common and she was extremely nice and then she said, okay so what’s your book about? My body spurted adrenaline into my system and I suddenly got nervous. But what saved me was the memorized pitch. It was like I was on auto-pilot, but not sounding like a drone about it. It was like my body was detached and I could hear myself talk. I was animated from the adrenaline and it came out sounding a tad nervous but natural. I think. Anyway, the point is, you WILL still be nervous, but if you’ve prepared yourself, you’ll get through it just fine. The agents EXPECT you to be nervous. They are nice people and they WANT to find someone at this conference to represent, so they want you to succeed. She asked for a partial and I’d forgotten to have my notebook handy and so I made a mad dash and scrambled for it (another reason I was glad there was no visual). My hands were shaking so badly I could barely read my handwriting.

I pitched to four agents that day and each asked for either a partial or a full. It got easier as each pitch happened. Thankfully my hands weren’t shaking with the others, since it was in person.

Bottom Line

Prepare yourself and then just remember: relax, the agents aren’t your enemy.

Have you pitched at a conference? How did it go? Do you have any tips on how you got through it?