A disclaimer right up front: I'm a foot-in-mouth goofball when it comes to public speaking. I stammer and squeak and end up talking a mile a minute out of sheer nervousness. However, I've had partial requests at both conferences, so I must be getting something across. Or they feel sorry for me.
#1: Be physically ready to pitch.
- Scout out the area where you'll be pitching. Know where the bathroom is. Use it before you go, or return to your home or hotel room. Freshen up.
- Dress the part. This is a business interview. It's shocking that people go to their pitch session in jeans and an old t-shirt, but I've seen people do it.
- Know how you react when nervous. As for me, my throat clenches shut and I lose my voice and then talk too fast. I make sure to carry cough drops and mints to help my throat relax. At a conference, it's often smart to carry water, too.
- Bring along a printed version of your query letter and a synopsis. If you have business cards, have them at hand as well. Always have a notepad and pen/pencil with you to jot down notes.
#2: Know your pitch. Some people write theirs down and carry around the index card, while others simply memorize it.
- I've seen advice to keep the pitch under 25 or 30 words. Honestly? The word count doesn't matter much when you're in person. How does it SOUND? Whether it's memorized or written, the vital thing is that it sounds natural. However, keeping it short is smart. Don't go for run-on sentences. Build in spaces so you can breathe.
- Aim for creating something that's two or three lines. Use the basic format like a query letter: "My novel is a [genre] about [name], who is a [whatever they are]. When [horrible catastrophic thing] happens, they are forced to [several plot points] so they can [save the world, find their lost cat, etc]."
- If you have a pitch appointment at a conference, it's probably 5 or 10 minutes in length. There's plenty of time. Don't worry about cramming everything into the initial pitch. If they want to know more, they can ask.
- Remember that the pitch is a conversation, not just about you. And regardless of how nervous you are, don't be a bore. Pay attention to your listener for signs of waning interest and be ready to ask them questions to engage them. This also goes for non-agent people at a conference.
[I say this because I was in a lounge at my last conference and when I asked a woman about her book, she talked for TWENTY MINUTES STRAIGHT and told me the entire plot of her brilliant 200k historical fiction novel. I nodded like a robot, and the room was too crowded to let me escape. I can't help but think the poor woman would later be frustrated about why her well-thought out pitch didn't get any requests. Or, that they requested material to shut her up.]
#3: Know who you are pitching.
-Print out pictures of all the professionals of interest who you want to see in person. Usually that info is available on the conference's website, but sometimes these folks are more elusive. The famed Query Shark doesn't post pictures, but I still managed to find some of her on Flickr.
- Print out and study biographies, too. I spend some time delving on Google to read lots of blog interviews and such. If you're lucky, you might even find a forthcoming interview and get to ask them some questions before you meet in person. This information can come in very handy.
At my last pitch session, the agent requested a partial about 30 seconds after the pitch began. She didn't want to discuss anything else about my book because it all depended on the actual writing I sent her, which made perfect sense. So how did we pass the next 9 minutes and 30 seconds? I knew from a blog interview that she loved bento boxes, so we engaged in a rather relaxed conversation about egg molds and fun lunch box designs.
#4: After the pitch, take stock of everything.
- Did you get a request for a partial or full? Great! They probably gave you a business card or their direct email, along with details like acceptable file types and what to include. Sit down for a few minutes and write down other important parts of your discussion. What sort of vibe did they put off? Don't trust your memory. Record everything you can right after it happened.
- Maybe it didn't go well, even if you had a request. Not everyone will be a good fit. Just because they are A agent doesn't mean they are THE agent for you. One bad pitch appointment doesn't mean all of your hopes and dreams shattered into dust. It just means you had one bad pitch appointment.
- Be on the look-out for other opportunities to say hi to agents. You don't even have to pitch them. Just socialize and see what happens! I've been told at conferences that even if you don't get to talk to an agent or editor of interest, it's still okay to query them afterward and introduce yourself as, "I attended the so-and-so conference and hoped to meet you. Our paths never crossed, but as I know you love [genre], I want to tell you about my novel [title] at [number] words..."