Saturday, May 12, 2018

More on pitching (cause that seems to be our obsession these days)

The last two pitch sessions have been an insightful, growing experience. I think I know what I am doing wrong now, I say with a cringe. The pitch is about what makes the story different, about what makes it stand out from the stories that are similar. The pitch is about the twist. Right? Or am I still not getting it?

An effective pitch is one that works.
What works on me may not work for another agent and vice versa.
What works for one book may not work for another.

However, some pitches don't work at all, and mastering that first step is what we're trying to do in these pitch posts.

I think of this as akin to learning to ice skate.

The instructions are the same for everyone: lace on your skates, and then stand on the ice.  HOW you do that is by finding your balance while standing on skate blades.

Everyone finds their balance in their own way.

There's no magic formula or guaranteed way to create a successful pitch. It's trial and error.

All those really funny people you see on late-night TV, or doing standup routines? They've taken those stories and jokes out for more than a few practice runs to figure out where the laughs come, where the audience doesn't respond, where to pause, where to make a funny face.

The reason it's so hard to perfect a pitch is cause you don't have an audience to help you hone your timing. These posts are designed to be your audience; to see what works and what doesn't.

You'll still need to refine it further, but you'll be skating, not falling, on the ice.


Sam Hawke said...

Thank you, Janet. One of the hardest things is getting past that first stage where you have no idea whether what you're pitching is complete shite. It's beyond valuable to be able to try it out on an agent without the pressure of feeling like if it's not right first time you've closed off opportunities.

You're all doing great, well done everyone!

Julie Weathers said...

I agree. The posts were immensely useful to see what catches a person's eye and what doesn't work.

Gigi said...

Yes! I do marketing work for a living and I'd like to echo everything Janet said above. So much of effective pitching (of anything) is doing test drives.

When figuring out how to pitch any idea (books, a business, etc. etc.), it helps to test things out. Test your pitch on strangers. How do they respond? Do they ask to be put on your email list? Do they say OMG I want to read that? Test it on your friends on social media. Test it on new people you meet. Watch their reactions. What do they react to? What do they care about? Where do they perk up and where do they start to lose interest?

I also agree with your conclusion, OP, that the starting point is "what's different about [my story/my business/my product]?" This is the first step pro marketers go through when re-branding, naming, or creating content/marketing messaging for a product.

Sherry Howard said...

One thought I have, and maybe You guys will understand what I mean. I can WRITE a pitch. But, I have to honestly say that speaking that well-written pitch feels so artificial to me. But, when I try for a more conversational style of pitch, it's impossible to get it into a few words, and have it make sense. So, does anybody else experience this feeling of being artificial when you use your own practiced words? It reminds me of feeling like a phony during job interviews!

Mister Furkles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mister Furkles said...


You are so right about finding what works for oneself. I learned to strap the skates onto my butt because that's what was on the ice most.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

One of my very first jobs was kitchen prep and washing dishes at a trendy local bar. There was live music on the weekends and everyone who was anyone hung out at this place. When I turned eighteen, the owner asked me if I wanted to work out front as a waitress. Boy, did I.

I recall carrying one of my very first full trays of drinks through the crowded room. Taking small, shuffling steps, my eyes were fixed on the cocktails as I tried to keep them from sloshing like an angry sea. It wasn't working.

One of the more experienced waitresses pulled me aside and said, "Walk normal. Hold your head up. And don't focus on the wrong thing - the key is to look where you're going, not down at the tray."

It worked. And it's funny how that has stayed with me beyond serving cocktails. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or sort of unsure about something, I say those words to myself: Look where you're going, not down at the tray.

A pitch? Your query? Hold your head up. Focus on where you want to go.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So helpful. In all the ways we must promote our work. Pitches, queries, oh my! These exercises also help us clarify what might not be working in our stories. Thanks so much for this platform.

Unknown said...

Sherry, I'd say read the pitch out loud twenty times. Do it sitting, standing, looking in the mirror, slow, fast, in different accents, modified tones. Change the words that feel unnatural spoken aloud. Let it seep into your bones and blood. When the words put you to sleep at night and wake you in the morning, you're ready!

Brenda said...

Again, again...puleeeze! (Think small, annoying child who won’t leave the carnival.) I want to try a different ms.

french sojourn said...

Great post, and as usual, great comments.

Unknown said...

As I was flipping through movie options on my DVR yesterday, I began paying attention to the descriptions for each one. I imagined I had never see the movie and thought, "If this is the only thing I knew about this movie, would I watch it?" That's the same eye needed for these pitches.

Unknown said...

So much useful information here on this blog, always. The pitches, both rounds were awesome. So many books I've noted as TBR even a few in genres I never read.

Karen McCoy said...

Very insightful! And I loved the video. Queries are much the same thing--often it's finding that middle ground between the critiques received, that tiny fissure that only you, the author can see.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I agree, very insightful again. I can't skate but ski, hopefully this counts for that, too ;).

During the recent days, I have been thinking about how much I have learned from Janet and people's comments. Thank you so much for everything!!

And then, I have also tried to think of something that I have contributed for Reiders. I couldn't come up with anything helpful that I have given back here in this blog.

Pitches are put into query letters, right? Query letters MOSTLY have to be pasted into the body of an email, right?
Often we get annoyed with the formatting of this process, when you have to go through the text (and particularly added PAGES to the query!) again as it looks all so damn ugly and unreadable in the body of the email.

Here is my one thing that I want to contribute, even though it is slightly off-topic, and maybe a lot of people know this already. But if there is even only ONE Reider who is a novice writer like me (yeah, learned "novice" on yesterday's post), and doesn't know, then this is helpful :) :

Once you have formatted your pages, indented, double-spaced etc., save them as an html document and THEN copy paste them into the body of your email.

At least when I tried that recently, everything stayed the way I had it formatted.

(Hello from Washington DC, btw, it's so hot here, I'm not used to it anymore, I'm melting.)

Unknown said...

Katie (one of us has to go), brilliant! I never knew that. You'll save me hours of formatting when I query round 2. Thank you! And you've contributed more than that here too!

Emma said...

Yes, I've also been paying attention to the short descriptions for video on demand, or Netflix. Netflix especially manages to squeeze a lot of information into a very short space. I subscribe to bookbub's mailings (if anybody doesn't know what that is, check it out, it tells you when e-books do promotional price drops). And here was their pitch for Agatha Christie's ABC Murders:

"Hercule Poirot pursues a serial killer who murders his victims in alphabetical order. But the culprit’s biggest mistake is leaving taunting clues for Poirot at the crime scenes…"

Great, right? The hook and premise are right there.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Kathy, I'm so pleased this was helpful. Yes, it does indeed save you A LOT of time!

Now you can impress with your next query format 😀.

And, of course, this doesn't just work for queries!!!

Unknown said...

I've read on Twitter that in 1998, Rick Polito pitched a Wizard of Oz movie as, “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

Where to focus your reader's attention? That's the question...

Craig F said...

Ain't no novices here. We are all sophisticated but not completely developed. We are sophisticated because we visit here, where we learn massive amounts about the writing biz, that to the Queen.

We are all developing writers, whether published or not. It takes work to bring new life to tired old words. When you are green you grow, when ripe you rot. Each book is a new journey. If it is not then it becomes something like that old plastic record player from days long past. It would skip and play the same three lines over and over. I finally learned and it went away in a puff of smoke. Discover, develop, rinse and repeat.

A pitch is the distilled essence of the story arc of your book. A query is to introduce your MC into that essence. They are different beasts but share a huge amount of DNA, because they are both born from your book.

I think that if I work on a pitch, I still don't know where it applies to me, I will do it in front of a mirror. That way I can see the places where I grimace.

Lennon Faris said...

Pretty sure this post could apply to the theme of this entire blog.

Thank you, Janet!

Chris Desson said...

I let this post sit overnight and marinated on it. Then I jogged over to lit. agent Rachelle Gardner's blog, looked up "Pitches," and this is what she had to say:

"In the words of my friend the Query Shark (agent Janet Reid), your pitch needs to show:

1. Who is the protagonist?
2. What choice does s/he face?
3. What are the consequences of the choice?"

This makes sense because as a bookseller this is how I describe books as to not give too much of the plot away yet keep it enticing enough for the buyer to want to read it.

Enticing to one is not enticing to all...