So Why Did My Pitch Suck?

After a good night’s sleep, the good, the bad, and the ugly from my pitch have even themselves out into a pitiful, amateurish attempt. As promised, here’s what I learned from the experience.

  1. Do your research. Too much research will never be enough. As any student will tell you, research invariably raises questions, stokes the imagination and makes you realize just how little you truly know and understand your subject.
  2. Be confident. It’s tough to do but it only comes through…
  3. Practice, practice practice. Like research, you can never overdo it.
  4. Know your genre. It may seem obvious but when something major is about to happen, it’s easy to forget about the little bits and pieces that are integral to succeeding.
  5. Research your pitch audience. Your circumstance will likely be different from mine but it still is very important to be presenting in front of the right people. You’ll win no points by wasting an editor’s or agent’s time and you’ll most likely get rejected. Not the best way to keep up your optimism.
  6. Never compare yourself to an “untouchable” book/series. I made the mistake of comparing my series to HP (this is as close as I can come to admitting to comparing my fledgling work to one of the most successful series in YA history) and was told bluntly to NEVER compare a work to a mega-bestseller because it will always be compared to it from then on.
  7. Wear something comfortable and seasonally appropriate. The last thing you want is to feel a belt buckle dig into your belly or worry about sweat stains on a hot day when you’ve decided to wear long sleeves.
  8. Being published makes you very attractive. Be it blogs, magazine/newspaper/e-articles, being published automatically adds points to your desirability. It shows others have had faith in you in the past and if you have a blog they can check it out and get a feel for your style and see what kind of following you have.

I’m sure there are a few pieces of advice I forgot ; for a writer I have a very bad habit of forgetting a notebook and/or pen to make notes with and when I do have them I forget they’re there!

So as far as I can tell, this is what a potentially successful pitch contains:

  1. Confidence. I know you’re awesome, you know they can’t live without you. Now make them realize it.
  2. A hook. This is where you give them a zinger. A one-sentence blurb that they can’t stop thinking about.
  3. Catch their attention. No matter how gimmicky, you need to be memorable. What sets you apart? Being really, really, really bad doesn’t work.
  4. Synopsis. This should be done before you start working on your novel. Consider it an outline for you novel, malleable but it will be invaluable when working on your pitch. The pitch should be a distilled version of this synopsis.
  5. Genre. Obvious, I know but if I could forget to provide the specifics (historical vs. any other sub-genre) then so can you.
  6. Audience. Who exactly are you writing for? For example, if it’s a YA book, what age range have you written for? Think about what that audience looks for. Remember, kids don’t want to read about adults or kids younger than them.
  7. Submission package. Only hand this in if your pitch is solid and you’re confident in the quality of your work and if you’re able to follow through with this endeavour.
  8. Thank them for the opportunity and their time. Be succinct and sincere. No one likes a brown noser.

It was an exciting experience and even though I flubbed it big time, what I learned made every mortifying moment worth it. I said “ummm” way too often, I lost track of my thoughts and there were awkward pauses and when put on the spot, I was unprepared. It was painful to watch, I’m sure.

But there were no tears. Not even a chin wobble or shaky breath to steady my nerves. I stood my ground, accepted their criticisms with grace and gratitude and managed to be proud as I walked back to my seat to the sound of clapping. It’s exhilarating to put yourself out there in a public forum to declare yourself a serious writer.

As you pitch there are 4 things to remind yourself of to keep your sanity.

  1. They were once standing where you are now. They may not remember the feeling (I believe that’s a rare occurrence) but they’re human. They’re not going to bite your head off. Pop your ego a bit perhaps but that can be a good thing in the long run.
  2. Editors are like soul mates. While believing there’s one perfect mate for each of us out there, I like to think there are a few that are in the top 98% compatibility range. Don’t take their rejection to heart- if they give you some advice, the experience was worth all the time, effort and discouragement. The most valuable moments in life are sometimes the hardest. What did you learn?
  3. This isn’t the only option. There will always be another way to sell your manuscript. There isn’t a list of failed pitches floating around among the publishing world. Just because you flubbed with one editor doesn’t mean its’ game over. Rumour has it J.K. Rowling was rejected upwards of 13 times before an editor took a chance with her. We all know how that story ended…
  4. You’ve put yourself out there. Regardless of the outcome it’s a huge achievement. Not every writer will be able to voluntarily subject themselves to criticism and possible rejection. You deserve to treat yourself afterwards. Celebrate the experience.

You have no idea what may happen so go for it. I decided I’d much rather be a fool than a wallflower. Who knows, something may come of this at some point or maybe not. After my pitch, not one editor rejected my idea. The problem was that they were looking for Atlantic Canadian work, not an American Western. One editor recommended I go to New York City to pitch to agents and editors there. So what does that tell me?

  1. My idea is worth pursuing.
  2. They were encouraging yet realistic.
  3. I need to stick with my series and keep trying.

Long story short, if you ever get the opportunity to pitch, take it. Prepare as best you can but go in with an open mind and a willingness to grow from the experience. It’ll always be a win-win situation because if they don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. There will be someone out there who will like it when you’re ready for that to happen. I kind of feel like Jiminy Cricket but it’s true. Don’t give up because you get turned down. Wouldn’t you be happier suffering through 10 “no’s” before finding the right fit rather than ending up in a working relationship that is a constant battle? Success is sweet but it loses a lot of satisfaction when it comes so easily.

I’m so glad I chose to be a fool on Sunday.

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