How not to pitch

I’m going to start this one off with a general caveat: I’ve only ever pitched one editor live. It was at RWA last year, and I caught a pitch appointment on the fly. I felt supremely confident until I stood in line to pitch my novel. Then it all fell apart.

I’d never prepared a pitch; I’d never even considered sitting down with an editor. But damn it, I had a finished novel, there was an open spot, and I was going to take it. I work in sales. I talk to people all day long. What could be easier than talking about my own novel to someone else who loves urban fantasy?


You can find all kinds of data on the internet about how to pitch properly. With SCWBI and RWA coming up at the end of July, I’m sure tons of people are already gearing up. But I’m going to share my mistakes so you all don’t make the same ones.

1) Don’t bother being prepared

I didn’t have a written pitch. Hell no. I knew what my book was about, and damn it, I could talk about it until I was blue in the face.

Yeah, I was an idiot. If I’d written down the plot, or at least a few bullet points, I could have strung together a sentence. Heck, if I’d had a copy of my query letter, I could have read that out loud. Instead, I ended up stammering something like, “Well, there’s a girl who, like, sees a man with a sword, and she runs into a music store, and she falls in love with the owner, but his brother is the bad guy, and –“

Her eyes kind of glazed over. Alarms were going off in my head. Abort! Abort!

But I kept right on going.

2) Don’t bother introducing yourself

I think I leapt right into the above pitch. I didn’t tell her my name, I didn’t tell her the word count, heck, I don’t think I even told her the title. I distinctly remember her slowing me down, and saying, “Wait, let’s start with some basics. What genre is this?”

Again, a note card with bullet points would have been tremendously helpful.

3) Forget that the editor/agent is a live human being

For some reason, I got in there and completely forgot that this was another person, another woman, who probably loved books as much as I do. Instead of introducing myself, complimenting her earrings, and settling in to talk about something we both love — books — followed by me mentioning oh-by-the-way I wrote an urban fantasy novel, I started sweating profusely and began yammering about my senseless plot. It felt like an interrogation, and I acted like she’d pulled the light down from the ceiling to stick it in my face.

That was my fault. Not hers.

That person on the other side of the table? A real, live, human being. Pretend you’re stuck in line instead of in a pitch session, and just talk normally.

4) Refuse to reveal the ending

This one threw me, in a big way. She said, “So tell me how it ends.”

I kind of stared at her. “What?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. Tell me how it ends.”

No. No, no, no. I had a colossal twist, a badass ending, and red herrings all over the place. And this woman wanted me to sit in the basement of one of the nicest hotels I’d ever seen and just effing TELL HER THE ENDING? Was she out of her mind? I’m a storyteller. I don’t reveal the ending until the end. That’s why I wrote 99,999 other words — not so I could sell out my characters while sitting at a cheap card table.

But that’s how it works. Be prepared to reveal your ending at the pitch session. Otherwise you’re going to try to reveal a twist that has no setup, or telling an ending that doesn’t match your premise.

Be prepared.

5) Cry

Yes, I did. And I’m not proud of it.

Actually, I’m a little proud of it, because she asked me for a partial manuscript. (Ba dum, bum.) It was vaguely reminiscent of getting pulled over by a police officer when I was 19, and bursting into tears when he asked for my license. No ticket. Yeah, baby.

I’m going to RWA at the end of this month, and I’m not sure I’ll be pitching to anyone. I’m in the middle of a novel, and my agent and I agree that my completed MS can go back on the shelf for a while.

So if I get that itch at the last minute, if I find myself sitting at that card table, I’ll probably be just as un-prepared.

But I guarantee I won’t cry.

6 thoughts on “How not to pitch

  1. Lucky for me, I have a friend I’ll be practicing my pitch with over and over and over before sitting down with any agents or editors. 🙂

    Great advice. I’ll get out my index cards.

  2. Fantastic bullet points. I have yet to attend any conferences, but this topic of The Pitch has been on my mind whenever I do consider it. So far, any time anyone has asked me, “hey, what’s your book about?” and I stutter and stammer (I’ve since come up with a nifty answer that gets me out of the limelight) and sound like an idiot, this is good reading for me.

  3. Helpful advice. I very seldom tear up in front of cops (I tried once; so didn’t work!) or other people who are there to decide my future, but the rest is good to think about. Thanks!

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