Conference Pitches: Talk V. Writing

Most writing conferences these days have a service whereby conferees can pay a little extra to pitch their work to attending agents and editors. Many larger conferences hold “pitch practice” sessions, give workshops on how to pitch and run the actual pitch sessions like Hollywood cattle calls.
Writing Tip for Today: This week and next, several of my writing students are attending conferences where they plan to pitch and (they hope) gain serious attention from an agent or editor. What are some things to watch for?

  • If You Flub It. My first pitches were total disasters. I refused to memorize or “perform” like a trained seal. I admit to hating the idea that I must perform my pitch flawlessly in order to gain interest in my writing. I know plenty of very good but shy writers who go through agony over these things and plenty of outgoing writers who can pull off a pitch brilliantly but whose written work has far to go to meet the expectations raised in the pitch. I’m not sure how much weight these pitches should have.
  • The Three Chapters. Most of the pro agents & editors ask for 3 chapters anyway, at least they do unless you’re writing horror and you pitch to someone asking for Christian mss. Writers often get excited (he asked for my first three chapters!), only to be discouraged when the rejection comes a month or two later. Agents are people–they don’t like to say “no” any more than you do. Send the three chapters, of course, but don’t let your expectations go wild.
  • Once in a Blue Moon. If you’ve been to a pitch session, you probably remember the gigantic room with tired, and in some cases, hungover agents sitting wearily while an over-excited conferee blurts out the spiel she worked so hard to memorize. This does sound cynical, but honestly, these agents get paid to find the Next Big Thing. In order to do this they must sift through a lot of sand to find the gem.
  • Practice. My advice is to go to a conference (if you can afford it) at least once just to take it all in. Buy a few pitch sessions just for the practice. Then if something great occurs (She asked for my full manuscript!) you’ll be ahead. I don’t know when the writing world decided that we writers should all be actors too. At Willamette Writers in Portland, going on now, there’s a heavy emphasis on screenwriting and a lot of film agents attend. Maybe that’s why this conference places so much value on the pitch.
  • Resources. There are several books out there on pitching, but I think the best resource is to practice. Go to the pitch practice sessions, even though you’re quaking in your boots. Let those more experienced help you get your pitch into shape. Whether you get the “3 chapters” treatment or genuine interest, you’ll have a much better idea of what to do and not to do next time.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Conference Pitches: Talk V. Writing

  1. This is timely Linda. I so agree with the practice part. It feels a bit uncomfortable at first, but it’s easy to tell in the sessions who has practiced and who hasn’t. I will pass this along to the gal who is doing our little “How to Pitch” workshop before our conference in Spokane. We just decided today to do it! Thanks for the great post.

  2. Pitching does feel like a necessary evil–kind of in the same category as blogging or Twittering for hermit writers like me. Guess we should just get in there and go for it. ~Linda

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