Pitching Fastballs

On Sunday, I attended the Speed Dating session at the San Francisco Writers Conference.  The theme I heard repeated every day at the conference was to present your best self.  I’d spent days writing and rewriting my pitch the week before the conference, and was certain (and confident) that it was as good as I could get it. 
But as I spoke to the other attendees, and we practiced making our story pitches to each other, I became less and less comfortable with I’d planned to say.  On Saturday morning, I listened to several other writers give their pitches around the breakfast table, and came to the realization that I didn’t believe my own pitch.  “I’m still working on mine,” was all I could offer, when it was my turn.  I was worried; I wondered whether I should even attend the Sunday pitch session. 
But when I attended a session called “Joining the bestseller club by writing your breakout book”, I heard super-agent Donald Maass talk about what moves him most when writers talk to him about their books.  Don reminded the audience that a pitch is meant to entice an agent into wanting to know more, not tell the story.   Don spoke about looking for stories with heart; that reflect a protagonist who yearns for something that is impossible to achieve, and how that reaching for the impossible changes the character.  He called it an emotional hook. 
I realized what was wrong with my pitch. I’d been focused on the wrong elements.  I had been too wrapped up in trying to convey the protagonist’s voice and tell about the turning points of the story.  What I really needed to do was to step back and view the protagonist’s inner (and emotional) struggle and yearnings, and talk about the journey the character makes – the story arc.  I knew I needed to rewrite my pitch.  I had an early dinner, and spent a couple hours rewriting.  I made a few practice tries pitching to a non-fiction writer (an excellent choice, as it turned out), who pointed out a few nonessential elements.  When I was done, I could feel it. I believed it.   
On Sunday, I made a couple last-minute changes and was the last person to walk into the room full of fiction agents for my session.   Each session was three minutes long; we had two minutes to pitch, and one minute for feedback from the agent. There were only five agents there that said they were interested in paranormal or urban fantasy, so I figured I’d be lucky to talk to my top four; I walked to the shortest line first.  By the time the Speed Dating hour was up, I’d pitched to the four agents I’d wanted to talk to.  I’d gotten one pass, two requests for pages, and a card.  The two agents that requested pages both complimented me on my pitch.   I am convinced that it was the emotion and character arc that made the difference.  Try it; see if it makes a difference for you. 
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2 Responses to Pitching Fastballs

  1. Don says:

    Hey Pandora–
    The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award first cut was announced today…

    Did you enter? If so, did you make it?

  2. Congrats on the 2 requests for pages!! I haven’t attended the SF conference yet, but it sounds great, and of course listening to Don Maass is always a treat. It’s been fun reading your pitches on Pitch University too! I entered mine, did you catch it? :-))

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