I didn't decide to participate in Pitch Slam until three days before the conference. At which point I had a week long panic attack trying to get my query and pitch conference ready. I like to live dangerously.
If you are unfamiliar with what Pitch Slam is, it is a WDC add on that gives you the opportunity to pitch to agents in every genre- we'll go over the specifics in great detail below. It is also the third question you ask everyone you meet at the conference, following getting their name and where they are from. Are you pitching? What time slot are you in? Do you also feel like you are about to throw up? No? Just me then.
You are probably wondering why I decided to hold off on pitching until the last minute. And the answer is simple: I didn't think I was ready. As far as I saw at the conference there was a very definite line drawn between the writers pitching: Those who KNEW they were ready/had done it before and those who felt shockingly unprepared despite having worked on their book for years.
So how do you know if you are truly ready?
You have a complete manuscript and you want to do it and you have the money to do so.
I want to clarify here- if you are pitching for the purpose of getting an agent, you want the book to be written. Mine was just a first draft going through revisions at the time, but I knew I could have it polished in a couple of months (My goal is to have all of my requests sent out by Christmas).
HOWEVER, if you are just pitching for feedback and experience, by all means, get in there! The agents have great advice and can help you get a feel for whether or not the project you are working on is marketable.
How the Whole Thing Works (WDC Style)
I'm going to try to go in order of what you need to know about this particular part of the conference, but to be able to do that, I need to skip to the end. The main event. The big kahuna. It will help you understand why I am blabbering on about other details as we move along.
The first thing to know is that not all conference pitch opportunities are created equal. Some will give you 10-15 minutes to pitch an agent. Due to the size of WDC and the demand, attendees only have 3 minutes to pitch their project to agents.
You heard me right. 3 minutes. And not even an entire 3 minutes. You have 90 seconds to pitch your manuscript and the agent has 90 to respond. Ideally, your pitch will be under 60 seconds so that they can ask questions.
The Pitch Slam is split into four equal sessions. 10:15 am – 11:15 am, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm, 1:45 pm – 2:45 pm, and 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm. You might be thinking to yourself, "Heck yeah! That means I can fit like 20 agents in!"
That, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, that is a lot of pitching), is not the case. Depending on how many people are in your time slot you will probably only see 3-8 agents. The last time slot is usually a smaller group- but you'll also find that some of the agents have left by this time. Weigh your options on that one. You will also be up against your genre- mine is YA fantasy, a fairly popular thing to write at the moment. This meant that the agents I wanted to see generally had lines of 3-4 people. I waited 15 minutes to see my top agent.
PRO TIP: They line you up outside the door before letting you into the "arena", which is basically a big, rectangular ballroom lined with 6ft tables. Agents sit two to a table and their names and preferred genres are posted behind them. Have the map with you, with your preferred agents circled, and show up 30min-hour early. That way you can be the first in line at which ever agent you want to start with!
During the session, they have warnings that go off- 30 seconds, move along, and last pitch. You should always be courteous of your fellow pitchers. I had a few people who sat at with an agent for upwards of 6 minutes.
You will be nervous on your first pitch. You'll probably still be nervous on your second pitch. Try to remember that agents are human, not literary abyss goblins who want to say no to you. They were all VERY nice.
Once they let you into the arena, you stand in front of the table where the agent you hope to pitch to is sitting. In some cases, you will be the first. They will have you wait patiently while they explain how the pitch works and then they ring a bell to tell you to start.
One thing I would do differently, looking back, is start off with a conversation. I followed everyone on Twitter prior to the conference and one agent, Kelly Peterson with Corvisiero, had posted several times in the prior weeks about a ghost in her apartment. I didn't want to come off as creepy or weird so I didn't even mention that I follow her on Twitter, but NOW I probably would. Not to be a suck up, but to make more of a genuine connection. To say, I see you and what you are doing and I have an appreciation for it. Instead of diving right into my pitch and behaving as if I didn't care who was on the other side receiving it.
Do not hand the agent anything, don't bring your manuscript with you. If the agent likes what you have to say they will request something via email. I had requests between 5-50 pages- some will request the whole thing. Some wanted a query and synopsis attached to the submission. They will either hand you a business card or have you write their information down (BRING A NOTEBOOK- there was one in the swag bag this year).
Now, if you remember from my previous posts, I said to bring business cards. It is not typical for the agents to ask for these BUT THEY MIGHT. I had an acquisitions editor ask for mine. Make sure you have it- a good way to keep them safe and accessible is to put them in your nametag. This is also a great place to store the business cards of the agents who have them. Losing those sucks!
Now lets jump into pre-pitch preparation. That's a mouthful.
How to Craft a Perfect Pitch
I'm just kidding, I am no expert on perfect pitching- if there even is such a thing. But I do have some tips and tricks (AND REQUIREMENTS) that I picked up during my time at the conference.
Your pitch needs to include the following elements:
1) Title (tentative or not)
2) Word Count (MAKE SURE YOUR WORD COUNT IS GENRE APPROPRIATE)
3) Type of Book or Genre
4) Comp Titles (published books that are adjacent to yours)
5) Main Action (plot/big idea)
6) Emotional Impact (theme)
7) Unique Selling Proposition (what differentiates your story from other books in the marketplace)
**thanks to Jeanne Veillette Bowerman for posting this list on the WDC Facebook page
Here is my pitch from the conference:
"The Red Queen meets Throne of Glass in the Dead King a dark YA Fantasy completed at 100,000 words.
Magic has been punishable by death for over a century, but when Mairah Hollis almost kills a man with just the touch of her hand, she gets to keep her head. A necromancer and usurper King bent on taking revenge and restoring magic tears across the seven territories with his undead army. The Monarchs of the Continent require a Champion and Mairah is in no place to refuse them.
To keep her life and save her family, Mairah must complete the Seven Crown Trial, a cross continental test in which she must collect the approval of each monarch. Her journey takes her through a diverse land of rich and vibrant societies based on the Latin, Asian, and European styles of our own world.
With their blessing, she will face the Dead King himself- and take his crown for her own or die trying."
It is important to note that I did memorize this pitch, because there were some points I wanted to make sure I didn't miss. But I didn't memorize it so much that I was rigid. I made sure I truly KNEW what I was saying, well enough that I could change it or add to it on the fly and not get lost.
Sometimes agents will interrupt you- for example, Susan Graham with Einstein asked me multiple questions about the book throughout my pitch. You can't let that throw you off. My first thought was oh my gosh, she hates this and she hates me. WHY DID I EVER WRITE A BOOK. But at the end she was SO nice and I think she made me a better writer and person for it. She made me think on my feet and she brought out elements of my story that my pitch, by itself, did not.
Pitch it, Pitch it Real Good
Working in real estate, there is one thing that they teach you about phone scripts- DO NOT PRACTICE ON CLIENTS. You can take this advice to heart when it comes to pitching your manuscript to agents. DO NOT PRACTICE ON AGENTS. Unless they are your friend and they offered to hear it apart from the session.
There are plenty of people at the conference who want to practice their pitches too and many of them will ask you if you'd like to practice. It is amazing and uplifting and OH SO HELPFUL. I made the mistake of turning a few people down because I was so afraid, but let's be real- the more practice you can get, the better.
Also, you all know that I am a HUGE fan of hashtags (almost as much as I like all caps) and this is another great time to use them to your advantage. Use that #WDC(YEAR) hashtag and ask people if they want to get together to practice pitching!
It will feel dorky, at least it did for me, but you should practice pitching as you would to an agent. Be an actor for a moment, introduce yourself, shake hands, the whole shebang.
A big thank you to Christopher Guarnera, Wendi Whitsett, and Rachel Deas for being so kind when I did it and having great advice!
You will also want to practice by yourself. Say it in front of a mirror, or as Patrick Bohan suggested so brilliantly, record it on your phone and listen to yourself. Over and over and over again.
(Note: I am using everyone's last names so you can follow them on Twitter if you aren't already)
The Myth, the Legend, the Submission Timeline
So, I mentioned why it took me SO long to decide to pitch, now I'll tell you what changed my mind.
As a writer, you will hear over and over that your manuscript should be "Polished" or as perfect as possible before you start to query. With that in mind, I thought it would be a TERRIBLE idea to actually pitch my little bog monster to someone's face.
Then I read several posts on the WDC Facebook page and watched Gabriela Pereira's pre conference webinar (yes, there is a webinar sent out a few weeks before the conference and you should watch it) that said you have up to a year to submit. I thought to myself, "Well, I definitely won't need a year..."
I followed that thought with a tweet out to the #WDC18 to get feedback from fellow conference goers. The feedback was overwhelmingly, "Just do it, you nerd". Alright, alright. No need for name calling. I'll do it.
So it was physically jarring (stress vomiting is on brand for me) when during the Pitch Perfect session (included only with Pitch Slam) the speakers said that you wanted to have your submissions out within 1-2 weeks to make a good impression. I always want to make a good impression, but sending my 400 page, partially edited manuscript out to these agents was not going to do that. I sat in that session, reeling. Thinking I had just wasted $149 to basically just eat dirt.
THEN THE GODS SMILED DOWN UPON ME AND A CHORUS OF ANGELS SANG. Someone, braver than I, stood up and asked my question.
"I heard that we have a year to submit, is that not the case?"
It is indeed the case, my little author friend. That is not a myth- it is just highly recommended that you send it within 1-2 weeks. It does make a better impression and the likelihood (though small in general) of the agent remembering who you are is higher.
Guarantee Your Success
Ok, so I cannot guarantee that every agent you visit will want your book- or that any of them will. Sometimes it isn't marketable, sometimes they already have something similar, sometimes it just isn't the right fit. BUT if you do everything you can to be ready for the Pitch Slam session, you can leave there with your head held high and feeling like you are #winning.
1) Do Your Research- Stalk those agents, make sure that they like the kind of book you are bringing to the table. Follow them on Twitter- they also usually have great advice.
2) Be Prepared- Have all of your ducks in a row. Bring your notebook, your pen, your business cards, and your smile. Awwww.
3) Practice and Get Feedback- Utilize other writers, hone your pitch, DON'T PRACTICE ON AGENTS.
4) Enjoy the Process- This is a conference, you are there to learn and grow. Take what you can from this experience and use it to become the heckin' awesome creator that you are. Even if your big break isn't right now, you are one step closer to victory.