Posted On May 29, 2009 by Print This Post

CTW: Pitching Strikes

wildsightcoverOkay, you guessed it. I’m a baseball fan. For those of you not familiar with American baseball, pitching strikes means the pitcher (the person throwing the ball toward the batter) is hot, 100% on target, hitting the catcher’s glove with the satisfying thunk of leather on leather. The pitching writers do isn’t so different from baseball. The pitcher needs to be skilled, confident, fast and accurate.

Today Loucinda McGary is here to teach a Chaos Theory of Writing class about the writing pitch. She’ll also be giving away her newest release, The Wild Sight, to one lucky commenter. Loucinda, thank you for taking the time to visit with Romance University readers!

NOTE: Because of an unforeseen conflict, Loucinda will pop in over the weekend, rather than today, to answer comments.

Kelsey: Could you provide a quick definition of pitching as it relates to writing?

Loucinda: I don’t know about “definition” but to me pitching is the opportunity to sell your story in the most compelling and quick way. This is often the same thing an editor has to do to sell manuscripts to the sales and acquisitions staff at their publishing house. One or two minutes may be all the time you (or the editor or agent) have to convince someone to take a chance on your work.

Kelsey: Would you share your process for writing a pitch?

Loucinda: I try to have two different length pitches for each manuscript. One is the ‘elevator pitch’ which is two or three short, punchy sentences designed to ‘hook’ the listener into wanting to know more. This is the pitch you give to the editor or agent you meet in the elevator at RWA National. Don’t laugh, I met my editor in an elevator at RWA National!

The second, slightly longer version is what I call the ‘cover blurb’ pitch. This pitch expands upon your ‘hook’ and is much the same as the back cover copy on a book. I briefly mention the hero and heroine, the basic conflict, and something unique about the story. For formal editor and agent appointments, this slightly longer version can be expanded upon to include the sub-genre, manuscript length, and any other writing credentials you might have for writing the story. I like to keep the blurb pitch short enough to give the editor or agent time to ask me questions, or vice versa.

Kelsey: What can a writer do to hone his or her pitch writing skills?

Loucinda: As the old story goes, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall… Practice, practice, practice! Seriously, if you are having a tough time boiling your story down to two or three sentences, try writing a pitch for a book you’ve recently read.

Also, if you have critique partners who are very familiar with your story, have them write your pitch. Sometimes they have just the needed perspective that you lack, and you can return the favor for them.

Kelsey: Do you find other skills are necessary for a face-to-face pitch session?

Loucinda: Once again, practice! Do a little role playing with your critique partner or maybe members of your local RWA chapter. The more times you can practice it, the more relaxed you will be.

You do NOT want your verbal pitch to sound like the poem you had to recite in your junior high school English class! I’ve seen lots of people write their pitch out on index card and then proceed to read them at their editor or agent appointment, never once making eye contact with the person to whom they are pitching. Please don’t do this! Jot down a few pertinent words on your index card if you are worried you might forget your hero or heroine’s name, the setting, or conflict. But don’t write out complete sentences you will be tempted to read verbatim. Make eye contact and smile. You’ll be surprised how much more relaxed you feel if you do. 

Kelsey: What would you say are some mistakes new writers make either when writing the pitch or pitching a manuscript?

Loucinda: I’d say the most common error is ‘not setting the hook.’ You must catch the agent or editor’s attention immediately. This person has read or heard literally thousands of pitches. You must make yours stand out! What is the most unique or compelling aspect of your story? Concentrate on that.

I’ve also heard writers fall victim to ‘TMI’ – Too Much Information. You don’t need to give a synopsis of your entire book, and be careful not to ramble. Hit the high points and then stop talking. If the editor or agent wants to know more, s/he will ask. And whatever you do, if the agent or editor says, “Sorry, not for me.” DO NOT try to change his/her mind! Just smile as graciously as you can and say, “Thank you for your time.”

Kelsey: Please feel free to include any other words of wisdom on the pitch.

Loucinda: I’ve noticed lately that a lot of emphasis is placed on “high concept” and I’m not convinced that this makes for the most effective pitch. Too many people think they’ve written ‘the next Harry Potter’ or ‘the next Twilight’, and even if you have, if you are the fourteenth person that day to make the claim, do you really think the editor or agent will take you seriously?

I’d also be very careful about making comparisons with current books and movies for two reasons. First, if you say, “my book is ‘Sex In The City’ meets ‘Supernatural'” or “this is the Latina version of ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’.” You run the risk that the person you are pitching to doesn’t like one of those books, films, or shows. Second, particularly in the case of movies or TV shows, the person might not have seen or heard of the one in your example, so your pitch will mean nothing to them.

One of my critique partners suggested I pitch the story that became The Wild Sight as “‘Medium’ goes to Ireland.” I didn’t take this suggestion because I didn’t think enough people were familiar with the show ‘Medium.’ Instead I went with: An Irish clairvoyant must use his gift of “the Sight” to solve both a current and a past murder, while dealing with a beautiful woman who claims to be his half-sister.

Loucinda, we appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge about the pitching process! I especially like the idea of having your critique partners write your pitch (wink, wink to Tracey and Adrienne).

Thank you for inviting me!

A life-long avid reader, Loucinda McGary (aka Aunty Cindy) writes the kinds of stories she likes to read — stories with danger, romance and a touch of the unexpected. She joined RWA in 2001, and at the end of 2003 quit her dreaded day job to pursue her twin passions of travel and writing.

 On September 14, 2007 she received “The Call” and made her first sale. Her debut novel, The Wild Sight, a contemporary romantic suspense set in Northern Ireland was released in October, 2008. Her second romantic suspense, The Treasures of Venice will be released in September, 2009, and her third, The Wild Irish Sea is set for a Spring 2010 release. All are from Sourcebooks Casablanca.

 Cindy blogs regularly with Casablanca Authors (www.casablancaauthors.blogspot.com) and Romance Bandits (www.romancebandits.blogspot.com). Please check out her website: www.LoucindaMcgary.com

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20 Responses to “CTW: Pitching Strikes”

  1. Loucinda –

    Welcome to RU! A question for you…do you think creating a pitch before you write a book can tell you if your idea is different enough to elicit agent/editor interest?

    Thanks so much,
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 29, 2009, 6:05 am
  2. Hi, Loucinda. Thank you for being here with us today. How long do you recommend the pitch being. Most sessions are 7-10 minutes, so should three minutes of that be the pitch and the rest question and answer time?

    Thanks!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 29, 2009, 8:32 am
  3. This is a comment more than a question, but I couldn’t resist.

    I’m so glad to see there’s somebody else who doesn’t jump on the “high concept” bandwagon. I don’t really want to compare my stories to movies, TV, or other books. It always seems to make my story a derivative of the other, as though I couldn’t have an independent, creative thought for myself.

    I am, however, a proponent of a really good hook, tagline, blurb, or whatever you call it, that will stick in the mind and raise questions in the reader’s or agent/editor’s mind.

    Thanks,
    Ann

    Posted by Ann Macela | May 29, 2009, 8:32 am
  4. Hi Loucinda!

    I’m making a 1 or 2 line logline pitch in a couple of weeks and have been waffling over what to include, what not to include, what are the best words to hook the editor, etc. Thanks for your article, it really helps to clear up some of my questions!!

    carrie

    Posted by carrie | May 29, 2009, 8:40 am
  5. I am gearing up for my first ever face to face pitches. You’ve got some great tips here. I hadn’t thought of having a two different length pitches. I’ll have to work on that. My question is this: does pitching ever get easier? I haven’t yet figured out how to get past the nerves already rumbling around in my stomach, except to dive in and just do it. :) And, as you say, practice.

    Thank you for the excellent (and timely) topic.

    Posted by Laurie Ryan | May 29, 2009, 9:56 am
  6. Aunt Cindy, love the one line pitch you created! And see, no, comparing your story to the “Medium” would have meant nothing to me as I’ve only seen a couple of commercials.

    I do think finding a way to bring out the uniqueness of your story is essential. Great post! :)

    Posted by Gillian | May 29, 2009, 3:45 pm
  7. Hi Everyone!

    Thanx so much for having me on the blog today! Just popping in for a few minutes. Wasn’t sure I’d be up for this as I has a minor surgical procedure this morning. Please forgive me if I’m not as “with it” as usual.

    Kelsey, you pose a very good question about doing a pitch before writing the book. I honestly don’t know because I’ve never done a pitch for anything but a completed manuscript! (sheepish grin) Sounds like you have a good idea, however. If you try it, be sure to let us all know how it works.

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 29, 2009, 5:11 pm
  8. HI Adrienne!

    Thanx for a very good question. My personal recommendation is to keep your pitch to about half the length of the appointment. Not only does this give you and the editor/agent time to ask pertinent questions, but sometimes the editor will actually say, “I’m not acquiring (insert your subgenre here) right now. What else do you have?” Then you can take a deep breath and pitch another of your projects. Yes, always have a Plan B!

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 29, 2009, 5:16 pm
  9. HOORAY Ann!

    Thanx a bunch for voicing so well one of my feelings about ‘high concept’ pitching. I really like to believe that my stories are unique and not just another derivative of the “flavor of the day.” And you are soooo right! The whole purpose of the pitch is to make your work stand out in the editor/agent’s mind!

    Appreciate you popping by today,
    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 29, 2009, 5:21 pm
  10. Hi Carrie,
    I’m sooo happy my article helped. If you have any other questions you’d like me to address personally, please feel free to contact me via my website.

    I’ll keep my fingers xxed that you KNOCK ‘EM DEAD at your pitch session!

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 29, 2009, 5:23 pm
  11. Hi Laurie,

    Gee, I wish I could lie to you and say, “Oh yeah! This pitching thing is a piece of cake, eventually.” But I’m a terrible liar. :-( The truth is, that some aspects of it, like nerves, really don’t get that better. However, if you practice it enough times, you will feel more confident, and diving right in truly is the best way. Also, after you’ve done it a few times, you’ll begin to realize that editors and agents are mere mortals same as us writers. Honest, they are! ;-)

    GO YOU on this first round of pitching!

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 29, 2009, 5:31 pm
  12. Hey Gillian!

    Great to ‘see’ you here! Thanx a bunch for stopping by, appreciate your support as always.

    HUGS!
    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 29, 2009, 5:35 pm
  13. Hi Loucinda!
    Thanks so much for joining us. My first-ever pitch lasted 3 out of the allotted 7 minutes. After the editor slid her biz card to me and requested a partial, I snatched the card off the table and said, “Is that it?” (Politely, of course, but with just the right amount of bewilderment) She smiled and said, “That’s it.” I still don’t know to this day if that was a good thing, bad thing, or normal thing. Although I never heard back from her, so…

    Anyhoo, one of the most helpful tidbits I learned at that small conference is that the editors and agents are just as nervous as you. This came straight from an editor panel. For some reason, that info took the edge off. I was still nervous, but not crazy nervous. So, take a deep breath, Laurie, and pretend like your having a nice chat over cocktails. Good luck!

    Thanks, Loucinda. Loved your class!!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 29, 2009, 7:47 pm
  14. BTW, I love, love, love your book cover!!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 29, 2009, 7:47 pm
  15. Loucinda –

    Thanks so much for making the time to be with us today, especially after a medical procedure! Now that is dedication. Your post was wonderful, and for those of us pitching at Nationals, we’ll credit you with our success if we get requests :).

    Thanks again and I can’t wait to read The Wild Sight.

    Also – we need to trade travel stories sometime. Maybe over a glass of wine in DC?

    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 29, 2009, 9:04 pm
  16. Loucinda! I’m excited to see you here! I did my first pitch a couple of weeks ago, and it was utterly terrifying. It was a good practice pitch because the editor was visiting my RWA chapter and offered to take pitches for stories that might better suit the sister company to her company (Thomas Dunne). She said she would pass on the info to the appropriate editors if anything caught her interest. Twenty of us pitched and although she requested queries from all of us, no one has heard back yet (either way).

    My pitch went well, largely because one of my critique partners forced me to practice it on her, over and over, before it was my turn to pitch.

    I have an editor pitch scheduled at Lori Foster’s event and, even though I couldn’t schedule an official appointment at National, I’m hoping for a chance to do an elevator pitch. I can see I need to do more work on this — your example helped a lot!

    Posted by Becke Martin | May 30, 2009, 10:16 am
  17. Tracey,

    I think it was a real revelation for me to realize that the editors and agents are just like us! I mean, I knew it on one level but it is hard to accept when (like me) you’ve put these people on a pedestal for so long! But they really do need us writers, and they never know when they might be talking to the Next Bestseller! :-)

    And thank you for the compliment on my book cover. I can take no credit whatsoever, it was all the work of the Sourcebooks Art Department, who have done an equally fantastic job on my second cover! You can check it out on my website or blog.

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 30, 2009, 12:46 pm
  18. Hi Kelsey!
    Thank you again for inviting me and doing such great interview questions! Sorry if my answers were a bit incoherent yesterday. I’m feeling much better today. I hope some of my info proves helpful to anyone pitching at National. Best of luck to all who are and though I probably don’t deserve any credit, I’ll happily take any I can get! ;-)

    Oh and there’s nothing I like better than trading travel stories, so definitely look for me in the bar!

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 30, 2009, 12:51 pm
  19. Hi Becke!

    Happy to ‘see’ you here also!

    GOOD ON YOUR CP! She is a peach for forcing you to practice that pitch! My fingers are xxed that you hear some positive news soon. And good GOOD luck at the Lori Foster event (and hope you win the Romance Bandit Basket)!

    I don’t have a scheduled appointment at National this year either, but I will definitely be ready with a quick pitch if the opportunity arises. And MANY MANY times they do arise, so take note everyone and remember the scout motto: Be Prepared!

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | May 30, 2009, 12:56 pm

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