Posted On June 3, 2011 by Print This Post

Perfect Your Pitch – Perfect Your Style

Today’s post is a double-header. Our good friend, Diane Holmes from Pitch University, gives us her top five conference pitch tips.

Also, nailing the perfect pitch is just as important as making a favorable first impression when you’re face-to-face with the agent/editor of your dreams. Carrie and Jen share their favorite fashion sites and a few quick tips on what to wear.

First up, Diane Holmes from Pitch University. Welcome back, Diane!

5 Pitch Tips to Turn Your Conference Pitch Appointment into a big HECK, YES!

#1 Pitch Creation – Turn off your Writer Brain and turn on your Reader Brain. What did the reader experience after reading the first fifty pages? As a reader, you were interested by something cool (character or story), then another cool thing (usually story). Say that.

(Hint: If it’s hard to switch gears, reformat the first part of your MS into a “book,” print off, and read on the beach. *grin* )

#2 Pitch Accuracy – I’ve yet to read a pitch or query that actually matches the real pages of the book. Yes, I’m serious. (Read the Pitch U Case Studies, to see what I’m talking about.)

It’s fine to keep working on the words of your pitch, but your pitch is probably WAY off. Find a Beta reader willing to read your first 50 pages then have them verbally tell you what they’d tell a friend your book was about. Oddly, they’ll tell you something really short. Imagine that.

(Most critique Partners fall into the trap of trying to “play with the words” of the pitch. So find that Beta Reader!)

#3 Test Drive Your Pitch – What if you knew before the conference that your pitch was likely to work? What if you weren’t worried about the words or your presentation? Yeah, what a relief. Pitch University is the only online venue that is focused on pitch practice, but many writer’s groups are starting to have meetings devoted to pitch practice. If yours doesn’t do this yet, suggest it!

NOTE: Romance University and Pitch University are partnering for a June 19 – 25, 2011 PitchFest at Pitch U to help YA and Romance writers get ready for RWA Nationals (or any conference). You’ll be pitching (and practice pitching) to Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst & Associates, Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency, Lucy Carson of the Fiedrich Agency, and more! Preference will be given to writers from Romance U. (More details about this at the end of the post.)

#4 Unique Strategies in Pitch Practice – One of the biggest things that will throw you off when giving a pitch is that pitch appointments are run like races: ready, set, go! We writers are not GO people. So, prepare yourself by working with another writer, your family, or even the UPS guy. Go stand across the room. When you hear GO, race-walk across the room, sit down, and deliver that pitch. (For the UPS guy, it’s fine to race-walk down the driveway, lean on the mailbox, and shout the pitch over the sound of the diesel engine.)

#5 Working with Abject Terror – Okay, I’ll never be totally without that nervous feeling when pitching, but no more abject terror. One way to really reduce your fears is to forget this notion that you should memorize your pitch.

If notes are good enough for ToastMasters International, they’re good enough for you! Unless you’ve had training or held a job that has trained you to memorize , you’re likely to either go blank or say everything in a monotone rush. Either way, it’s not good. Instead, create your short pitch and make notes of keywords. Let the keywords remind you of what you want to say, then look back up, smile, and talk about your story.

What other conference pitching problems do you have? I’ll be checking the comments today and offering solutions.


You want to look “put together for Nationals.” Like a professional author. Instead, you’re freezing, and your nose is running from the Arctic chill of the air conditioning in the hotel or you’re sweating like a pig because of the humid New York summer weather.

Perfect Your Style

First, almost everyone attending conference will be traveling. Via plane, train or automobile, no matter how you get to New York, you’ll need clothes that travel well, that don’t require ironing, and make you look stylish and professional. It’s tempting to toss all of your favorite outfits into a suitcase, but don’t forget about the atrocious baggage fee if your suitcase is overweight. Will that fourth pair of shoes tip you over the weight limit?

Clothing: Lightweight, separates. Oh, you’ve heard this over and over. A mix and match wardrobe. Snort. We’re serious. They say black is boring, but when considering a travel wardrobe, black is your best friend.

We’ve put together a list of our favorite shopping websites:

Coldwater Creek

Can you see it? Mostly blacks and grays, with a few bright splashes. There’s literally hundreds of ways to change up the outfits and yet have them all match. And best of all, they’re wrinkle free. Gotta love the lightweight knits!


Check out the travel wear line at Chico’s. Again, mix and match, with a greater variety of colors. You’ll want to notice the accessories too!


J.Jill has a “Wearever” line of no-wrinkle knits, which are packable and stylish.


The Boden line, well known for their bright prints and quirky yet stylish clothing, is another one of our favorites. We like their assortment of dresses for every shape and size.

The fall collections are already hitting the stores, which is great news for you because that means summer items are on sale.

Accessories: Let’s face it, most of us are fiddlers. If we’re wearing a necklace and we’re nervous, that’s the first place our hands are going to go. Twisting rings, pulling on earrings, and jangling bracelets are distracting to the agent/editor you’re trying to impress. If you know you can’t leave it alone, leave it at home! Charm bracelets, metal bangles and long necklaces that are going to bang against the table every time you lean forward? Wear them AFTER the pitch session.

Hair: Picture yourself leaning forward, tilting your head as you listen and well, sweating. Is your hair in the way? Do strands get caught in your mouth when you move your head? If so, think of a simple pulled-back style. A low ponytail, chignon, French braid. Here as well, keep the accessories to a minimum.

: I’m a face sweater. It starts on the side of my face, and eventually ends up dripping off my ears. The sides of my hair get wet, and when I’m really stressed, it will actually drip off my bangs. Short of wearing a Rambo-style headband, what do I do about makeup? There’s so many waterproof and smudge proof products out there, that a trip to any department store will set you up in style. Revlon offers a light foundation, Revlon ColorStay Active Light Makeup SPF 25, that’s smudge-proof, sweat-proof and rub-off proof! Bobbie Brown mascara is waterproof and lasts…and lasts….and lasts. If you don’t normally wear lipstick, leave it off or dab on a bit of lip gloss. Try out all products before you leave home as well, an allergic reaction is not something you need at conference!

Shoes: Ah, the biggest dilemma of them all. A different pair for each outfit? Yikes! First and foremost, you’ll be on your feet for many hours out of the day. Think comfort. If you’re a Fashionista and can’t imagine leaving the sky-high stilettos at home, you can always pack a pair of ballet flats in a plastic bag and put them in the bottom of your purse or tote bag for a quick change when your need for comfort exceeds the need to be fashionable.

Here’s a link to the Gap’s City Flat:

These flats are foldable and fit into a handy carrying pouch.

As writers, we are also observers. And as such, take some time over the next week or two to observe your fellow man when they appear to be having a meeting. Does she twirl her hair? Does he lick his lips? Now take a few minutes to observe your own. Tics, trembles and twirling are surely something all agents have seen before, but the more you notice you’re doing it, the less likely you will during the actual pitch.

You want the agent/editor to remember you for your brilliant pitch, not for your fashion faux pas.

The best fashion advice? Don’t forget to smile.


Are you pitching at Nationals this year or have you pitched to an agent/editor before? What are your favorite wardrobe choices when traveling? Share them with us!

Urban Fantasy writer C.J. Redwine is back for another installment of Query Writing 101 on Monday, June 6th.


Bio: Diane Holmes is the founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, the only no-cost, 100% free website devoted to learning how to verbally pitch your book and answer the question, “What’s your book about?” Pitching is the skill you need to sell your book to agents, editors, and ultimately, readers. And the best part about Pitch U? You learn directly from the experts who pitch books for a living: agents, editors, and experts.

Diane’s background is in marketing, fiction writing, and community building. She has also founded writers’ groups, co-owned a small press, had plays produced, written novels and scripts, run writer’s contests, held offices in writing organizations, taught writing… and just like you, she sucks at pitching her own books.

When not working on Pitch University, she’s writing an espionage thriller. (She started out writing sweet romance, but that first book used up all her sweetness, and now she kills a lot of fictional people and makes really good ”people” run for their lives. Villains? Oh, for pity’s sake, cover your eyes! Yeah, yeah, plus there’s ill-behaved romance and the power of love. Aw. Just watch out for the blood.)

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21 Responses to “Perfect Your Pitch – Perfect Your Style”

  1. A BIG thank you to Diane for sharing her “Perfect” tips. Great stuff here!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 3, 2011, 4:19 am
  2. Hi Diane. Welcome back! Great tips. I have to say, (having a corporate America background), I’m sometimes surprised at the clothing choices people make for the conference. I know we want to be comfortable, but for me, it’s a business setting and I want my clothes to represent a professional style.

    I’m big on seperates. I usually bring dress slacks, shirts and cardigans that I can mix and match with the slacks and the shirts. Easy, peasy!

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | June 3, 2011, 6:25 am
    • Hello, Adrienne! It’s so good to “see” you again. 🙂

      I don’t think it was obvious but the second part of today’s post is by Carrie and Jen, who are sharing all their conference fashion sense.

      My advice is to find what you can still fit into. 😉 See, I’m not nearly as helpful.

      Anyway, I want to give credit where it’s due. Great advice Jen and Carrie!

      Posted by Diane Holmes | June 3, 2011, 8:51 am
  3. Morning Diane!

    Thanks for posting with us again, I always looooove your pitching tips! I’m not sure my UPS man would stand still for a reading of my pitch, but I’m thinking the mail man is old enough (and deaf enough!) I could catch him and get it said before he knew what was up!

    I agree about the separates…I wear black pants a lot, then a pretty wild colored shell or tank and a black cardi…I was so surprised at the Coldwater Creek and how everything on one page matched! Handy!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 3, 2011, 6:53 am
    • Hello to my favorite Smart Ass!

      If the UPS guy doesn’t stand still… chase him down, honey.

      Well, then again, that’s probably not the best strategy for gaining a future reader. They should be running toward you. Just an FYI.

      Posted by Diane Holmes | June 3, 2011, 8:53 am
  4. Hi Diane,

    I’ve never pitched a story in person, only over the Internet. I won’t list my tics, let’s just say I fidget. Great clothes advice too. RU has it all.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 3, 2011, 7:25 am
    • Thanks to Carrie and Jen for all the clothing advice!

      And I know what you mean about fidgeting. Here’s what I’d do in your case. I’d find a way to fidget that’s acceptable. Basically it’s a way of controlling your nerves when there so much adrenaline you can’t think straight. Practice (like at Pitch U) will help, but ultimately most of us will always have some nerves to deal with.

      So… find a good fidget.

      What if you fidgeted by deepening your smile? (This probably sounds weird, but a fidget is a way of moving or stretching while your brain goes nuts. A smile is a movement and most folks totally forget to do this when pitching.)

      What about inhaling deeply?

      Flexing your toes or your ankle (which they can’t see). Don’t do the jiggle-the-leg-thing because that will shake the whole table. 😉

      Are you doing one of the PitchSlams where you have to stand in line?

      Well, then they can see your whole body. Drat. Try holding one arm along the side of your body, with your hand slightly behind your leg. Then you can stretch your hand over and over, make a fist, stretch, and this will release your nervous energy.

      The reason I’m not saying Don’t Fidget, is because it’s actually providing a helpful function of using up excess energy and coping with fear.

      Or, in the case of those who do it out of habit, it’s not like you’re going to drop a 20-year fidget habit just for a conference. Seriously, right?


      Does this help?

      Posted by Diane Holmes | June 3, 2011, 9:05 am
  5. I love this post! But – what? – no mention of excess glitter and bling? Dangly earrings and five rings aren’t too much – right? Right?

    I printed out the pitch info. Your timing is brilliant!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | June 3, 2011, 7:50 am
  6. Excellent post!

    I’ve had my outfits planned for about 3 weeks (total dork) and I did splurge a couple of new tops that make me feel good – a positive, confident attitude is the best accessory.


    Posted by Robin Covington | June 3, 2011, 7:59 am
  7. Hello, ladies –

    Some fabulous tips here!

    Diane – question for you…what tips do you have for folks who may not be pitching (like me :)), but are randomly asked: “What do you write?” at various time throughout the conference?

    Jen & Carrie – I’ve become a master-packer over the past few years (ask Trace and Adrienne about the one suitcase I packed for Orlando last year). This year, I’m in Texas for two weeks prior to NYC and with a very different agenda. I still won’t pack more than one suitcase (and I don’t mean one of those humon-go ones!).

    How to reduce baggage?

    1. Seriously curtail the shoe obsession. Yes – they are cute and yes, people comment on them. But do you really want to schlep around 10 pair? Wear your heaviest, bulkiest pair on the plane. This is how I most often transport my kick-a$$ cowboy boots.

    2. Remember you can wear things more than once and most people will NOT notice. I travel with one pair of black pants. Yes, only one.

    3. Pack in smaller bags inside your suitcase. You might use ziplocs, or I have some Eagle Creek bags that zip up and allow me to compress my clothes.

    4. Leave the hair dryer at home. All hotels have them now.

    5. Leave bulky clothes at home. As Jen and Carrie mention, pack separates that don’t wrinkle, because those puppies pack flat! I can pack five-six tops in one small Eagle Creek bag.

    I’m sure I have tons more tips, but those were just the top ones off my head.

    Happy Friday!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | June 3, 2011, 9:25 am
    • Dear Kels,

      This is a genius questions. Why? Because ANY time you answer the questions, “What’s your book about?” you’re pitching.

      That’s why I think pitching is a skill every writer needs. It’s actually not because you need to reach editors and agents. You can query. Nope, you need this skill so you can speak about your book in a way that gets people interested. Doesn’t matter if it’s another writer asking, a bookstore owner, the media, or a reader.

      If you can’t answer this question, then you’re not going to be promoting your book very well. 😉

      Anyway, your pitch should be short. It should be something you can just “toss off” as an answer and be excited about when you say it.

      Here are some of mine.

      Ex: I’m writing a quirky book about a girl who/s “rescued” (or kidnapped, depending on your pov) by a married couple of con artists the night her parents are killed and she’s left for dead.


      Ex: I’m writing an espionage thriller about a CIA analyst whose car is broken into in the CIA parking lot, and he finds intelligence left for him that incriminates his adopted, younger brother in espionage. He has to figure out how to save his brother, whose life is in danger, before his own team at the CIA receives the intel and it’s out of his hands.


      Ex: I’m writing a black comedy similar in tone to Grosse Point Blank and Raising Arizona, about a woman who is 6-months pregnant and doesn’t want to kill people anymore. She’s come up with the perfect plan to exit a life of crime so that her boss and none of his people will ever come after her.

      With only days to go before her plan is in place, a man shows up at her door–the son of her boss’ enemy– and to keep her plan on track, she has no choice but to keep him quiet and captive. It turns out it’s so much harder to keep people alive!

      Posted by Diane Holmes | June 3, 2011, 10:40 am
      • Okay, Diane – you’ve inspired me to create at least two short pitches before heading to NYC. One book is in the revision process and one is still be drafting, but what the heck, someone might ask to see them when they’re finished!


        Posted by Kelsey Browning | June 3, 2011, 12:56 pm
    • When I used to travel for business, I’d stuff tissue paper between my silk blouses before folding then put them in plastic dry cleaning bags. It helps keep them from wrinkling.

      I’d also suggest bringing a foldable duffel bag in case your suitcase is overweight. You can transfer some items from your suitcase into the duffel and check both.

      Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 3, 2011, 12:50 pm
  8. Hi Diane!

    Thanks for being with us today! Your points on fidgeting are spot on. I don’t think most of us are aware of our nervous tics.

    And as far as packing for a trip…a successful trip is when I’ve worn everything in my suitcase at least once. I realize the conference is an opportunity for folks to dress up. If you’re like me and wears t-shirts and workout pants all day long, having an occasion to dressup is a treat.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 3, 2011, 12:45 pm
  9. Diane, I always love the information you share. It’s spot on! And now I’m thinking I’d like to find pitching event just for the excuse to shop for a new outfit!

    Posted by Michele | June 4, 2011, 7:51 am

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