To Pitch or not to Pitch?


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Pitch 101

(Aside: This will be a long post but you may learn a new way to pitch your next story. Let’s find out how to hook that agent/editor.)

Recently, I attended a writing conference. Now, why do writers attend writing conferences? For the camaraderie of fellow writers. For the many workshops on offer. To meet and greet your favourite authors, editors and agents. Yes to all these reasons. For me the biggest draw-card of a writing conference is the opportunity to talk to agents and editors about your book/s and your writing. This is when the inevitable question will present itself to writers:

To Pitch or not to Pitch?

How many opportunities do you get to pitch your WIP face to face with either an editor or an agent? If you answered zero to none, that would be pretty accurate. So if given the opportunity to pitch, why would you say no?

There is a clichéd saying that you should not look a gift horse in the mouth. The same could be applied to the Pitch appointment. The first rule when offered the opportunity to Pitch is:

  • Take the chance. Take the Pitch.

What is a Pitch? Is there a right or wrong way to Pitch your WIP?

A pitch is basically your sales pitch for your WIP. This is your chance to sell your story. I think a lot of writers have confusion around Pitching. Yes, your WIP is your baby. But that is only while you are writing it. When you start the editing process your “baby” needs to become your “product”.

A year ago I wrote a post on my creativity blog called:

Publishing your book: Be market savvy. Be reader savvy. 

“Your WIP is finished and is perfectly edited. It is submission time…Suffice to say, the creative end of the process is basically complete but now the business end of the process begins. Your precious WIP that you have spent hours of grueling energy over is now just a “product” in the “shop of publishing“…Writing your book is a creative and personal process. Submitting your book for publication is a marketing game. Publishing your book is a sales game…”

So the biggest disservice you can do to both your WIP and your pitch is to still think of your WIP as a “baby”. But I hear you say that you have never been a salesman; that you don’t know how to sell your book. Have you ever gone for an interview? Have you ever applied for a loan? The chances are you have done at least one of these things. Which means you have sold something: you sold yourself as an investment product. Aren’t you trying to get an agent or editor to take your book on to publishing? Then you’re selling. You are the best salesman for this job. After all nobody knows this manuscript like you do.

So is there a right way or adversely a wrong way to pitch your manuscript? I think that there is a right way that will at least get the agent or editor listening to you intently. I am going to teach you how to sell your WIP to that next agent or editor that you pitch to.

F.A.B.G.

  1. Feature
  2. Advantage
  3. Benefit
  4. Grabber

This little acronym is one that is well known to the sales industry across the world. It is an acronym that I used to train people in selling and turning “lookers” into “buyers” when I was in the sales industry. But this is also an acronym that you can use in the Pitch session. So do you want to know what this acronym means and how it will change the way you look at Pitching? Well I am going to tell you anyway. So if your WIP is your product, how are you meant to sell it? This is how.

  1. Feature

Your book is your product but it is not your feature. Your feature is that one aspect of your WIP that will make an agent or an editor want to take this book on. So you have to figure out what your feature is. It may be the specific genre, it may be your intended market, it may be your plot, it may be your POV, it may be your characters. Your feature is that one feature of your book that makes your book marketable and readable. So find out what your feature is.

Example: Product = Pen  | Feature = Ball-Point Pen

  • Advantage

The advantage is what advantage does your book’s main feature have that will have an agent/editor peering up with interest. This must relate to the feature you have chosen to sell/pitch. 

Example: Product = Pen | Feature = Ball-Point Pen | Advantage = Ball-Point pen with a Fine writing tip

  • Benefit

The benefit will make the difference in whether your WIP is the right manuscript for that agent/editor. In other words, how will the feature’s advantage benefit the customer. The customer in this case being the agent/editor.

Example: Product = Pen | Feature = Ball-Point Pen | Advantage = Ball Point pen with a Fine writing tip | Benefit = writes legible words with ink that will not run on most surfaces.

  • Grabber / Clincher

The grabber is that last GRABBER of a selling pitch. It is what will make the agent sit up and start nodding his/her head without even being aware that they are agreeing with you. The Grabber is basically a summing up of feature + advantage + benefit rolled up into a short, concise and assertive statement.

Example: Product = Pen | Feature = Ball-Point Pen | Advantage = Ball-Point pen with a Fine writing tip | Benefit = writes legible words with ink that will not run on most surfaces | Grabber = Don’t you want your pen to be able to write on most surfaces without running?

  • The second rule is: Dance according to the tune.

This means knowing who you are pitching to and what you are pitching. This means doing your homework before the pitch session. Find out what other mss this agent/editor has signed. What do they like? What don’t they like? This also means knowing where your WIP fits in when compared to other books in the same genre. If you are writing a YA, you do not want to be pitching your book in a monotoned professor-like voice (actually in most instances you do not want to be pitching like that). Pitch it in way that it will appeal to Young Adults. This is what will make your pitch stand out in the agent’s/editor’s mind. 

  • The third rule is: First Impressions count.

Be professional: in both grooming, attire and body language. Be punctual. If you do not have an appointment, pitch at an appropriate time – not in the bathroom. (Don’t hijack the agent/editor. The right time will present itself usually by them being interested in you while chatting.) Be concise in your pitch. Be market savvy: if the agent/editor asks you who is the market for this book, you need to be able to answer without hesitation. Be assertive. Be confidant but not arrogant. Sell not preach your book’s idea/s. Be gracious.

  • The fourth rule is: Short but Sweet.

Be salient and succinct in your pitch. Use only the most necessary plot points and talk about only the protagonist and antagonist in your story. At most pitch sessions, you have 10 minutes to pitch your WIP. Use that time wisely. A writing partner gave me the best advice:  sum up your story and the main conflict + climax in 1 sentence. If you have picked the correct sentence, the agent/editor will ask you to elaborate and if you get to that stage, half the battle is won already.

Good Luck with your next Pitch. Just remember that once you are at the Pitch stage, your book is no longer your “baby”, it is now your “product” and you have just been made a salesman. Other than that, you need to realise that it is still up to the agent/editor whether they want your particular WIP. Do not despair if your pitch failed. It may be that it is the right story, wrong time. Keep on persevering. Keep on pitching. Those are the most important rules of thumb.

Share some of the insight you may have from one of your pitches. Why have some pitches been more successful than others?

[Aside: At the conference, I followed my own advice and had one successful pitch and one pitch that didn’t take. The one that didn’t take was simply because it was not the genre/market that the editor was looking for. Again, this publishing industry is all about timing and what’s hot and not. You won’t know unless you pitch. Most editors/agents will give you some good feedback. Of course just because a pitch is successful, does not mean the end of the journey. It is only the second step. The first was finishing a full novel in the first place.]

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7 Comments

  1. You wrote: Share some of the insight you may have from one of your pitches. Why have some pitches been more successful than others?

    I showed up at the PNWA summer writers conference in Seattle with an appointment to pitch to Amy Boggs. My friend and beta reader said, “I sure wish I had an appointment w/ Amy Boggs instead of Elizabeth Kracht.” I was indifferent, so I offered to switch.

    Elizabeth Kracht LOVED my pitch. Normally, I research the agent with whom I have an appointment beforehand, but with Ms. Kracht, I knew nothing about her going into the pitch. It turned out to be sheer luck, because my manuscript has a Latina protagonist, and Ms. Kracht went to college in Puerto Rico. What a nice surprise!

    I wonder if it’s fate???

  2. Great post? It’s a question I’ve wondered about, and you spell it out so clearly.

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