A pitch is like a particularly short and pleasant job interview and as such needs approaching in the same way. Firstly, research the people you are pitching to. What books have they recently published? Who do they represent? How does your book fit in with their current stable? Check them out on Twitter, Facebook and their websites for answers. Google is your friend.
You then need to be able to sell your book. You need to convey what the story is about, how it fits with them/their line and what makes it special and sets it apart from other competing works of fiction. Think of the back cover blurb – exciting, emotive and brief. It should cover your main characters, their conflicts and the plot. Take in prompt cards to help you, but make sure you’ve practiced your opener to the cat, baby or any other writers you can bribe with a coffee or reciprocal arrangement. It will make it easier to present if you’re nervous on the day. Make sure you’ve also got a blurb on what sells you, so if you are asked about yourself you know the best things to say. A professional, but friendly approach to the pitch will have you well on your way.
When writing your pitch paragraph, all you need to do is examine the first 20 or 50 pages of your manuscript. Then zero in on the main catalyst that starts the story forward—the main conflict from which all else in the novel evolves. It’s the catalyst kernel of your story that forms your pitch.
What you need to remember is that your pitch paragraph needs to read like the back cover copy of a novel. Notice that when you read the back cover of a book, it just gives a hint or a teaser of the story and that it also usually focuses on a crucial early event in the novel. That gets the ball rolling.
And the back cover copy of a book never reveals the ending—and neither should your pitch paragraph. After all, if I want to read the entire novel, I don’t want to know the ending beforehand.
So what I suggest is that you go to your local library or bookstore and browse the section that holds the novels comparable to yours (i.e. if you are writing a thriller, look at thriller novels. If you are writing a paranormal romance, read the back covers of other paranormal romances. If you write literary fiction, read the back cover copy of literary works and so on).
You want your pitch paragraph to mirror that same sort of rhythm and content of those back cover examples. After all, that copy was written by experts and analysing how the experts create enticing copy can only help you to write yours.
Or Google away. Please note that RWNZ conduct pitches slightly differently to those sometimes held in the States so don’t panic if other pitching advice mentions things that sound left field.
If you need to change anything or the pitch coordinator has made a mistake, let them know as soon as possible. RWNZ wants to maintain our professional reputation with the agents and editors and so wishes to minimise changes at the conference itself, but changes are better than just not showing up.
Please be very respectful of the amount of time you have to pitch. There is not time between the pitch sessions for anyone to run late.
Please arrive for your pitch appointment time 5 minutes early and leave your session as unobtrusively as possible. A chair closer to the exit might be a good idea for that particular session.
Don’t get too nervous. All of the editors and agents at the conference are LOVELY and will be used to meeting first-time pitchers. Think of it as an opportunity to have an enthusiastic conversation about your book with a like-minded individual. It’s a long way to New Zealand and they are coming because they WANT to find the brightest and the best new manuscripts here. You are bypassing the slush pile. It’s all good!
Follow through after the conference. If you are asked to send something, that’s great! Make sure you undertake all agreed actions in a timely manner.