A while back I wrote a blog post about how to prepare for pitch sessions because as a writer I’ve done my share and learned something useful from the experience. Recently, though, I was on the other side of the table, accepting pitches, and the other side of the table always offers a different perspective, one I think may help writers who are planning to attend a conference where these sessions are available.
First, some background. Earlier this year, Jennie Phipps, the brains behind Freelance Success, decided that while the time wasn’t right for a traditional writer’s conference, there was something to be said about arranging a three-day cruise to the Bahamas where writer types could talk about the business and possibly come up with a tax deduction.
I like the way Jennie thinks. I mentioned that I’d be interested in hitching a ride, and eventually we arranged for me to wear my agent’s hat and take pitches from writers on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at sea.
From my previous experience with pitch sessions, I decided that instead of three or five minute increments, I would set aside ten minutes for each pitch. That would give people a minute to say hello and arrange their thoughts and for us to have a conversation. Still, by the time I was on the fourth pitch, I was already behind. By the time I reached the middle of the afternoon, I was forty-five minutes behind. Because the program was so informal, this worked out okay and no one had a hissy fit, or at least not within my hearing, but it made me realize why at other pitch sessions, organizers have little bells or other methods of signaling when the time is up. It may seem obnoxious but there is a valid reason for it. Even with my trusty pocket watch open on the table, it was hard for me to wrap things up quickly, especially when I had to do it over and over again.
Which leads me to a couple of points:
1. It doesn’t matter if you have three minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes, that time goes fast. The more prepared you are to explain what you’re working on and why, the better use of the time you’ll make.
2. A couple of people pitched me, I said I’d look at their stuff, and then they sat there as if there were a next thing. There isn’t. When the editor or agent you’re pitching to says, “That sounds interesting, send it along. Do you have a card? Thanks, it was great meeting you,” that means it is time to scoot along.
Almost all of the people on this cruise were established freelancers who’ve been writing professionally for a long time, so no one was trying to pitch me in the bathroom or during dinner (as you hear happens at conferences sometimes) but I was surprised by the number of people who were visibly nervous about talking to me during their sessions. I’ve been a writer for a long time and I know a lot of these people just from being their colleague, and becoming an agent didn’t suddenly make me someone with the power of life and death over their careers. But you wouldn’t know that looking at ‘em. I acknowledge that I’m a fairly direct person, but I’m also a very nice person, and I have a fairly clear understanding of my place in the universe. I also know that I only just sold my first book as an agent, which makes me not exactly Curtis Brown. Which means there isn’t anything to be afraid of when you pitch me. I’m not your last shot before jumping overboard. Or I sure as hell shouldn’t be.
3. Keep things in perspective. Yes, it’s nice if turns out we can work together. But it’s not the end of the world if we can’t. Most of the time, agents and editors at pitch sessions will ask to look at your project unless it is clearly outside their range of interest, so accept that as an opportunity, but don’t read too much into it.
More coming in Part II . . . .