FROM THE STAGE TO THE PAGE
For a lot of writers, one of the most harrowing things they face in their career is delivering a face-to-face pitch to an Editor or Agent. Oh, the horror. Me? Bring it on! I absolutely love it!
What’s a pitch, you ask? Or maybe you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway. Pitching is like speed dating, except, instead of trying to impress someone by cramming in as much information about yourself as you can into a few minutes, you’re trying to impress someone by telling them why they should take a chance on you and your book or series. Instead of hoping to find the love of your life, you’re hoping to find the book deal of all book deals.
Here’s how pitching works. Authors register for a conference and have the option to sign-up for pitch appointments with editors from different publishing houses and/or agents looking for new clients. Appointments are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis and they can be highly coveted.
Interesting side note relative to that; when folks don’t get an appointment with the person they really wanted, even if it’s because they waited too long to register, it can turn into the friggin’ gladiator games. Mild-mannered authors can become truly blood-thirsty. Believe me, I know. I’ve been an Editor and Agent Committee Chair for one of the most successful regional conferences in the country. It ain’t pretty, folks.
Anyway, they show-up at conference and receive a goodie bag and a slip of paper with each of their pitch appointment times and are sent on their way to enjoy their conference experience. And to nervously obsess and not sleep all night thinking about their impending face-off. Because, let’s be real, this is exactly how most perceive pitch appointments.
When the day arrives, you show up for your appointment and wait. At least, those people who aren’t too riddled with anxiety and talk themselves out of pitching altogether. Most folks sit quietly, mentally going over a pitch they’ve practiced a bazillion times. Others nervously torture note cards, their lips moving as they silently read them … again. Some pace back and forth, chewing their nails to the quick. A few may sit off to the side with another author, trying out their pitches on each other one last time.
Their time is called and they’re ushered into a banquet room where editors and agents sit at small tables with two chairs; one for them and one for the person pitching. See? Like speed dating! Your allotted time, which is anywhere from three to ten minutes, is tightly controlled. You are expected to sit down, introduce yourself and immediately start selling your story to this person—this stranger—who, in your mind, controls your entire writing future. All the while, the moderator is pacing around the room looking at his or her watch, and you’d swear you can practically hear the dang thing ticking in your ear.
That said, I'm the weirdo who can't wait to get in that room and deliver my pitch. Did I mention I love doing pitches? Crazy, right? What can I say? I'm always excited when I have a chance to sit down and talk to anyone about my story, or pretty much anything, for that matter. Hello! Extrovert here!
Part of that comes from growing up with five brothers and being raised by parents who were on the cutting edge of the whole free-range parenting thing. (see my previous blog The Accidental Author; link at the bottom). You had to be tough, outgoing, the loudest one in the room, or you weren’t heard. You could basically disappear and no one would notice. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but as a kid, that’s how it felt.
As if that didn’t toughen me up enough, I’m also a veteran of the community theater trenches. You want to talk about intense and cut-throat. Sheesh! If you think sitting across the table from one person and telling them about a story you created and wrote is challenging, try standing on a stage at an audition with ten other women—a couple who are secretly wishing for a pox to fall upon you and your kin—all vying for the same part.
Not to mention being rejected by a director because you’re a little too old, too young (alas, this never happened to me), too short, too tall, too thin, too heavy, or your profile’s too sharp (true story). Did I mention this was just to have the chance to spend eight grueling weeks rehearsing and giving up weekends to be in a show that’s going to run thirty times? Oh, and you’re doing it all for free while you take care of your family and work your real job.
Funny thing is, had my husband not basically forced me to give it a try, I never would’ve considered getting involved with theater. Not because I was afraid to be up in front of people. Oh, heavens no. Can you say, put me in front and I’m good to go? It was because, at first, I didn’t think I had what it took to be up there. I didn’t think I was as good as some of the other women. Sometimes that was true, others, not so much. And let’s face it, nobody likes rejection.
Starting with my first show, singing from all the way in the back row, I paid attention and watched better actors do their thing. I listened to everything, asked a million questions, took singing lessons, researched shows, auditioned and got rejected over and over again. Then, as if by magic, the big parts started rolling in and I never looked back.
Which brings me to my fellow authors—my tribe. That word might be overused these days, but it is absolutely true. They are some of the most supportive and bravest people I’ve ever met. Most are extreme introverts. They leave their sweats, yoga pants, or cozy jammies, and the comforting solitude of home, to venture out to conferences that are noisy and packed with people bustling about. People who, heaven forbid, might try to strike up a conversation with them. All of this is their nightmare scenario.
These authors step outside their comfort zone and take risks and open themselves to criticism and rejection because they love storytelling and know their writing will be richer for it.
Rejection and brutal honesty made me tough. I grew a pretty thick skin and learned not to take things too personally. This liberated my mind like nothing else could have, ushering in the ability to shut up and really listen to people who knew more than I did. Without getting my panties in a bunch. These are critical elements in my continuing journey to be the absolute best writer I can be. Without them, I wouldn’t be publishing the first three books in my O’Halleran Security International series this year. For that, I send out a big THANKS for all those times I was rejected and to all those people who gave it to me straight!