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Tips for doing a face-to-face Pitch at a writer convention

I pitched face-to-face to a Publisher for the first time this weekend at Conflux 12, a speculative fiction convention held in Canberra each year. Countless email queries with agents and publishers in the past truly did prepare me for this pitching session. Standing in line with other writers, it was clear that we were not all at the same stage in our career. Others had more experience with face-to-face pitches. Others had none. We spoke about our pitches and pitching experience. I took note of their tips and I hope the other writers took note of mine.

My number one tip for a face-to-face pitch is to treat it like a job interview. Dress appropriately. Be polite! You want this publisher/agent to have faith that they can send you on a book tour and know you're not going to bad mouth book stores or go postal. People can look good on paper but it's not until you meet them that you realise they're so wrong.

My number two tip is to pitch when the book is complete or very  near to completion. Using my prior experience with job vacancies, if we're interviewing, we're ready for someone to start straight away. That window of opportunity closes quickly, however if you are close to finishing, you may still be given an opportunity to submit so it's worth a shot.

You have five minutes to impress this person.

My number three tip. Be prepared. You have five minutes. Read from your material if you have to. Don't rely on memory. Don't ramble on. Don't blabber. Take deep, calming breaths. And remember they're a person too. They know this is a nerve-wracking situation.

 
So here's what you need to know for a successful face-to-face pitch.

THE AUTHOR SECTION

Title of the book
Genre, both main genre and sub genre if applicable 
Word count
Theme (optional)

So I start off with: "I'm seeking representation/publication of [Title], my [genre] book, complete at [word count]. [Title] explores the [theme].

Title of the book is self explanatory. Brainstorm ideas. Find something that represents the novel. Ask friends and other writers. I've been lucky to keep my titles, but note that some publishers will want them changed.

Genre. It's incredibly important to know the genre. There are main genres, and there are sub genres. I always state if it's a sci-fi/dystopian or sci-fi/apocalyptic fiction novel, so both enre and sub genre. Research genres to find out if your book is indeed sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, cosy murder mystery, paranormal, romance, historical. And if there's a sub genre such as fantasy/urban fantasy, romance/paranormal, thriller/political. Many authors have had works rejected simply because they didn't know their genre.

Word count. There are guidelines for word count. MG, YA, Adult each has its own guidelines. Mills and Boon romance are strictly X amount of words. Check the publisher guidelines for these. They're pretty industry standard for a debut author. Yes, I hear you say that [author] had a 600 page door stopper published. But the way I see it, ignore these guidelines at your own peril. You may find that going outside these guidelines makes it harder to sell to a publisher.

Theme. Is there a moral to the story? Is it good versus evil? Bad guy does good. Be careful what you wish for. Reap what you sow. Oppression and fighting for freedom. Knowing the theme can help you determine the next few points.

The reason you wrote this book
Tagline
100 word Blurb
Is this book part of a series?

In an email query I will place the tagline first, then the 100 word blurb, then the reason I wrote this book. The tagline comes first to hook a reader in so that they'll read the rest of the query. But in a face-to-face pitch, I want them to see that I'm the only person who could have written this book. I already have their attention so I can afford to convince them to listen to what I have to say.

You can see that my pitch is forming nicely: "I'm seeking representation/publication for [Title], my [genre] book, complete at [word count]. [Title] explores the [theme]. I wrote this book because [reason you wrote this book]. Let me tell you my tagline and blurb. [Tagline]. [Blurb].

The reason you wrote this book can be hard to define. But it's the reason you wrote this book. The real reason. The one that connects you with readers and readers with you. Do you want to address issues such as teen pregnancy or teen suicide because these issues affected you or someone close to you? Do you predict a future world based on current events and want to alert readers? Do you have a special connection with this book. One way to look at this is to ask yourself this question. What values or principles or morals of yours are in this book? Don't say it's to make money because there's so much evidence against it. This is the same as "why did you apply for this job?" and giving the answer "because I want more money that what I'm currently on." Dig deep.

Tagline. The 25 word or less elevator pitch. The hook line. The line you read on a movie poster. Make it snappy and engaging. Hook the reader and give them a hint at the storyline. Look at TV guides for examples of taglines. "CIA agent goes undercover to stop a drug lord and falls in love with drug lord's daughter". That sort of thing.

100 word blurb. This blurb must contain the following components. Character. Setting. Goal. Conflict. Stakes. Check out this post where I detail each of these components. The blurb is the back of the book description. Make it snappy and engaging. The blurb doesn't state the resolution. Resolution is stated in the synopsis, which, if you're lucky enough to get invited to submit, you would send with your submission.

Is this book part of series? Publishers will want to know. Is this a series based on a character? Such as cosy murder mystery like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Is this a dystopian series where the battle for freedom takes place in books three? There's no need to discuss the other books here, simply because you don't have time. Just say "It's part of a series because..." But if they ask, give an overview of the series, for sure. It's great that they want to know more.

Your side of the pitch is finished. There is still so much you need to discuss, however this is the part where the publisher gets to interview you. Have these answers ready. If, for some reason, the publisher doesn't ask these, then you can offer this information. Use the full five minutes you're allotted.

THE PUBLISHER SECTION

Who will buy this book?
Author biography
Availability

Who will buy this book is my target audience. Do not EVER tell the publisher that this is their job or their marketing department's job. You wrote the book. You're the best person to know who the audience is. You should be able to determine this based on your genre and your book blurb. If it's a romance with a 20 year old alien, then your audience is "readers of sci-fi romance in their late teens/early twenties, fans of [successful author with a similar book/series] would like this book". You can ask yourself this question in preparation: What was the last successful book you read in the genre that you're pitching. Answering this question will also prepare you in case the publisher asks.

Author biography in approximately 100 words. Discuss any prior publications. Are you a member of a writer group? Do you have any experience in sales or marketing? Have you attended workshops, writer festivals? Make this section relevant to your writing career only. Now is not the time to sprinkle interesting facts in about yourself unless this interesting fact can be a tool for selling the book. Save your personal details for interviews and blogs.

Availability. The publisher didn't ask this question but I ended my session with a simple sentence. "I am available for any form of promotion." I added this in because I once heard a publicist say that it wasn't any good for them to have an author who was only able to promote their book on a Tuesday when Mars was aligned with Venus. Radio interviews are conducted on weekdays. Most people work weekdays.

So now you can see how I used up my five minutes.

To be honest, the publisher was still talking to me after we got the 5 minute tap in the door so I took this as a good sign. I got invited to submit my material and I got invited to follow up in a month if I hadn't heard back from her. And she did say she would like to see my book published. I don't care if she said this to everyone.

The good news about the above tips is that it works for a written query, too. I've provided a template for you to write your query letter below.

THE QUERY LETTER

Dear [agent or publisher name]

I'm seeking representation/publication for [Title], my [genre] book, complete at [word count]. [Title] explores the [theme].

[Tagline]

[Blurb]

I wrote this book because [reason you wrote this book]. [Title] is part of a series because [character or genre driven]. Readers of [successful author with a similar book/series] would like this book.

Author biography. (I write this in third person as I think of my bio as a useful tool to help them talk about me to other. )

I am available to meet with the team and to promote this book in any way (for example).

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best
your name

your email, website, address, phone number, facebook etc


I hope these tips come in useful.
Good luck!
D L


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