Sunday, October 18, 2009

Things I Learned at Pitch Practice

By Bonnie Stanard

Earlier this month six of us from Columbia II got together to critique our submissions to agents and/or publishers. Though we considered query letters and synopses, we spent more time on pitches. In advance, we decided to limit each pitch to ten minutes and to give scores of one to five to every presentation, five being the best score. In evaluating the pitches of others, we put away our writing sympathies and tried to listen as an agent would.

First of all, I found out that awarding a numerical score doesn’t work well for me. I didn’t remember the many implications attached to a single number. Did a “5” mean I’d publish the work without editing? Did a “1” mean I wouldn’t entertain a revision of the work? In the end, a number doesn’t say much and in my case, even less.

I arrived with notes and had a good idea what I was going to say, but no amount of writing is on par with looking into expectant and judgmental faces. Bottom line: open your mouth and entertain or die.

I discovered in the process of pitching my manuscript that, though I considered it completed, it wasn’t (how many more times am I going to find this out?). Since our practice session I have cut three more chapters.

PITCH SUGGESTIONS In listening to other pitches and comments about my own, I’ve arrived at advice for myself that I’ll share with you.

1) Provide basic information up front, including the genre. Suzanne began her pitch by describing the characters and plot. Maybe that would have been okay if she had been describing a main-stream adult book, but it was a children’s book. I was in a fog until she gave us that piece of information.

2) Stick to an arc in describing the plot. Try to get across the hook, development, and resolution of the single most important plot. I enjoyed describing details of my story that I thought were important, but my critics gave this as a reason for lowering my score.

3) Don’t shotgun the story with numerous names of characters and/or places. At the same time, give characters names that clearly indicate the gender. For instance, is “Ryan” a male or female? And if there’s romance with “Chase” is it heterosexual or homosexual?

By the way, it was a thrill to pretend to be a publisher and pass judgment on the work of others. However, it was also sobering. This is about money, not art. It wouldn’t surprise me if agents ask themselves one question as they listen to us, “Will this book make money?” ” I’m wondering if my pitch will have more success if I somehow connect art with sales.

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