Pitching My Pitch
“Don’t wear tight or sexy clothes. Don’t wear stiff clothes. Don’t wear whacky clothes,” said the pitch-writing instructor, who was dressed all in black.
“Oh, no. That’s me,” a woman sitting next to me hissed in my ear. I nodded but kept my thoughts to myself. The first thing I’d noticed about the woman was her purple toenail polish, visible through her sandals. The second thing I noticed was her floppy blue pants.
“Be invisible in your clothes,” the woman instructor told the roomful of eager writers. “It’s all about the story. Everything in the room should disappear except your book or movie.”
The pitching workshop took place a few days before a writing conference where I planned to pitch my manuscript Getting Hot Tips in the Shower: True Tales from the Writing Life, a collection of funny essays about being a writer. The writing conference took place in a hotel in Portland, Oregon.
I signed up three pitch sessions during which I wore a plain shirt and beige pants and tried to come across as relaxed and enthusiastic rather than scared. The first session was with an editor at a publishing house that specializes in books about writing. I took my seat across the table from her in a room filled with the chatter of other writers presenting their projects. I took a deep breath and delivered my pitch.
“Getting Hot Tips in the Shower a collection of true stories about being a writer,” I said. “The title comes from the story about what it’s like to be the editor of a community newspaper, which I am. People are always coming up to me and pitching me article ideas, which is fine, except that, a certain percentage of the time, they pitch me when I’m standing buck naked in the shower of the local gym.
“Another story, ‘Martinis at the Mayflower’ is about getting over my fear of publishers and finding out they sometimes even pay for your drinks. ‘Expressing Myself’ is about the time I took an essay about rejection to my writing group for feedback — only to have it rejected.
“A fourth story, Bitten by the Writing Bug, is about the first creative-writing class I ever took. It was taught in the home of a writer who lived just up the street. Ralph lived with a dog named Killya, who was part wolf. More than one writing student had been bitten by Killya, who struck rarely but without warning. The joke (made by me) was she hated bad prose. One night, Killya bit me. The pain of the dog bite was sharp but I kept going to the class because by then Ralph had given me some encouragement and because I'd been bitten by the writing bug. Like a bad cold, it was hard to shake.”
To my relief, the editor, a young woman with a friendly face, laughed during my pitch, although she said she was looking for how-to. My next pitch session was to a literary agent. “Interesting story,” he said, before admitting “I sense I’m not the right agent” and adding “I like your bracelet.” Bracelet? What’s that? I thought. I was so focused on delivering my pitch that it took me several seconds to figure out that the agent was referring to the piece of braided silver I was wearing on my wrist. Feeling encouraged if for no other reason than for my taste in jewelry, I delivered my third and final pitch to a literary agent who described my writing as “fun,” even “Erma Bombeck-like,” but said I needed to get two or three good clips from respected magazines.
My pitching sessions over, I was standing in front of one of the book vendor’s tables in the hotel lobby, when I spotted a local freelance writer I knew. In addition to other publications, Catha wrote for the community newspaper I edit. For a few minutes, we talked about the writing conference itself, but then Catha started telling me about a local musician, an accordion player who might make an interesting profile for newspaper I edit.
“Sounds good! E-mail me the details!” I said, before walking away and laughing at the fact that the pitcher had just been pitched.
Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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