Friday, July 24, 2009

Pitching Lessons

I'm so excited to introduce you to today's guest blogger. Jenness Walker is a former critique buddy that I got to know through ACFW. Last year, Jenness promised to call me from the ACFW conference when the results for the Genesis contest were announced at the awards banquet. I'll admit, I thought with all the chaos, along with the fact that she had a little bit on her mind as she took FIRST PLACE in her own category, she might forget. But she held true to her word and called to let me know that I took 2nd place! Unfortunately, I went to bed early and didn't get to speak with her. But she spoke to my husband and let him know. LoL.

Jenness is a fabulous writer, so it came as no surprise to me when she announced last December that she landed a contract. Her first book, Double Take, is due out in October! That is one book I didn't have the privilege of critting and I really look forward to reading it.

So thanks to Jenness for offering her insight into the topic of pitching (not the baseball kind, the manuscript kind). I know you'll enjoy her style of writing (and bit of humor) as much as I do.

Pitching Lessons

I'm so excited that Lynda will be going to the conference this year. She and I were crit buddies, and I'm so glad I'm going to get to meet her in person. Since she's going to be pitching, I thought this "lesson" might come in handy. For those of you who have never had an agent or editor appointment, let me give you an idea of what it’s like. First, let me give you an illustration, because my husband was a ministerial student and I still get illustrations for everything...

Pitching is like cleaning a Jacuzzi—awkward. All gangly legs and cramping muscles and odd grunts. Believe me, I know. I’ve cleaned many Jacuzzis and hurt myself in about a dozen ways. Either by slipping on water while I’m straddling the thing as I try to climb out, or falling into the waist-deep tub as I try to scrub the other side, or conking my head on the faucet, etc. There have been other uncomfortable moments as well. Like when I’m crouched in the middle of it, cleaning the little jets, when my employer walks in. Stares in shock. Then laughs sheepishly. “I thought you were taking a bath.” Um, yeah. I’m one of those stop-and-smell-the-roses-or-take-a-dip type people.

So, that’s kind of what it feels like to pitch. For those of you who must have specific details, here ya go:

Step one: After months of hammering out your pitch, you wake up early the morning of the appointment, unable to fall back to sleep as your mind races a mile a minute. What if they ask about possible endorsements? Does your mother count? Should the serial killer really be the brother? Or should you make him an alien, just to go for that unique hook publishers are always looking for?

Step two: You make sure all your notes are handy, in some semi-organized fashion in your notebook so you have all possible answers at your fingertips. The conference already supplied your name-tag with your name and genre plastered in big bold letters across your chest. That could come in handy, just in case you forget.

Step three: You head down to breakfast, but can’t really eat because the butterflies are morphing into bats as the minutes march onward. You sing during worship time—you think—but, by the looks of the people around you, were probably in the wrong key. Or maybe just off rhythm, since all you can hear is your sporadic heartbeat thudding in your ears.

Step four: You follow the crowd to your first session, but don’t hear a word of the lecture that you had figured would be worth the entire conference fee. Thirty minutes into it, you scramble out of there in time to grab a dozen Tylenol, a bottle of water, and run over your cheat sheet one more time before your appointment.

Step five: They’re running a little late, so you stand in the hallway guzzling your water. Of course, by the time you’re up, you need to run to the ladies’ room. But you don’t.

Step six: You step inside the little room, gulp as the wanna-be author before you runs out sobbing, and sit at the table. You’re itching to take out your notebook, because you’ve just come up with the next best-seller—a handbook to all the symptoms of nervousness that are humanly possibly. Let’s see, there’s chattering teeth, fluttery tummy, nervous twitches, shaking limbs, strep-like tightness in the throat, hot flashes, cold flashes, oh, and you really, really need that trip to the girls’ room.

Step seven: Sinking into the chair, you try to remember what you’ve been told and find yourself silently chanting, “Editors are humans, too. Editors are humans, too.” The editor (Big E from here on) smiles at you expectantly, and you stumble through an intro, ending with a half-whiney, “I’ve never done this before” or “I’m really bad at this…” Though Big E probably wants to nod in agreement, he holds his smile and asks what you’re working on. Working on? Suddenly you can’t remember what you’ve spent the last year and a half agonizing over. Your hero that you’ve fallen in love with…what was his name again? In desperation you grab for your one sheet and shove it across the table. “Here.”

Step eight: Big E slips on his reading glasses and pretends to read your little summary. It’s witty, succinct, fascinating. A best-seller for sure. He “hmms” a couple times, then looks up. You take a deep breath, hoping he doesn’t hear you wheeze, and itching to jot that down as another symptom to put in your non-fiction book. But you’ve finally remembered why your story is so awesome, and you’re ready to answer any question he might throw your way and then sign the contract he’s surely going to shove across the desk. He opens his mouth—here it comes—and asks, “Did your co-author really survive a plane crash?” Um…yup.

Step nine: That final, telling moment. You’ve already passed your Dove chocolates across the table. Will that be enough? Or should you have splurged for Harry and David’s instead? Big E taps the paper a couple times. Then requests that you send your proposal. Or doesn’t.

Either way, they eat your chocolates. But they don’t eat you.

Moral of the story: Remember, sitting across from an agent or editor is kind of like being caught cleaning the Jacuzzi. So, if you are going to pitch, my advice would be to maintain your sense of humor, pray you’ll keep your balance, and be ready for anything.

Disclaimers: Chocolates are not actually required. Not all writers react the same way. Some of these facts may have been embellished. A bit. Maybe.

Jenness Walker is a romantic suspense author for Steeple Hill. She also co-authors light-hearted stories with Tracy Bowen. Jenness lives in Florida with Jason, her beloved website-designer husband, and Hyacinth, her almost-as-beloved laptop. When she’s not writing from her magic coach, she loves to decorate or plan her next roadtrip with Jason.

Jenness Walker's Website
More about Double Take


jenness said...

Thanks Lynda. And best wishes on your editor/agent appointments in September! I know you'll do great. Hope you had a great vacation!

Ava said...

Thanks for the reminder to keep smiling! (But I'll never look at a Jacuzzi the same again!)

Joanne Sher said...

LOL glad you pointed me here, Lyn. :)

Karlene said...

Ok, THAT was hilarious AND comforting. Now, if only I can remember where I left my breath. . .

See you next month Lynda. :)