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Last week I talked a bit about how to prepare for a writing conference. Today I wanted to discuss the very first panel I went to at the San Francisco Writer’s conference: the MG and YA Pitchathon, where agents Laurie McLean and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and editor Natashya Wilson shared information and then gave feedback on live pitches.

Live pitching? That's terrifying!

Live pitching? That’s terrifying!

Live pitching is very different from querying. Maybe all of you already know this, but it took a while for that to sink in for me.

The Hook, the Book, and the Cook

In a query, you have more time. You can start with that hook – what will immediately grab attention in your book? And then in the next paragraph or two you have space to elaborate on your story, not a lot of space, but a little, before you end with “the cook,” which is your own writing credentials.

For more on queries, I’d recommend checking out Janet Reid’s Query Shark, which is super helpful.

Who Fights What to Get Where?

In a live pitch, you only have a very narrow window of opportunity to hook an agent or editor’s attention, so you need to be short and to the point. Your MC has to vanquish/overcome/annihilate what/who in order to save the world/find true love/open the greatest restaurant ever. Keep it short, one sentence if possible, maybe two or three at most.

At the panel they also recommended starting with the basic information so the agent has something concrete to ground them, especially in a situation like a conference, where each agent is listening to many, many pitches. For instance, “I wrote TITLE, which is GENRE and complete at X words.” Then launch into your very brief pitch.

Less is More…Seriously

Before the conference, Kati and I put together our own pitch. It was long…I was under the impression that we had three minutes to pitch, and we would want to fill that three minutes. Thanks to some really great advice from a few of our super amazing writer friends, we cut it way down. But…it was still way too long. I know this because I summoned up my courage and, when they asked for volunteers, I went up front and read my pitch.

In addition to turning bright red and shaking like some kind of demented tomato, I only got about halfway through before I was stopped. They were pretty nice about it, but the feedback was clear: shorter!

That evening, and, lets be honest, throughout the rest of the next day, I worked on my pitch. I cut out the potential romantic interest. I cut out the side elements. I cut out everything except enough of the unique elements of the setting to make it stand out, and was left with the main character, the antagonist, and the stakes. Two sentences, short and sweet.

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ll want to be able to say your whole live pitch from memory – it’s much better if you don’t need to bring notes. But memory is a tricky thing – you want to make sure your mind won’t draw a complete blank if you stumble on a word or get asked a question. For more on live pitching, check out Jae’s post.

In order to prepare for the real live pitching the next day, I spent the morning after the Pitchathon panel trying out my pitch on my fellow conference attendees. This was not only a great way to get used to saying it, but also to hear any phrasing that might sound clunky, and to get live reactions from other people. Even if you’re by yourself, I highly recommend practicing your pitch out loud. Talk to your spouse, your dog, heck, even your pillow, but practice, practice, practice.

How about you? Have any of you ever live pitched before? Do you have any tips to add? Please share!

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