Tuesday, November 30, 2010

6 Conference Round-Up: The Art of Pitching

The SCBWI Western Canada Chapter is constantly holding amazing workshops that make us want to pack up and head north right away. One recent workshop focused solely on pitching, and featured Publisher Crystal Stranaghan and Senior Editor Jared Hunt of Gumboot Books. Please welcome Ronda Payne, who kindly offered to tell us all about this terrific event. If you have recently attended, or plan on attending an SCBWI event and would like to share your take-aways, please let us know.

There’s nothing like taking your prized, near-finished work, wrapping it up into just a few sentences and pitching it to a complete stranger, to cause anxiety. For the introverted writer in all of us, there is never enough preparation to make us comfortable in this kind of situation.

The Surrey International Writer’s Conference in Surrey, BC was fast approaching and to help a few of us nervous writers prepare for the pitch opportunities at that conference, Crystal Stranaghan and Jared Hunt, of Gumboot Books (check out their site at http://gumbootbooks.ca/ ) shared their knowledge.

Jared explained that when he meets an author or reviews their work, he’s looking for answers to these three questions:
- Why is this the right person to write this story?
-          Why is this the right story for right now?
-          Why should they (as publishers, editors or agents) act on it now?

He advised that instead of hoping for a ‘yes’ right there, in the moment you are pitching (which almost never happens), hope instead for a ‘let’s talk more about this’. That is the greatest win in a pitch session. It moves you from unsolicited to solicited writer.  

Get started by considering what your fears are and what you are afraid will happen in a pitch session. By writing it down, you’ll be able to face those fears head-on and control the power they have over you.

Some of my fears were:
-          I’m not going to express this properly
-          They’ll think I’m an idiot
-          My face will turn red and I’ll appear insecure and unprofessional

To work through these natural jitters, Crystal suggested the following, wonderful, technique.

  1. Put both feet flat on the floor. No crossed legs, or feet on the ‘rails’ of the chair.
  2. Feel how grounded you are in this position.
  3. Imagine your energy coming in through you and what you don’t need going out through your feet.
  4. Accept the nervous energy; use what you need, diffuse the rest.
  5. Imagine holding your book in your hands.
  6. Feel the sensations this accomplishment delivers.
  7. Take these positive sensations with you and use them together with the energy.
Another great tip that came out of discussing nervous jitters was to grab some crayons, felts, paints or whatever you like and create the cover of your book. Put this somewhere that you will see it on a daily basis.

Now that we have a way to deal with the nervousness, it’s time to begin crafting the pitch itself.

Write five words that come to mind about your book – any words are fine. Some that came up for the picture book I’m working on were: kindergarten relationships (okay, that’s two words!), independence, learning, nature, bullying. Remember that these theme words are generally not spelled out in the story.

With those thought-starters in mind, think about what changes in your main character from the start of the story to the end. This is a bit challenging, but keep in mind that if nothing changes, there’s no point to the tale. Once you have the change firmly in place, answer the question: why does this change matter? What does it really mean?

Next we need to look at four questions Crystal and Jared have crafted:
-          What is this book about? My answer was – learning to take responsibility to solve problems
-          What type of book is it? My answer was – picture book
-          Who is this book for? My answer was - boys aged dealing with bullying
-          What is special about this book? My answer was – it deals with bullying in a light, humorous way that explores solving your own problems

You have a lot of content to build your pitch from now! Take your answers to the 4 questions above and mix them together with the answers from the earlier exercises to give you an opening paragraph. Then, add more content – the point here is to have enough material to speak until the person you are pitching to says “stop”, or you feel you have explained everything you need to.

Other bits to make your pitch into a two to three minute explanation include:
-          What is the one thing your character wants at the start of the story
-          Think about what your main character’s obstacle or opposition is to getting what they want
-          Note any setting points that are relevant or unique to the story

Combining all these mini exercises, you will have created a pitch you can feel confident with! Crystal and Jared have written “Book Marketing Mixology” available as an ebook on the site http://liveyourdreamworkshops.com/ to help you through this and many other elements of marketing your work.

A writer since she could hold a pen, Ronda Payne is passionate about her craft. In 2007, she kissed ‘real jobs’ goodbye and began her true occupation as a full time copywriter and freelancer. A regular contributor to “Country Life in BC” and “Ihr” (Integrated Health Retailer), Ronda continues to grow in her career by helping businesses find the right words and helping publications deliver meaningful content. Though she doesn't have a writer's website yet, she can be found blogging at renovatorswife.wordpress.com. She can also be found on Twitter at @Rondapayne or on Facebook at Ronda Eyben Payne.

Ronda joyfully lives in Maple Ridge BC in yet another renovation project home with her husband and their pets.


  1. Great 4 questions to ask as you're crafting a pitch. Thanks.

  2. GREAT tips to think about...and hopefully as writers we've thought about some of these ahead of time--like does our character change during the course of a novel! (oops!)

    I can see how that could happen though, with an adventure story, focusing on the quest or action, and the change is forgotten or minimal. I've probably been guilty of this before!

  3. Those are really helpful tips! Thanks so much for sharing :)

  4. I've only gone to the NYC and LA SCBWI conferences, but they don't have pitch sessions (whew!). I've seen Jared and Crystal talk at a local conference. They were entertaining. I bet this was a great talk.

  5. I have never actually done a pitch, but this sounds like great prep!!

  6. Hi! Sorry for the late response - I forgot to check the blog! :)

    - Natalie - aren't they really great questions? They help you get right to the core.

    - Carol - I know - it happens! We get caught up in the 'stuff' and forget about that 'growth' thing!

    - Jemi - thank you! It was a great session!

    - Stina - I have only made it to one conference so far, I hope to make it to more in 2011, but yes, their talks are really very good. Especially on this level where there are just a few of us in the class.

    - Bekah - Me neither - haven't faced a pitch yet, but I feel so much more able to do so now!

    Thanks everyone!


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