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Lift your  chances
Writing Magazine

Lift your chances

Posted Monday, October 2, 2017   |   3175 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) Be ready for your sixty-second chance to shine with Adrian Magson’s pitch correction

The ‘elevator pitch’ is not a myth. Well, not entirely. Originating in the film industry, it probably now consists of an electronic bombardment rather than accosting a producer in the street… although I’m sure there are some industry professionals who might correct me on this after having been stalked by a desperate writer.

The elevator or sidewalk pitch derives from the time it takes to sell the idea of a project between a producer exiting their cab, crossing the pavement/sidewalk and into an elevator, leaving the luckless writer talking to a pair of closing doors.

If we assume said producer is (a) fit, (b) in a hurry or (c) terminally disinterested, let’s also assume it takes less than a minute. Not much time to talk the talk, is it?

You might think this situation applies solely to the film world. After all, writers of books aren’t that pushy, are they? (Stifle your scepticism.) The concept, however, is pretty much the same. All writers have something to sell, and being able to talk clearly about your book is a must if you wish to take it further than your desktop.

Let’s assume you take the non-confrontational route and submit your work to an agent or editor at a pre-arranged ‘pitch’ session. You’ll have to describe what your book is about, because right now it’s either a pile of paper or a file on your PC, with no cover image for instant identification and only your synopsis to explain it for you. It’s basically just you and your ability to talk a good tune while remaining calm in the face of a total stranger – among a roomful of other hopefuls all doing the same.

Some of the elements to cover are the genre; who you see as your target audience; whether the book is a standalone or the first of a series (if they ask this, it could be a buying signal so be ready for it); and whether you have another project in the works. In fact, you might subconsciously ask yourself similar questions browsing in a bookshop. You want to know what the book’s about; has the author written other titles; is it a standalone or a series. The main difference for an agent or editor is, does your book have legs and can they build on it? Can they build on you?

Other points to consider are background, writing experience, preferred reading, how you see yourself developing as a writer. Incidentally, it’s probably best to avoid saying you write like author A (insert famous name), because you’re probably not the best judge of that. As any sales professional will tell you, why mention the opposition anyway? This is you and your book you’re selling, so focus on that.

In terms of timing, you’re unlikely to be restricted to a sixty-second slot at one of these pitch sessions. They’re usually a little more generous than that. But the time will zip by on rails as you focus on nailing your book in a calm, cogent fashion, while trying not to go all floppy-lipped in front of a total stranger and bawl your eyes out.
Personally, having been on both sides of the table, the pitchee end is a lot easier. Listening to an eager writer describing their book can always be backed up by reading the manuscript afterwards. For the pitcher (you), there is no afterwards, no opportunity to step back and say, ‘Oh, and something else I should mention… ’ because that will be it. There are others waiting to take your place.

If the session goes well, they might ask you for a ‘full’ – the complete manuscript. At this juncture your jaw might hit the floor and you’ll assume you’ve hit the jackpot. Calm down; this is just the beginning of a process.
You might in any case not have one to send them. Some people don’t, and have only a ‘partial’ in existence. In my experience, in what is a fast-moving industry, where people move on and ideas and fashions change, I’d recommend having a completed manuscript ready to go.
Think about it: if you have an editor or agent sitting in front of you who comes across as hot to trot and wants to read your book, you’re already streets ahead of where you were just a couple of minutes ago. They want to read and assess whether your work is worthy of publication. Cool or what?

In this situation, with only a few well-thumbed pages and an incomplete story in mind, which could take weeks or months to finish, the potential could easily slip away. This is a golden opportunity to catch them while they’re keen and interested. The other point is, always have another idea in mind for the next project. This business is about long hauls, not one-offs.
Either way, you want to leave them with an impression they can carry with them. And that doesn’t include telling them that they’ll die in poverty and ignorance if they pass up this golden opportunity of signing you up. They’ve heard that before and it doesn’t work.

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