Secrets to Pitching, Part 2

Hey guys! It’s CJ Lyons back with more secrets to pitching.

Last time we talked about the types of pitches (high concept, elevator pitches, blurbs). Now that you have your pitch ready, I’m going to let you in on a few secrets about pitching at a conference.

First of all, relax. 90% of the time the person you’re pitching to is going to ask for your material if it is anything that sounds at all like what they are looking for. And since you did your research ahead of time, you already know what they’re looking for, right?

Second of all, the agents and editors will probably listen to 100 or more pitches during their time there. Guess what? They won’t remember any of them.

BUT they might remember you. That’s what you want, to make an impression—hopefully a good one.

Why? To build that emotional Velcro, make a connection.

So, how to make a good impression? Of course, be professional, act professional. Come prepared, display poise and confidence. Have a business card to offer, lay it on the table between you so the agent can glance at it when they’re forgotten your name.

Use your pitch to elicit questions. Remember, you are NOT there to describe your book. You’re there to make an impression, so that when you send in your work the agent or editor will remember you.

Keep it short, sweet, hook your audience and keep them asking for more.

It’s that simple.

So you give your twenty second pitch (it shouldn’t be any longer) and the agent nods and asks a few questions and wants to see the manuscript. Mission accomplished, right?

Not quite. That should take maybe two minutes, probably less of your allotted time. Don’t waste the rest!! Use it to cement that professional impression, to increase that emotional Velcro.

Think of it as a job interview—only now it’s YOUR turn. Come prepared with some well-thought out professional questions for your agent and editor. Things that will make that glazed expression in their eyes fade away as they sit up and actually talk with you instead of being barraged with pitches.

Here’s a few:
–where do you see the (insert genre) market going?
–any recent successes? OR better yet, do your research ahead of time and compliment them on a client’s success
–what’s the best advice you would give a writer trying to break in?
–what’s the best book you’ve read recently?

You get the picture. Suddenly you’ve turned a one-way pitch session into a professional conversation. Guess what? People remember conversations. People have conversations with people they like. People they want to do business with.

Bingo!! Mission accomplished!

Another tip I’ve heard that other writers have used successfully is to bring the agent or editor something to eat or drink. I’d have a care with this one—what if they’re deathly allergic or have other dietary constraints? Plus it seems a little forward and presumptuous to me…but that’s just me<g>

If you do go this route, maybe do a little recon ahead of time. Get to the pitch area early and ask the volunteers manning it if your agent/editor has expressed a favorite beverage or asked for a snack. You could save the volunteer time by getting it for the agent/editor and still get your gold star for effort.

It might be worth a try. In the long run, just remember that agents and editors are human (despite any rumors to the contrary<g>) and enjoy anything that breaks the monotony of listening to an endless drone of pitches.

Also, be prepared by bringing the synopsis and first few chapters with you. 99% of the time the agent or editor will NOT want them (they don’t want to carry stuff on the plane back home) but there are exceptions.

The very first time I ever (ever!) pitched it was to Donald Maass. He liked my pitch, liked my credentials even more (it was a medical thriller) and asked if I had the first chapter with me. To my amazement, he sat there and read it, right in front of me!

He made it through the first ten pages or so and proceeded to give me the best writing lesson I ever had. He ripped it to shreds, told me about conflict on every page and basically our fifteen minute meeting turned into a very dynamic critique session as we brainstormed alternative openings and plot lines.

Moral of the story: always be prepared!

Thanks for reading,

CJ Lyons
No one is immune to danger…
LIFELINES, Berkley March 2008

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doc, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. CJ loves sharing the secret life of an urban trauma center with readers. She also loves breaking the rules; her debut medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, is cross-genre to the extreme, combining women’s fiction with medical suspense with thriller pacing with romantic elements and is told from the point of view of the women of Angels of Mercy’s Medical Center. Publisher’s Weekly proclaimed LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), “a spot-on debut….a breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller” and Romantic Times made it a Top Pick. Contact her at


6 thoughts on “Secrets to Pitching, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Bingo News » Blog Archive » Secrets to Pitching, Part 2

  2. Great information, CJ, and I especially appreciate how to fill the time between the pitch and the end of the alloted time. When you’re nervous you never think of the good stuff on the spot!

    Thanks so much!

  3. I love this post, CJ. That is so true, to make the pitch short, instead concentrate on making a conversation out of your time. And I love your story about Donald Maass and how he asked for the first three chapters. That is true–it happened to me once, too, and I had always heard to never bring your proposal or ms to conference, expecting to give it to the editor/agent. Well, don’t expect it . . . but it still MIGHT happen! As per your experience!

    So, CJ, I have heard that you sold your first book on a partial. Is that true? And, if so, how did that come about?

    Love to hear your success story!

    Blessings to you and your continued writing success!


  4. Joan,
    You’re quite welcome! Glad you found this useful–you’re right, it’s easy to get nervous, but if you prepare and remember that you’re meeting as professionals with lots of info to mutually share you’ll do just fine!

  5. Gloria, you’re so sweet to say that! Thank you for your warm thoughts!

    Actually, I’ve now sold a total of three books based on first chapters–plus one on a phone conversation. Unfortunately the first two never got published (cover art problems with the publisher) but I learned a lot from the experience, so I can’t complain.

    This biz is a rollercoaster ride, all you can do is hang on and have fun!

  6. You are so right about this business being a roller coaster ride! And the publishing world is definitely is intriguing, which makes it an exciting adventure. Have fun with yours!

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