Winding up for the pitch

Pitches are baffling to me. Or rather, the construction of pitches. Sure, there are formulas all over the Internet on how to craft the perfect pitch, but I think I’ve made clear how much stock I put in those hard-and-fast writing rules. Although I did come up with a pitch forĀ Demon’s Heart, I have far less practice writing pitches than I do writing novels, so creating the perfect pitch seems to me like trying to catch a fly with your bare hands, except that once you start trying you realize that your hands are duct-taped to your knees and, come to think of it, you’re not even really sure there is a fly.

So I’m appealing to the greater knowledge and experience of the Internet to see if I can at least get the duct tape off my hands. When do you form your pitch? Early in the writing process, or are you like me, where you get to the end and think, Crap, I have to sum this up in one sentence? Do you practice your pitch? On whom? How do you get feedback? Have you participated in any of those Twitter pitch contests, or any other sort of pitch contest? What was your experience?

WordPressiversary Nostalgia

Every year, on January 6, I get a notification on WordPress that another year has passed since I first registered here. And without fail, I get all nostalgic about the reason why I joined WordPress.

It was for a class I took my final semester at the university. A class I didn’t need according to my academic advisor, but a class that I needed with all my soul according to my writerly ambitions. It was the class that changed my life possibly more than any other class I took during those four years.

I met Brandon Mull and Dan Wells and other amazing authors.

Even better, I met Jennifer Nielsen and got a signed copy of The False Prince about two days after it was released.

I listened to agents, editors, authors, illustrators, and other publishing gurus talk about their experiences in the world of books.

I pitched a book to a real live agent while I had the flu. Possibly the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done.

Above all, I realized that all those published authors out there are just people. Ordinary people who wrote books. And by golly, I’m as ordinary as any of them, which meant that it was entirely possible for me to get a book published.

And hey. I did.

Happy WordPressiversary!

Pitching a Perfect Strike

The first time I pitched my manuscript to an editor was one of those fall-flat-on-your-face, hide-in-your-closet-for-a-week, utterly mortifying disasters.

I was taking a class on children’s publishing from the esteemed Rick Walton, and an editor from a local publishing company was coming to guest lecture. We had been forewarned that this particular editor had in past classes asked students to pitch their manuscripts to him at the end of the class, so, of course, I had been spending my nights carefully crafting, crossing out, and rewriting the perfect pitch. This obsessive writing, on top of my two internships, homework, and capstone madness, meant that I didn’t exactly sleep for a couple of nights.

But the day came, I had worked out a beautiful hook, and I was going to blow them all away with my brilliance. Granted, lack of sleep had brought on a decent headache and exhaustion, but I could sleep after my novel had been accepted for publication on the spot.

As the day wore on, the headache turned into a low fever, the exhaustion turned into chills, and by the time the class rolled around at 5:30, it was pretty obvious that I was coming down with the flu. But there was no time to be sick! An editor was coming! A living, breathing editor! I could make it a couple more hours, right?

I didn’t hear most of the lecture. What little brainpower was left over from being wretchedly tired and ill was too busy stressing out about the pitch. And so, when the editor finished his spiel and opened up for pitches, I raised a trembling hand, desperate to just get it over with.

And realized I couldn’t remember a lick of my carefully-planned pitch.

And so, with the few remaining sparks left in my brain, I stumbled through a truly lame outline of my plot, petering out about halfway through because I had no energy left to dig myself in any deeper. This poor editor stared at me for about thirty seconds, no doubt trying to figure out how to be somewhat polite in his response. Finally, he said simply, “That sounds like every other fantasy novel I’ve ever read,” and called on somebody else.

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t try to impress an editor when you have the flu. It just won’t happen.

2. Practice. I had written and rewritten, but never once did I practice actually saying my pitch. And so, when the time came, it escaped me completely. I’ve learned since then to say it over and over so that when the time comes, giving your pitch is as much muscle memory as anything else.

3. Learn from rejection. I realized while walking home that night that there really was absolutely nothing unique about my novel. It was really depressing, but I went back to the drawing board and changed, added, twisted, and reorganized until my story was something new and exciting. Trying to pitch my book really opened my eyes to its biggest weaknesses. It was terribly tempting to just throw it away at that point; but instead, I cut it down to the roots and made it grow into something worth reading. (At least, I think it’s worth reading.)

Anybody else have wonderfully embarrassing pitch stories or advice on how to not have a wonderfully embarrassing pitch story?