Monday, February 11, 2013

Finding Perfect Pitch, by Jill Kelly

When I finished polishing my first novel in 2009, I was eager to pitch it at the WW conference, so I wrote the pitch out and rewrote and rewrote it. Then I signed up for Leona Grieve’s pitch practice workshop to get prepared. Leona’s advice was far better than any I’d gotten off the web, and I could see my pitch was too long and too complicated, had too many minor characters, too many names, too much information. No wonder I had trouble keeping it straight when I pitched it to myself. Worse yet, I hadn’t done the research I needed to on the agents.

This was important because I couldn’t fit my book into a category: it was women’s fiction, but not standard chick lit. It was a romance but unconventional. It was literary fiction by style but not by subject. So although 
I believed in my book, I went into my three appointments with little confidence.

They were disasters! I felt timid, beholden, and what’s worse unprepared. Usually I’m great at one-on-one conversations but with each meeting, I felt less and less like I knew what I was doing there. I was just relieved when it was over.

Two years later, I’ve completed a second novel and I do the research and I pay for three more pitches. I am determined to have a difference experience, if not a different outcome.

So…I don’t write out a pitch. I figure out two things I want to say. First, I describe the opening chapter in a couple of sentences: 60-year-old woman on the run goes into a bar in New Mexico, meets a cowboy, and agrees to marry him. Doesn’t tell him about the psychopath on her trail or the detective she’s in love with at home. Second, I ask for what I want: an agent to champion the book and its older characters.

My appointments were Saturday so all day Friday I pitched to anyone who would listen. I pitched in line for meals, in the bathroom, waiting for workshops, in-between workshops. I pitched to 70 people at least. I was pumped.

All three of my appointments were easy, comfortable, fun. All three agents wanted to read. One sent me a contract. This week we sold that novel, Fog of Dead Souls, to Skyhorse Publishing. 


Jill Kelly is a writer, freelance editor, and writing couch in Portland. Her memoir, Sober Truths, was an Oregon Book Award finalist. She recently self-published her first novel, The Color of Longing, and a how-to book, Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery.