Power of the Pitch
The Pitch Time session was just one little, teeny part of the (amazing) SCBWI Conference 2019 that I attended recently, but for the eight of us who had been selected to pitch, it loomed enormous.
For those who weren’t there or who have never met something like this, this session was about pitching your work to a panel of industry professionals and receiving feedback in a public forum.
Having a healthy dose of masochistic tendencies is a helpful prerequisite.
It is, nonetheless, a great way to learn about your own work, and also a great way to learn from others as you listen to their pitches and take note of panel responses.
I decided to submit a pitch for a variety of reasons, none of which seemed to be very valid once I was faced with standing up in front of an auditorium full of people and a panel of publishers and agents!
I do not, however, regret it. It was exhilarating, validating, and, in a strange and possibly perverse way, fun.
yes, I would rather pitch a novel to a packed room than ride on this
There is a lot to learn from pitching. This is what I learned:
condensing the essence of my (rather lengthy) work into a short, sharp paragraph to create the pitch, including the who, what , when, where, and why of the story in five quick lines, and making sure that I indicated what the resolution would be without giving the game away, is challenging;
making sure I had the introductory pages of my narrative polished to a shine filled with hints and symbolism as to what was to come, and ending on a note of suspense, but remaining within the three minute specification, is also challenging; and
reading the narrative with suitable expression, but quickly enough to get the audience to what I like to think of as the point of no return – yes, all in three minutes – that is challenging, too.
I know I lost one member of the panel in my rush to jam it in, and, without doubt, others out there in audience land, too. Maybe there was a spot where I could have finished sooner, but, on the other hand, I doubt that any of them would have been won over by the ms at a later stage. The initial response was legitimate.
Luckily for my sense of self worth, the other four panel members were very supportive and responded positively, which was encouraging. I like to think that was legitimate, too.
However, if you are ever going to give this a go, learn from me. Give yourself breathing space. Lots.
Anyway, once I had relearned the gentle art of breathing and the clamour of rushing blood in my ears had calmed down, it was instructive to see how other pitchers pitched and how the panel responded. The selective process that had got us there meant that each of us had some particular hook that caught the interest of the reader, be it humour, pathos, gritty reality, or plain good writing. Or a combination thereof. I suspect the good writing bit is mandatory.
Published or pre-published, this is an excellent opportunity for participants, and, for that matter, for the audience. I would definitely encourage you to have-a-go next time the chance arises. Steel yourself. It is worth it.
My especial thanks to the organisers, to SCBWI for providing the forum, to the amazing panel members, and, yes, to the audience, who sat quietly (either in awed or dumbstruck silence, one or the other) while I stumbled my way through the opening paragraphs of my story.
Extra special thanks to the people who came and told me afterwards how much you enjoyed it. You are the bee’s knees.
*Oh, and one other thing that I learned (from the photos that so many gorgeous people took) is that I pull hilariously funny faces while I’m reading. After due consideration, I’ve decided that I’m going to own it. Sadly (cough, cough) I couldn't get any of the pics to load, so you will just have to take my word for it.