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Ane Mulligan, “Pitchers” Coach

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You’ve honed your tag line to the smallest number of words for a great hook. Your synoptic paragraph (back cover blurb) is refined for the thirty second pitch. Now what?

Pitching, according to Webster: to erect and fix firmly in place [pitch a tent] 2: to throw with a particular objective or toward a particular point b: put aside or discard by or as if by throwing [pitched the trash into the bin] 3 to attempt to persuade especially with a sales pitch; to present for consideration.

Since we aren’t camping or forming an ACFW baseball team, we’ll go with definition 3, although there may come a time you might want to use definition 2b for said proposal.

There are three types of pitching at the conference: the elevator (or lobby) pitch, the mealtime pitch and the fifteen minute appointment pitch. What’s the difference? At the appointment, you have a couple of minutes to simply chat and soothe your nerves before you launch missile one—I mean your tag line.

In the elevator, you have thirty seconds or less to get your message across. You need to have a tag line and a “back cover” blurb. Then memorize them. You have to know your story so well you can summarize it in a few short sentences.

So project yourself forward to September in Minneapolis. Hey, work with me here. I only have 1000 words.

The elevator door opens. The editor/agent of your dreams enters and smiles, then presses the third floor. You now have twenty-five seconds.

“May I tell you about my book?” Always ask permission. For all you know, the e/a may have a Bluetooth ear bud in and listening to Dean Koontz pitch his new WIP.

“Sure.” Whew, you got lucky. Dean already hung up.

You’re down to fifteen seconds. Your tongue is suddenly stuck to the roof of your mouth. You wrote ninety-thousand words but can’t remember your tag line.

No problem! Super One Sheet to the rescue. Whip that puppy out and use it a cheat sheet. The e/a understands you’re nervous. So use your one sheet as a crutch. However, they’ll be more impressed if you have it memorized.

My critique partners and I worked hard on our pitches for our first ACFW conference. We were newbies, one step past raw and ready to pitch. I’d reduced my tag line to five words and could deliver my blurb in fifteen seconds. Okay, I was smooth when I read it off my one sheet. I needed to get better.

No problem. In the middle of fixing dinner one evening, one of my CPs, Gina Holmes, called. “Tell me about your book.”

“Uh, oh, um, well, uh …” She hung up.

That didn’t go well. The next time she called, I only stammered twice before I launched into my pitch. We continued to call each other at odd hours, day or night, until we could deliver the pitch smoothly on demand.

We were ready for the conference. To be honest, there will be a slight difference between the random phone calls from a CP and the actual pitch—your tongue won’t cleave to the back of your teeth during the phone call. But with practice, the quicker you’ll recover the use of your tongue.

The mealtime pitch is similar to the elevator, and your tablemates will appreciate you if you stick to that timeline. So will the e/a. Give him/her the opportunity to say, “Tell me more.” Most likely, they’ll hand you their card and say, “Send me a proposal.” After all, they came to find the next bestseller—it might be yours.

Whatever you do, don’t dominate the conversation. There are six other people sitting at that table waiting their turn. Let the e/a eat a few bits before attacking … er, pitching. And if no one talks, be gracious and ask the person next to you to tell you about their book. That will get the conversation flowing.

While waiting your turn for the fifteen minute appointment, you can either let nervous heart palpitations turn you into a twitching lalophobe, incapable of coherent speech, or you can chat with those in line with you and relax.

Writers aren’t notorious for quick-witted repartee. That’s why we’re writers. We mull over our word choices. But I try to appear intelligent and business-like. The appointment is the first interview a potential professional relationship with this publishing company/literary agency.

Besides wearing your favorite business-casual outfit, remember to wear your smile. If you can’t relax, then act relaxed. Just because your heart is beating the 1812 Overture, doesn’t mean your mouth should. Ask the e/a how they are, get to know them. This “interview” works two ways. If contracted, this may be the person you’ll work closely with for a long time.

The most important part is your preparation before you sit down to pitch, even before leave for the conference. The more you refine your pitch, the more comfortable you’ll be delivering it.

I remember one agent I pitched at my first ACFW conference in Nashville. The poor agent was exhausted and I hadn’t done my homework well enough. Know the editor/agent’s preferred genres. By the third sentence out of my mouth, the agent’s eyed had glazed over. I realized my error and ended both our agony with a swift closure and departure.

Colleen Coble told me she met her editor at a conference. They sat on the floor outside the meeting room, and Colleen pitched. The editor had the proposal on her desk for a couple of months, but after that face-to-face meeting, she went right back and read it. The two just clicked in an amazing way right from the start.

So refine your tag line and “back cover” blurb, practice it until you’re saying it in your sleep. Then relax and enjoy meeting people at the conference, because in the end, editors and agents are people just like you.


Ane Mulligan has a varied professional past; hair dresser, business manager, legislative affairs director and playwright—her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for fiction. She’s co-owner of the popular literary blog Novel Journey and has published over fifty plays and many articles.

She’s won numerous awards in contests for unpublished novels. Ane has served as creative arts director for The Family Church for 11 years and is the Zone Officer on the Operating Board for ACFW. Residing in Suwanee, GA, with her husband, they are owned by one very large dog.

  1. Thursday, August 21, 2008 7:21 am

    Thanks so much for all the good advice this week. I’ve never been to a big conference, and never given a pitch. The idea of doing either is a little scary, but I know that day will come. . .It’s nice to feel like I can prepare myself so I don’t look like a TOTAL doofus!


  2. Thursday, August 21, 2008 8:57 am

    Great advice!! I’m so excited about conference, but the one thing that makes me gulp is pitching. I can promise you I won’t do an elevator pitch. I just know myself, I don’t have it in me. Unless they ask me, “So what are you writing?” (which i doubt will happen…) we’ll probably just make small talk in the elevator. LOL.

    I don’t think that’s bad though. There is alot of power in creating a relationship first. Kinda like with your spouse, they say if you can be their friend first it’s a great thing! If you can develope a repor with an editor/agent, it will come naturally to talk about your book. (Or I assume it will… I haven’t actually done it)


  3. Thursday, August 21, 2008 9:37 am

    Great tips! Thanks!


  4. Thursday, August 21, 2008 10:04 am

    This is fantastic, thanks so much. I’m going to make all my soon-to-be-ex-friends call me and ask me about my book, that is a great idea for those of us that freeze.
    I suppose getting the one-liner put on a t-shirt and then pretending to be a bellhop won’t work then? Perhaps I should write it on my arm so I can at least remember my book’s title!


  5. Thursday, August 21, 2008 10:06 am

    one more piece of advice, no matter how homesick you are don’t tell an editor –“I’m tired of writing talk I just want to go home to my family.”
    Yep, I did that at Mt. Hermon.


  6. Thursday, August 21, 2008 11:17 am

    Thanks for the tip!


  7. Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:21 pm

    Great advice. Thanks for reminding us that we can sometimes be our own worst enemies!


  8. Christina permalink
    Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:22 pm

    Thanks you Ane for the very helpful information.

    Kaye, your preconference blogs are have been a huge help for me, a newbie.

    I’m going to have to stop reading now and go practice, practice, practic.


  9. Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:26 pm

    Glad you’re enjoying them, Christina! I wish I’d had this kind of advice before my first conference!


  10. Thursday, August 21, 2008 1:50 pm

    Thank you so much! I really needed it. Excellent points all. 🙂


  11. Thursday, August 21, 2008 2:01 pm

    “Writers aren’t notorious for quick-witted repartee. ”

    So very true!!

    This can be such a bug to get right I suppose as long as we don’t “pitch a fit,” we’re in the ball park. LOL


  12. Thursday, August 21, 2008 2:03 pm

    Kaye – Your blog is always so helpful and encouraging. I think it’s so important to have a one-liner down. It’s much harder to get it!


  13. Thursday, August 21, 2008 3:37 pm

    I love the idea of randomly calling your CPs to help practice impromptu pitches! Wonder if they have their phone numbers on Facebook… (Wouldn’t that be rather terrifying, to get a call from an unknown number saying, “Tell me about your book.”)


  14. Thursday, August 21, 2008 3:42 pm

    I’m delighted to have helped y’all some. Believe me, I’ve pitched every possible person in this industry. 🙂 And I’ve had every possible response, too, from the glazed-over eyes to requests for fulls mss.

    Keep pitching, keep writing and never give up!


  15. Thursday, August 21, 2008 4:32 pm

    Ane, great advice–especially the part about knowing it without looking at your one sheet or stammering through it. Being confident as you say that memorized line makes an editor/agent take you that much more seriously. It really sets you apart.

    I’d love to be at the conference this year, pitching away, but I’m having baby #3. I’ll be pitching diapers into the trash. 🙂


  16. Thursday, August 21, 2008 4:36 pm

    Great advice, Ane. Thanks for sharing.


  17. Thursday, August 21, 2008 4:43 pm

    At the moment I’m more relaxed about my appts than I was this time last year…we’ll have to see how things go as we ramp up the last few weeks.

    Distilling a book down to 30 words or so is one of the most difficult things for me. I’ll have to practice, practice, practice…


  18. Friday, August 22, 2008 4:10 pm


    I learned the hard way to always be prepared to pitch even if you hadn’t planned on doing any pitching. I was sitting next to an agent and she asked what I wrote. Tell me about your book she asked. My tongue refused to move. Thank God the workshop began, and I whipped out my pen and scribbled a short pitch. I passed it to her and she asked to see it. No she didn’t pick me up but it gave me a valuable lesson. Always be prepared to pitch, you never know who is sitting beside you.

    Love the calling your friend idea. I will have to try that one.

    I still haven’t done a face to face pitch, but when its my time I will be prepared. Thanks so much for your tips.


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