To pitch or not to pitch? That is the question. “Pitch,” I say. “What do you have to lose? Your dignity? Your sleep? Your lunch?”
For those who have not walked the pitch plank at the Annual Romance Writers of America Conference, the experience can be as frightening as swimming with sharks even in a steel cage. For others, it’s akin to taking a 10-story drop on an amusement park ride. Either way, it can be one of the most memorable and important moments of your writing career.
The RWA Conference takes place late this month at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. In addition to attending industry workshops and networking, published and non-published writers have the opportunity to make brief story pitches, typically in ten minute sprints, to editors and agents. It’s both a perk and a privilege for attendees. It also can be a nail-biting and sweaty-palm rite of passage.
For me, taking the plunge and swimming in those shark-infested waters was exhilarating. Although I’m not a thrill-seeker (I rode my last rollercoaster in the 1990s), I took the giant leap toward landing my first publishing contract four years ago in Atlanta while attending my first RWA Conference.
My memory of the pitch process is as vivid for me today as it was then. I arrived at the large waiting area at my appointed time where more than 20 other anxious writers waited to take their turns. But I quickly discovered there were more openings than writers due to no-shows and scheduling changes. That meant if I hung around after my scheduled pitch, and there was an opening, I could fill it.
Of course, you may not want to stay in the pitch area all day and miss workshops, but first-timers quickly learn that if you have a finished manuscript you want to shop, there are more opportunities do so than just at the two promised appointments.
In fact, pitches can be made just about anywhere, even the elevator.
My life-changing pitch took place in the conference’s hotel bar. Well, it was more like a lounge. I had received a text message about 11 p.m. from a friend who had spoken on my behalf to Debby Gilbert, founder and senior editor of Soul Mate Publishing. I was on the phone with my husband and ready to go to bed when the message came through. Tired from a day of fresh knowledge and introductions, I almost forgot to check the message when the call ended.
When I did, the message read: “Be ready to pitch at the Pulse bar in 20 mins.”
“Yikes! That was 15 minutes ago,” I thought. “I’m already in my PJs!” But I quickly responded to the message and promised to be down to “Pulse” in a few minutes. With my pulse racing, I hoped Debby would wait.
She did. After patiently listening to me talk for what must have been at least 30 minutes, she said she loved my story and wanted to read the full manuscript.
“What? You do?” I said to myself. “That’s great.” I finally said out loud.
A week later, Debby offered me a contract to publish The Lady of the Garter. My dream had come true. It can happen to you, too. It just takes a little courage.