**This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.” Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.**
LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with more than twenty years experience in publishing.
Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, as well as the acclaimed Story Shaping Workshops, intensive one-on-one story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction.
In addition, she serves as Editor-in-Residence/Advanced Class Instructor for the renowned Writers Retreat Workshop.
As a writer, editor, and dyed-in-the-papyrus word nerd, most of my experience with pitching—especially with helping writers pitch—comes in the form of the written pitch.
So, I’ll confess to winging some of my forthcoming comments about in-person pitches (otherwise known as, “ohgodohgodohgod, please love me” anxiety fests), based on my observations as a long time workshop director/editor-in-residence and as a writer who has made pitches of her own.
My basic operating premise here is that while your story—and its distillation down into elements that have been so adeptly covered here already—is important, it’s just one part of your pitch.
Most agents and editors will tell you that almost any story can be made to sound good, given just a few promising lines. But what leaves an agent with a good impression is, well, YOU.
Your ease. Your manner. Your AUTHORITY.
And you really ARE the authority there, aren’t you? Maybe not the authority on all things publishing. But the authority on your novel.
For better or worse, no one knows it as well as you do. As I tell my clients all the time, you are the final and most important arbiter of your work. It’s yours.
(I’m just the extremely knowledgeable person helping you make it tons better.)
Taking ownership of your expertise can be the most critical element in a successful pitch. Here then, in the form of a “Writer’s Miranda Rights,” are a few reminders to help you present your story, and yourself, with authority and grace.
1. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST
Seriously. You do. You have the right to not only exist but to be a writer, someone with hopes and dreams and aspirations of creative and financial success.
That means you can stop apologizing. Right now. Nothing makes an agent or editor more skittish than a writer who comes in and spends five or fifteen minutes stammering about her shortcomings or the shortcomings of her novel.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be of interest. And YOU don’t have to be perfect to be of interest, either. Don’t apologize for your age,your experience level, or your genre of choice. Don’t apologize for anything, unless you’re late for your meeting or you accidentally stab the agent in the face with your pen. Then, okay, apologies are in order.
Own your right to sit down with that agent and present your project to him or her. Embrace it as your due, rather than as a ginormous favor being presented to you by the almighty publishing gods.
This doesn’t mean treating anyone with arrogance—a goofy sense of entitlement is not exactly endearing either. It simply means that whoever you are, whatever project you have to present, is just right in that moment.
2. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BREEEEEEEAAAAAATHE
Along with the above, try not to create situations that create physical duress, or even distraction, before your pitch.
Dress comfortably (but professionally); give yourself plenty of time to find the agent/editor with whom you’re meeting; write down some questions in advance; get there early but not too early; and spend some time preparing quietly for your session.
And remember to breathe. Deep breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. That kind of thing. Slow yourself down; drop your shoulders, unclench anything that happens to be clenched.
A great trick for calming butterflies in the belly: If you’re seated at a table or desk, press your palms up against the edge of the table.If you’re standing, press your palms up against a wall. The transfer of energy creates a release of anxiety/adrenaline, which calms the nerves.
Acknowledge your anxiety and tell yourself that this is not your last or only opportunity for publishing success. This is one moment, one wonderful learning experience. Admit that you have high hopes but tell yourself that no matter what the outcome, you’re going to come away with something of value.
3. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE
A pitch session is not an episode of “The Bachelor.” It’s not just about YOU--or your story--being chosen. It’s about you doing the choosing as well.
As someone who puts on workshops with one of the leading literary agents in the industry, I always feel incredible sympathy for those writers who skip, starry-eyed, into their meetings with him, hoping to be presented with the figurative rose, or the key, or whatever they give people on those shows.
We all want to be chosen; I get that. But just as you shouldn’t write about wholly reactive/passive characters, you shouldn’t thrust yourself into that role, either. An agent is not a fairy prince or princess who will bop you on the head with a wand and bestow publishing success. An agent is a business partner. That’s it.
So, it’s okay to be discriminating in your meeting, to ask questions about how that agent does business, to put your instincts on high alert and ask yourself how you FEEL about that person. Even if that agent gives your project a thumbs-up, it’s okay to be thrilled but also judicious, to give yourself time and distance to decide whether that’s the working relationship you really want to pursue.
4. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO YOUR VOICE
Lastly, and this applies as much to the written pitch as to the verbal one, you have the right to your voice, to your own way of talking about your story and to your own way of WRITING it.
In fact, that voice makes you singular; it makes you authoritative. I don’t want to say we’re all like precious snowflakes or anything, but dang it, we’re all like precious snowflakes. None of us is meant to be exactly like someone else; none of our stories is meant to be a cookiecutter version of one before.
This means that while it can be helpful to cite novel references (“My story is like JAWS meets THE HELP”), especially in terms of giving a down-and-dirty sense of your story, it’s more important to cultivate your voice—in life and in writing.
If you’re from the South and that’s what you love to write, embrace that. If you’re a Midwesterner in love with the prairie, embrace that. Whatever you love, whatever you love to read—all the elements that have added up to the way you present yourself on the page and in person: love them and milk them for all they’re worth.
Be who you are and speak to that agent or editor or reader from the heart. Authenticity and a true belief in oneself are the most important tools in your toolbox, and they’re available, no matter where you are in the process.
Now go get ‘em!
Lorin’s students and clients have (combined) millions of books in print and have been published by imprints of HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also
gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.
An award-winning author, Lorin’s poetry, short fiction, and articles have appeared in well over one-hundred periodicals, including THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW, STORYQUARTERLY, and the bestselling anthology
FRENCH QUARTER FICTION. Recently, an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, ITCH, was awarded “Best of Workshop” at Writers in Paradise, co-founded by author Dennis Lehane.
Lorin specializes in all aspects of story and character development, voice, and on creating a potent emotional connection between story and reader.