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« Lesson 15: Building Buzz: The Basics on Pitching the Media | Main | Lesson 13: Pitchy Behavior »

Lesson 14: Writer’s Miranda Rights (When You Pitch Your Book)

**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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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Reader Comments (13)

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Free of Snark, Finger Pointing, and Personal Attack

This is a professional environment. Be professional. No one is fooled by the phrase, "I'm just being honest."

Agents and Editors will be viewing your comments. If you can't be kind toward your own fellow-writers, the thought is you'd make a pretty miserable client.

Don't be* that* writer.

January 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterDiane

Great advice, as usual, Lorin. I really appreciate the 'self-empowering' aspects of what you had to say. As authors, we first have to believe in ourselves and our stories before we can expect others to believe in them. Thanks so much. All the best, Luanne

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLuanne Brown

Fantastic. I'm sharing it with friends. The first was my favorite. When you live so much in your head, where the story may be perfect and beautiful, it's easy to fall into traps like apologizing. I catch myself doing this, especially now when I've started sharing my WIP with beta readers and talking about it outloud. For me, it's not just directly saying "I'm sorry" but I've started catching myself using sneaky self-deprecating language. Sometimes I feel like I need a rubber band on my wrist to snap when I catch myself doing this. "It's still a really rough draft. **snap. ow**. I'm not explaining it very well. **snap. ow.** That character still needs work. **snap. ow.** I'm sorry it doesn't have a better title. **snap. ow." And so on. Apologizing can be a really difficult habit to break, but so necessary.
Now do I get a rose for commenting? Hahah! ;)

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJocelyn Lindsay

I love this! What a great confidence builder. And so funny! I'm going to print it out to read regularly, and especially before any pitch and when writing a query.
Thanks for making me feel worth it. You have a special gift for that.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterClaudine

I concur with Lorin's advice to breathe. I have been a volunteer for the San Francisco Writers Conference and one of my favorite duties was to work the line of writers waiting to go into the ballroom for the Speed Dating with Agents session. I would walk up and down the line repeating the mantra of "relax, smile, and breathe." In talking with the nervous writers I recommended that the first thing they should do when they sit down at The Table would be to relax, smile, breathe and make eye contact with the agent BEFORE saying anything. Making that human connection first will go a long way to helping you to relax and have a positive interaction with the agent. That should be your goal more than having the agent asking for material from you. It is important to remember that agents are people who choose to work with writers and are not unfeeling, uncaring gatekeepers of the publishing industry. By having a pleasant demeanor, it will go a long way to demonstrating that you are someone they might like having as a client.

Also never complain about anything. Don't complain if the person in front of you doesn't leave when they are supposed to and you wind up getting less time than you should. If you complain, you are wasting precious seconds that could be spent talking about your work and putting forth a negative attitude rather than dealing as positively with adversity as you can.

Relax, smile, breathe and have fun.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda C. McCabe

Great post, Lorin! Thank you for your sage and funny advice. You have such a great way of putting things. They penetrate. So I guess that means I can't give the pitch to you and have you do it? :)

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBirgitte Necessary

When I hit the section on "Breathe," I went ohmygosh--I'm not breathing right now. I love how your post is about the Writer, where it all begins and ends. It is so easy to get caught up in the work that we forget to center in ourselves. A great reminder--for any time.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Lyon


This was a wonderful post.

Breathe! The best advice EVER.

I'll be keeping your post in mind while I cringe through the video pitch attempts I make. Maybe I'll do one as badly as I can and one as arrogant as I can just to get them out of the way. I once attended a seminar where the speaker was teaching us how to speak in public. One point he made was that if you imagine the worst and best scenarios ahead of time, all you have left is to do what comes natural and breathe.


January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandi Wall

Great advice from an editor who understands writers from the inside out. Thanks so much for this, Lorin.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLia Keyes

As always, Lorin, sage and sane advice sprinkled with your great humor.

I especially love the grip the table to transfer angst and breathe parts. I'd add SMILE. I tend to be so intense I forget to do that too.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjudythe

I'M WRITER! Hear me roar! So much louder than before!
(Apologies to Helen Reddy)
But I am a writer and now I'm a writer with authority, no apologies (except to Helen), preparation, deep-breathing-zen thing, discernment, and embracing my individual writing voice...okay, fine, I'm aspiring to be this. And hey, Lorin, gave me permission, so I'm going for it!
Thank you, Lorin. Great article and as always a fresh view.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatti Thielen

Thanks so much for the comments, folks! I have seen any number of writers shoot themselves in the foot a bit via self-deprecation, perfectionism, and just flat-out panic! I also see a lot of writers who seek permission to do what they do, trying to find the perfect formula for guaranteed success. And, of course, it doesn't exist--other than to write a great story really well.

So, I always like it when folks can relax, put their pitch session in a larger perspective as part of a very long journey, and take ownership of their stories and of who they are as writers. As Linda and others have mentioned, SMILING is also important. Looking the agent or editor in the eye. Just getting as comfortable in one's skin as possible. A tall order, sometimes, I know, but all of that can pay great dividends.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLorin

Hi, Lorin!

I'm bookmarking this on my iphone to read right before future pitches.

It will almost be as if you're there elbowing me in the ribs to go ahead and OWN IT. ;-D

Susan Reynolds Smith

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Reynolds Smith

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