Monday, March 21, 2011

Honing Your Conference Pitch

Attending a writers conference can be a stressful undertaking—even for a seasoned writer. A lot of writers have gravitated toward our profession because we’re not comfortable with crowds, especially crowds of strangers.

That’s why I’m posting this series on writing conferences. It’s not to add to your stress—but to alleviate it. For me, when I know what to expect and am prepared, I’m less anxious. No one likes to feel like they're under the gun. I assume I’m not alone in this feeling.

So the first subject we’re going to tackle is the one that makes most writer’s stress levels spike off scale—pitching.

Over the years I’ve had people tell me they’re not worried about pitching—they’re just going to learn. Nice thought, but not based in reality. I hate to break it to you, but if you’re standing in line or sitting beside someone and they ask you what you’re writing, if you answer them, you’ve just delivered a pitch. I could post pages of stories from writers who wished they’d been prepared for this unassuming little scenario.

The idea behind a pitch is to get the person you’re talking with to ask for more.

Simple concept, harder to execute. So here are some of the do’s and don’ts of pitching.

  • Set up an intriguing scenario.
  • Introduce your main character.
  • Give a hint about their situation and goal.
  • Tie in the disaster or obstacle to that goal.

  • Go over 2 sentences—try to keep it to one sentence.
  • Answer all the questions the listener might have.
  • Substitute cleverness for specifics.
  • Give away the ending.

Now, here are some real life hooks or tag lines from popular movies. I’d love to read some of your favorites as well. 
  • "She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees." —Erin Brokovich
  • "To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman." —Silence of the Lambs
  • "What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?" —Sleepless in Seattle 1993
  • “A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend” —Pretty Woman
  •  “When you can live forever, what do you live for?” —Twilight
  •  “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” —Jaws 2
  •  “In space, no one can hear you scream.” —Alien 

Now it's your turn to chime in. Do you have any questions or is anyone brave enough to try their pitch out here?

And . . . Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. Had to pitch my second completed novel at a conference this past weekend. I went over all my notes from the BRMCWC First Timers Loop in formulating my new pitch. I typed the pitch and pasted it onto index cards and then went everywhere for two weeks with the cards with me at all times. When you can drive, stop for lights, signal and turn all the while saying your pitch with pauses and inflections to the cars on your right and left—without crashing—you know you are ready!
    Lisa Carter
    Sweet Tea with a Slice of Murder

  2. Edie, you always take complicated material and make it simple to apply. Thanks for all you do!

  3. Edie, your Connection this week was an answer to prayer for me. Even though I've been to Blue Ridge a few times, I'm just as scared as ever before (probably more). I'd decided not to go, but the Lord told me in various ways,"Get on with it, Moses! And quit making excuses."

    I definitely need a refresher on pitching, as well as everything else about overcoming fear at the conference. When I discovered I can't be at Writer's Group this month,I almost decided again not to go to the conference. Then your words popped up on my screen this morning.

    Will you be giving the whole spiel through the Write Connection? I need it.

    I'm not even sure what to pitch. Do I continue to pitch my book, even though I'm not ready to send it out again? Unfortunately, I don't have a good pitch for it and need to create one if I'm going to pursue it.

    Although I'd be perfectly content to satisfy my need to write with the blog, I believe the Lord wants me to go beyond that.

    Sorry to be so long-winded but perhaps someone else is in this rocky boat with me.


  4. Does and Don'ts of your PITCH !
    Scarey for me !
    Never attended a Christian's Writer's Conference.
    Still haven't heard from Alton if I am to be awarded a schlorship.
    For the May Conference.
    Practicing on my Pitch w/index cards.
    I use it continually when Luci(therapy Corgi) go to work.
    PS. Thanks for the advice :))

  5. Ladies, thanks for chiming in!
    Lisa, I'm so glad last year's info helped! I love the idea with index cards I'm going to recommend that to everyone.
    Vonda, what would I do without you! If I can make the difficult simple it's only because I never could comprehend complicated!
    Liz, I'm always humbled when God uses my words. Remember, if he can use a goof ball like me he certainly has amazing plans for you! Yes, we'll be going over everything here, but I also recommend you join the Blue Ridge Yahoo Group. There you'll also get a chance to practice what you've learned. I'm adding a link to it on the left side of my blog right now.
    Sheri, hang in there. I know Al's working to get the scholarship decisions made. I'm glad you're practicing!
    Blessings to you all - E

  6. OK, here goes:
    Here's the hook I used at ACFW last year when I pitched my contemporary novel that is now making the rounds of editors:
    Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right?

    It got lots of interesting responses . . . and I was ready to follow up with the rest of the story!

  7. Wow. You are incredibly helpful as usual. The gun in my face, certainly captures the feeling I get when I think about developing a pitch. The examples you gave make the process clear in a way nothing else would have. Thanks!!

  8. Edie, I'm trying out my pitch. *Deep breath.*

    When Kasia Bernolak breaks off her engagement, she's oblivious to the danger she's leaving behind--and the menace that awaits her.

    Aagh! I'm so nervous.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Thanks Edie. This was all new to me last year before BRMCWC, but I felt well prepared by all your tips. I'll be taking all of that new knowledge with me to ACFW this year, Lord willing.
    Here's another tip. In preparation for last year, Charity and I would call each other randomly throughout the day and just say, "what are you working on?" Until the other could rattle off their pitch without any stops or umms. It was helpful.

    I have two for my WIP. Trying to figure out which better and how I can make it stronger.

    A bride and a widow in the same day—Elisabeth’s prayers are about to be answered if the CIA, international arms dealers, and her best friend don’t stand in the way.

    Two CIA agents and the woman they both love are in a fight for their lives that will test their loyalty to God, country, and each other.

  11. Beth, I love that hook - so short, yet it leaves me with a million questions. No wonder so many editors have requested it.
    Bethany - great pitch!
    Erynn - That's a great idea about calling each other. I'm going to recommend that one too! I like your second pitch the best, but think you need to leave more questions and not tie it up so neatly - that's what 'prayers about to be answered' does. What a great story - I can hardly wait to read more.

  12. That's a great post! I attended a conference this month. My non-fiction pitch.~See how God will bump into your day at any time with surprises.

    My fiction is still a WIP. :P

  13. Thanks, Edie.
    Still plugging away at the novel and don't know if I'll make it to the conference. But I know those aren't reasons to stop working and learning.
    The ball will never be hit if it's not pitched, so here goes:

    A brilliant young scientist and doctor has found a cure for cancer--and he shouldn't exist.

  14. Hi Edie,
    I'm going back over your blog entries as I prepare for the conference. Any suggestions for coming up with a pitch for a non-fiction book . . . Trying to use what you wrote.

    Set up an intriguing scenario. Could this be what the book is about?
    Introduce your main character. I assume this would be the reader?
    Give a hint about their situation and goal. How the book will help them?
    Tie in the disaster or obstacle to that goal. Same as above?

    “All seasons come to an end, even a wilderness season.” —Sand In My Shoes, Surviving a Wilderness Season.

    Well . . . is this intriguing enough? Non-fiction is a challenge.

    Thanks as always,

  15. Here I am again Edie . . .
    I think this one may be better :)
    "Giving hope and encouragement to those going through a difficult season in their life."--Sand In My Shoes, Surviving a Wilderness Season


    1. Beth, I DEFINITELY prefer your first one instead of this one. This is one is too generic, the first one stops me in my tracks!

  16. How is a good pitch delivered? The tag lines above sound great for the back of a bk jacket, but wouldn't they sound stilted in a conversation with a real person, like an editor? How exactly does this conversation start?

    1. Wendy, each thing leads to the next. Here's a post that explains the process: The conversation would go something like this:
      Edie: Hi. My name is Edie Melson and I have a project I'd like to share with you.
      Editor: Sure tell me what you have.
      Edie: {delivers one line tag/hook}
      Editor: intriguing, tell me more.
      Edie: {Moves to my elevator pitch}
      Editor: Do you have a one sheet or something I can see.
      Edie: {presents my one sheet}

      Wendy, this is a perfect scenario, but this is the flow you're aiming for. Let me know if I can help you further. Blessings, E

  17. Edie, Here is the hook that one of my sons helped me craft: “Ebenezer: My Stone of Help” is a story of going home, God’s hand of providence, strong family values, and faith tested by fire. Detective Julius C. Armstrong must face the past he has been running from to bring this final case -and his career- to a successful end.
    Since I'm somewhat new to this whole business I find this has been helpful. Thank you much.

  18. I realize I am a little late to this party but still worth it! This query/pitch business is far more difficult than the actual book. This is my tag line for a nonfiction memoir. The working title is The Soldier Wife.

    "There is a steep price exacted for the fierce love of country running two centuries deep in my veins. I was wholly unprepared for the bloodletting."

    Thoughts? Thank you so much.