by Debora Dale
Last year’s LIRW Editor-Agent Luncheon was my first foray into the world of face-to-face encounters with agents and editors. Each day for more than a month prior to the event, I rehearsed my pitch. I tweaked it. I digitally recorded it and played it back. Hated it. Revised and did it again. And again. Finally, I realized no matter how I wrote it, it sound rehearsed. So I tried a different approach. I thought, ‘if I were telling a friend about my story, what would I say?’
I used that question as a springboard to several new versions of my pitch. Then, after I created one that sounded good, I rehearsed the freshness right out of it.
Finally, the day came. I was either going to pitch or not. At that point, I’d convinced myself it didn’t matter. After the luncheon, I could always send a written query to agents or editors I felt would be receptive. That tiny bit of awareness – that I didn’t HAVE to do anything – took the edge off and allowed me to go with only one inhaler in my purse.
I entered the room, swiped a glass of champagne from the tray of a white-gloved waiter and mingled with some of my beautiful chapter-mates. The energy in the room was incredible. Contagious. As I chatted with my writer friends, Donald Maass, our keynote speaker, joined our conversation…as if he were a regular person.
Ha! Guess what? He was.
We didn’t discuss writing. We talked about our families. In fact, we even discussed my experiences with the process of homeschooling. It was a wonderfully comfortable conversation. No stress.
Our little group disbursed, and I remember sizing up other people in attendance, trying to compare some live faces with those I’d studied in agent/editor website profiles. A friend came over to me at that point, a fellow LIRW member, and asked if I’d pitched to anyone yet. I admitted I hadn’t. Without pause, she placed her hand on my back and steered me toward an agent to whom she felt I should pitch. I protested. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready. Who was I to even consider myself in the same league as the people in that room? She encouraged me, “You can do this!” My heels left skid marks on the floor as I tried to put on the brakes.
I was saved by an announcement to take our seats. I did and immediately realized two editors were assigned to my table. One of them was looking for RS, my genre. It took the entire meal for me to work up the nerve to walk over to her and start my pitch. But the moment I opened my mouth to speak, I lost all memory of what I was going to say. I panicked, thinking she’d hate me, see me as an amateur and never consider my work. Instead, she laughed, waved off my concern and embarrassment, and simply said, “Tell me about your hero.”
Her demeanor calmed me, made me feel so at ease that I did tell her about my hero – and then my heroine and then my villain. When I faltered, she asked questions, guided me back into the story until I’d shared the entire plot with her. She did request the full and though she ultimately rejected it, I feel like I have a friend in the industry. And I realized something that I had often been told – this is business. An agent or editor who rejects your work isn’t rejecting you. And no matter how perfect or imperfect your pitch, it’s whether your story and voice meld with their vision. They expect nerves. Don’t let yours stop you from taking this leap or question whether you’re in the same league as everyone else. You are. Because at heart, you are a writer.