Your elevator pitch is worthless

Posted on 06/29/2009

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I just attended my second ever writing conference.  I went to one a month or two ago, and this one. There’s a serious problem prevalent in writers who attend these conferences. And I think I know what it is.  But let me tell you a little about me first.

I initially wanted to go to these conferences because I wanted to meet agents. I wanted to show them just how great I was, and just how awesome my story was.*  I was tired of querying agents and them only getting  a little piece of paper and 5 pages of my super awesome story. These people were fools who needed to read my story and really get into the meat of it before they dared reject me.  Five pages was not nearly enough.**

So I looked for conferences around me. If my five pages couldn’t convince the agent, then my winning personality and charm would.*  So I signed up, researched the agents, and dug in deeper on how these things worked.  You get 10 minutes alone time with an agent, and you get some “social time” with them too.  Yeah, try and talk to a popular agent at the social time. Seriously. In other words, get in line, and be prepared for your next ten minute pitch. That’s all you’re gonna get because there’s twenty more people behind you. Sheesh.

To prepare myself, I started workin on my “elevator pitch” and my “three sentence pitch”.  I have since come to believe those pitches are worthless. Literally not worth the time people spend on them.  Well, mostly. They do help you get to the root of your story. They help you pin down the heart of your story, which is really a good thing.  That’ll help your writing… but will not, however, help you get an agent.

It all started withNathan BransfordHe wrote: Get your pitch out of the way as soon as possible, and ask the agent questions about the business.  Why? Because most agents will ask you to remit your story even if it only sounds remotely interesting. Why wouldn’t they? Can’t hurt.  They’re going to get a ton of queries every day, so what’s the diff?

The whole weekend, I walked around other writers freaking out about their pitches.*  I watched them with a small grin. If only they knew. For an agent to offer to rep a writer at a conference, is so rare it’s almost non-existent. You’re not going to get an agent at a conference. You’re there to build relationships with other writers and agents–networking.

Taken to the farthest extreme, this can lead you down a path (and it did me for a while) of conferences being a waste.  Totally a waste. While I can, and do see that side of it, I don’t completely agree.

Answer this question: why do most unpublished writers go to conferences?

TO MEET AGENTS!

That was an easy one.

But why do they want to meet agents? What’s the point? To see if they and the agent “click”? Fair enough.  That might be cool, but agents ARE NORMAL PEOPLE TOO and they are at this conference alone, just like you, and trying to be friendly and nice to everyone around them…just like you. So you’re not really getting what the agent is like on a normal day-to-day occurrence.

And guess what else…if you’re going to a conference to talk to an agent about your story and TELL them how great it is…you’re in a for a short fall from hell.

Agents don’t really give a damn how great your little pitch is. Agents don’t give a damn on how friendly or open or knowledgeable you are. Agents care about one thing and one thing only: can your work be sold?

And folks, that’s a completely different statement than: is your work good? There’s ton’s of good work out there that cannot be sold. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just the market. So you may have a GREAT book, but they can’t sell it because the market’s not right.  Nothing against you, that’s just the way it rolls.

And then there’s the writing that is good and can be sold. That’s the nugget the agents are looking for. And guess what. They don’t care about your damn elevator pitch.

They care about your writing.

Let me give you two scenarios. (I gave these scenarios to a bunch of writers while I was there. I don’t think they heard me. They were too nervous.)

Scenario 1: Your pitch KICKS ASS! You’ve nailed it! The agent wants to read it! They want you to send them your whole manuscript–tomorrow! Woohoo!  But your writing BLOWS.  You can barely put one sentence together, you have no real conflict, you have a tin ear for dialog–in other words, you’re a hack. — YOUR PITCH DOESN’T MATTER

Scenario 2: Your pitch is only average. Not great. The agent likes it enough to ask to see the first 50 pages or so, and you send it.  YOUR WRITING KICKS ASS!!  The agent asks you to send them the rest of the manuscript. — YOUR PITCH DOESN’T MATTER

You can see from both directions, all that matters is your WRITING, not your PITCH.  SO make your pitch decent, get the heart of the story, and move on. Don’t sweat it. Most agents will ask for it even if it sounds a little rough. You’re not going to get representation at a conference, you’re going to get it from your writing.

Will I continue to go to conferences? Sure. Prolly one a year, just to mingle with other writers, and network.  But I won’t go sweating my freaking pitch.  You shouldn’t either.  Just remember, it’s about the writing, not the pitch.

I will post later on the fun people I met at the conference, including one totally kick ass agent who I wish represented what I write.

Remember, you don’t have to go to conferences to get agents to look at your writing. If your stuff is good and salable, an agent will call you back with just a query letter.

* It’s all about the writing.
** If the first 5 pages suck, why would the agent keep reading?
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