Pitching: My awkward dating life saved my ass

I’m at the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writing Association) Conference this week. This event is like Gay Pride for writers–so a lot fewer speedos, but everyone is stoked about their alternative lifestyle of colorful characters.

About 35 literary agents and editors are here, listening to all of us desperate writer freaks pitch our super neat stories. I did this last year for the first time. I was so nervous, all I did was read my pitch to agents. I got some requests for samples out of it, so I figured it must not be that bad.

Working with a slightly better pitch this year, I again tried reading to agents. Oh my God, the way their eyes glazed over when I did that. I realized what I look like on the other side of the table: an OK Cupid date who is citing a list of reasons why he is so great. Shoot me in the face.

I had time to talk to a couple more agents, so I figured I might as well try abandoning my rehearsed pitch and just be conversational about my book. I’ve been on a lot of shitty dates, and I won’t lie–many of them were made bad from me spilling word vomit on the table. Reining in that experience, I turned on my charm and tried to get my book laid. SCORE! That’s exactly what they wanted. In just four minutes, those agents figured out my hook, my style, and laughed at me breaking the cussing barrier. I was having an amazing hair day too, which I take as a sign that I was meant to get lucky.

Five agent & editor cards are tucked behind my conference name badge now. Five. I’m probably going to get humbled/rejected by most of them, but I’m walking on water now.

I’ll admit my mind wanders in the gutter so much, it’s more like a fast-flowing canal of dirty jokes and uncomfortable moments in a silent, crowded room, but after spending most of my twenties serial dating, I am good at flirting and selling myself. I recognize when someone isn’t interested and switch tactics or move on to the next target. Here are my quick and dirty dating tips I’ve applied to pitching:

1. Work it like you’re out of your league
Don’t treat agents like they’re gods, but they do have a lot of power and experience, so you need to bring some charm to make up for your lack of both. I always aim for guys better-looking than me, so I make up for my image deficit by being witty and playing up my best features. Do this when you pitch. Bring up any street cred you might have if they seem unsure of your abilities, or show that your space opera is actually funny and accessible.

2. Shut the fuck up
No one likes a conversational narcissist, so keep your pitch brief so you can have dialogue. Just like you don’t want four pages of narrative with only two lines of dialogue to break up the info dump, you need conversation to reveal your characters and let agents or editors feel them up under the table if they’re interested. They also have very targeted questions they need to ask about you and your work, so give them time for that.

3. Be confident, not cocky
I love when a guy admits his age without a disclaimer, then tells me something fun about his job, not how awesome of a mid-level manager he is. You are not hot shit, but you are not a worthless pile of shit. Don’t brag about how great your writing is, but explain the journey you took to develop your voice and style.

I need to go see if my hair is working as well for me today and then pound another cup of coffee before my next session. Good luck pitching, fellow PNWA peeps!


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