Last month, the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (EPA SCBWI) hosted Fall Philly Author Day and Pitchfest. Attendees heard inspirational and informative speeches by six local authors, and also had the opportunity to purchase ten-minute pitch sessions with any of ten acquiring agents. As an introvert, I was hesitant to sign up for any pitch sessions. I believe I communicate best in writing, so I told myself that a written query would be preferable. But I knew, in the back of my mind, that making a personal connection can be very helpful. So I reluctantly signed up for one pitch session. A couple weeks later, as I listened to a “networking for introverts” webinar conducted by my college’s alumni group, I realized that some of the tips for networking may also be applied to pitching, and that I had actually used a few of those techniques for the Pitchfest. Those of you who are also introverts may find the following networking tips (tweaked to apply to pitches) helpful as well.
1) Set a realistic goal for yourself. If making one meaningful connection is all you can handle in one day, then that should be your goal. Don’t ask too much of yourself, as that can lead to disappointment. I signed up for just one pitch session, and I felt successful at the end of my session because I had attained my goal.
2) Research ahead of time so that you know your audience. Before signing up for my pitch session, I looked up all of the agents’ websites, and selected the one that seemed most interested in my type of writing. The EPA SCBWI posted interviews with the participating agents on its blog before the Pitchfest. I read my selected agent’s interview, and saw what she looks for in a pitch. This was extremely helpful because I was able to craft my pitch to include the information she wanted to hear. It also decreased my nervousness, as I now had clear and realistic expectations for the pitch session.
3) Develop your pitch and your personal brand. Remember that you are looking for an agent who will work well with you and with whom you can work well. I developed a pitch for my story and also for myself and my work in general. I wanted the agent to learn about me and my writing style so that we could together make the right choice about whether or not to establish a working relationship.
4) Listen and reflect what you hear. Most introverts are good listeners, but when you’re nervous and thinking about what you need to say, you may forget to use that skill effectively. Although I had done my research and I had a pretty good idea about what this agent was looking for in a pitch, she still surprised me with a few questions I was not expecting. I made sure to pause, listen to what she had to say, and think carefully before providing my answers.
5) Be present. During my pitch session, I focused completely on that ten-minute block of time. If I had scheduled more than one session, I might have spent the first session worrying about the next pitch, and that would definitely not be good. Of course, not everyone is like me. If you can handle more than one pitch session in a day, go for it, but remember to be present for each one.
6) Follow up. How you do this depends on the outcome of your pitch session. In my case, the agent asked me to send her my story, so I emailed the manuscript to her as soon as I got home that day. She later responded by asking to see more of my work, which I then sent to her (note: when you pitch a picture book, be prepared to share more than one manuscript). I’m still waiting to hear back (fingers crossed!).
Bottom line: know yourself, and accept and embrace your introverted personality. Talking to people is a required part of being a writer, so come up with strategies to network and pitch effectively without making yourself miserable. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you!