The powers and peril of pitching

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By the time you read this, I’ll be pitching. This weekend the San Francisco Writers Conference returns to the City by the Bay. It’s more than three days of learning and networking, with dozens of experts teaching craft and business. Hundreds of us authors, though, will be there to do more than learn. We’re there to pitch our books, three minutes at a time.

SFWC has a unique event that closes the conference. Speed Dating for Authors lines up two dozen agents in a room at tables. We’re released in groups and head to the table of our chosen agent. We pitch and wait for the replies. Questions about the story. Suggestions on what’s missing or untold. Finally, perhaps, a request for pages and a chance at an agent.

I last Speed Dated in 2011 at SFWC. I was stuck on my debut novel project and I needed the lift of an agent’s request. It was a rainy President’s Day weekend and I had a lot to learn. The most important thing I needed to learn, that year, was whether my novel sounded interesting. I wanted enough interest to carry my work beyond a book and into a life as a product.

We pitch like that, three minutes at a time, because authors seek the powers of their stories. You believe in the book’s promise, for months or years at a time when no one knows the potential. We might find allies in our belief, though. A development editor, a mentor who’s published books, or a lean team of beta readers—they help us carry our dreamy books forward. Our book grows enough that we feel an agent or a publisher will see the powers as fuel. Those pages, revised over time, make a book that sells to readers.

Our peril and our thrill

The perils of pitching are always in front of us. The raw thrill of the frightening minutes while we sum up years of work—those spark our fright. Will they love it and connect to see more? The best you can hope for in a pitch is a request to read your book. The request is more likely because of the in-person pitch. Your fear is that you learn that the story needs work, so a request isn’t offered. You return to your desk and face revision. Perhaps alone, perhaps not.

This weekend may bring me a request, or I might fly home with a handful of “not for me” replies. We take this risk, given enough time and work, to become more than writers. The pitching is what makes us an author, of any kind. You’ll pitch your book the rest of your life, in meetings with agents or publishers. Even with a publishing contract, you still pitch. You face the work of getting the book discovered by readers and clubs and beyond.

You may need help at some point during your innings pitching from the mound. At that moment when the bell rings this weekend for me, I’ll be powered by deep beta reports and months of revisions. This is the life of letters that chose me, after I started with a dream and drive. I’ll need luck as well as pluck. The belief will come from the heart. Always, there are allies to help the dream come true.

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