This post will cover my personal experience pitching at the conference to provide you with a snapshot of what you might experience and how it's set up. I basically put all of it in there in case someone is looking for one specific part of the experience, so feel free to skip and skim!
First, let's go to the day before my pitch. I hadn't signed up for a pitch in advance, as I hadn't been sure I'd be finished editing in time. I wasn't sure how pitches worked, and was afraid my only options if unfinished would be to either pitch an incomplete manuscript or to bow out and possibly have them know my name and that I was a no-show. Neither of those sounded great. However, as I learned more, I found that I would have been able to turn my pitch in at the desk so someone else could take it, and that the agent or editor I was going to pitch to would not know I had bowed out. Fortunately, this also brought me the news that I could put myself on a wait list and hope some other poor sucker turned in their pitch appointment.
On Friday (the day before), I walked past the pitch desk and, having learned about this wait list, fought back the rise of panic that welled up the very second that I even started considering putting my name on that list. I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other and approach the desk, because I was afraid I wouldn't do it if I didn't do it right that second. Without this even being my pitch, I was stumbling over my words and trying to figure out how to formulate a question/request that would get me on the wait list. I was told there were actually openings for one of the editors, but I was worried about taking it because she didn't specifically say she worked with my genre, though she also didn't say she didn't. I took the appointment, but requested that my name be put on the wait list, just in case one of my preferences should open up. She noted down my name and the names of the people I felt would be a better fit, instructed me to come back after 5pm (it was about 8:30am at that point).
When I came back at 5pm, I was handed a card with one of my choices and told that I was one of only a couple people who had successfully gotten their preferences from the pitch list. Woo-hoo! Oh crap.
Instead of staying and hanging out with the other writers at the end of the day, I went home and set about making a change to the first page of my manuscript according to a comment at the Read & Critique I'd attended that day. I then sat and typed up a little bit of information to read as a refresher, along with my pitch. Though I didn't use the three log lines exactly as set out, they did serve as a good basis for what I needed to address. I did not repeatedly practice my pitch, because I know myself, and know that I will do far better if I just make it up as I go along, though a guide I've looked over helps. That guide and the first page of my manuscript printed up, I went to bed.
On Saturday, every workshop I attended was overshadowed by this constant buzz in my head. I probably took in far less than I otherwise would have. As I walked between workshops, I would go over the basics of my book. My pitch wasn't until after lunch and the author signing time, so I had plenty of time to stew. 2:40pm was pitch time.
After lunch, I went to the signing. J.A. Kazimer and John Hart were awesome and gave me pep talks. People who knew I was pitching came to wish me good luck. I went into the bathroom to...well...go to the bathroom, for one. I heard someone come into the next stall and say they were just making a quick trip to the bathroom before they went upstairs to take pitches. I was thinking how funny it would be if that were the person I was seeing.
When I came out of the stall and went to the sink, she followed soon after. Sure enough, it was the person I was pitching to! So I'm standing at the sink, primping, and she is directly next to me. I fixed my makeup, brushed my hair and proceeded to get out my toothbrush. We actually traded a few words, but I wasn't sure if it would be tacky to tell her I was one of her next pitchers, so I kept mum. I did at least wait to brush my teeth until she left.
After she left, someone who knew I was pitching, but wasn't sure if I'd already done it, came in. She asked about it and I told her I was on my way up. An agent in the bathroom asked me who I was pitching to and, when I told her, she told me how nice that editor was and that I would have fun. She gave me a great pep talk, as well, which was helpful coming from one of the people who would be taking pitches in the same room. Her name was Denise Little, by the way, and she seems like she would be a great agent to work with! She was very nice and professional in the workshops she participated in.
It wasn't quite time to head upstairs yet, so I went and paced around the elevator lobby for awhile, refreshing my cell phone clock over and over because I wanted to be sure not to be late. As the time drew nearer, I went to get a glass of water and stopped to ask Chris Mandeville, president of Pikes Peak Writer's, if she thought it would be tacky if I took the glass of water upstairs. She assured me that it wouldn't, which was good, because my mouth had already gone dry and I was pretty sure the pitchee didn't speak bushman (I could be wrong).
Finally, glass in hand, I stepped into the elevator and hit the magic number seven. When I stepped off the elevator, a table was facing me right there in the little elevator lobby. A writer I had met in the Thursday classes, Stacy Jensen, was working the pitch desk, which worked as a bit of a reassurance. There were a bunch of other writers sitting around the room, looking nervous as could be, sort of like me.
There was one group before mine, so when they went in I found a chair and watched the group previous to theirs filter out. Only one person gave a positive sign, which was nerve wracking in itself. Everyone else walked out almost stone-faced and went straight down the elevator. Did they all get denied? Or had their brains shutdown in the aftermath of the adrenaline bath they had experienced going in? Hopefully it was the latter.
Several of us joked around nervously and waited until Stacy came over and called our names. We followed her out of the elevator lobby and down the hallway, doors to rooms all around us. I wondered how their occupants felt about the constant groups of chittering (you know, chattering, but a bit more high pitched due to panic) people coming through all day. We lined up in front of a closed set of double doors and waited again.
Finally, those double doors opened and people began flooding out. I saw the person I was pitching to right inside the doors and slapped on a smile and met her eyes. (It would be weird to avoid her eyes then walk up to her, right?). This time we got several thumbs up and one person did a little victory dance right there in the hall, though away from the view of those inside the room, so that was more reassuring than the stone faces that had previously faced us.
Now it was our turn. We filtered in the doors, everyone moving to their tables. I walked up and reached out a hand, shaking her hand and introducing myself (I didn't forget my name, woot!). I mentioned that I had spoken to her in the bathroom, but hadn't known if it would be tacky to introduce myself down there. She said she remembered me and that it would have been just fine if I had introduced myself. During this exchange, I sat down and placed my bag on the floor next to me, my cup on the table between us (she had a soda, so it was all good). She introduced herself and asked me about my book, so I just started talking about the basics and then paused. She asked me for more information, including the genre, the target audience, my primary character, etc. (to be perfectly honest, I don't remember all the questions, as I had that adrenaline thing going). I answered her questions and she said she'd like to see it. Remembering my wonderful training, I asked how she'd like it submitted and how much. She asked for one of my cards and wrote her email address on the back of it, asking for the first three chapters and a synopsis. She told me not to bore her (yikes!). That is still cycling through my head.
Well, that was about two minutes down. Now what?
She asked me what kind of books I read, so I listed a bunch I'd read in the last few weeks. She liked that I read in different genres, and asked about one of the books I'd listed (The Marbury Lens). We talked about that, and then I brought up something I had seen on her website that had interested me and we talked about that. She asked about my children and recommended books for my six-year old son, as he devours chapter books at this point in time. We were actually still chatting when we were given the one-minute warning, so that was good.
In the end, I once again offered my hand, thanked her and said goodbye. I walked right past the people in the hall, running the information through my head, and completely forgot to say anything to them to reassure them as I'd intended to. Once out in the elevator lobby, I spoke with someone else who had gone in at the same time and we were actually able to give some positive sign to those in the lobby. It wasn't until I stepped into the elevator that I realized I hadn't said anything to the people in the hall, and I felt bad, but hey, I was still swirling inside my head and there was nothing I could do about it now, so I wished the people in the lobby good luck before the doors swished shut and I was delivered back to the main lobby, where I went and chugged MORE water. By the way, I never drank the darn thing while at the pitch, but I drank it leading up to it, so it worked anyway.
And that's that. I took a couple days to go over it all again, and to break my synopsis down the way I'd learned in one of the workshops. I then closed my eyes and hit "send." It was amazing how panicky I got in those few seconds before clicking that button, though. It was almost a relief to be done with that part of it.
And now I wait.
I almost forgot about the woman who did an elevator pitch of sorts. We had just finished lunch on Friday and the agent she'd desperately wanted to pitch to came our way while she was standing there. She joked about how she should block her way because she wanted so badly to pitch to her, but couldn't get an appointment. To my surprise, the agent said, "So pitch to me."
(Picture me standing there gaping, eyes bulging from my head, because that's how I figure I looked).
They went out into the hall and sat on one of the benches. Sure enough, she got a "send."
I don't think I could ever do this, because I'd be worried about being rude and intrusive, but if you've got the cojones, know that it's possible.