Learning to Pitch

Pitch is an interesting word.

Pitch means everything from a black substance like tar to the sticky residue from a pine tree. It can refer to the property of a sound (high or low pitch). Pitch can also refer to the movement of a ship or the slope of a roof. And if you are British, you might be playing cricket on a field, better known as a pitch.  As a verb, to pitch means to throw (a ball) or to fall (he pitched forward). One is something you learn. Learning to pitch. The other is something you avoid!

So why the sudden interest in Pitch?

I am going to a Pitch Conference! Pitch, as in the business sense of the word, to make a bid for a contract.

The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis is hosting the two-day Pitch Conference. It’s open to writers who have completed a manuscript. Hannah Tinti will be the keynote speaker. AND over twenty-five agents from around the U.S. will be coming, too. They are coming to teach and to acquire. Meaning, they will be teaching us how to give a pitch and then, later, each attending person will have several pitch sessions with agents.

What is a Pitch?

A pitch session is a five to ten-minute period of time with a literary agent. It’s basically an oral version of a query letter. An agent will ask me, “So, what are you writing about?” And I will give a response which should be articulate, insightful, interesting, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and … etc, and will include my book’s genre, word count, title, setting, protagonist, main conflict, and resolution. All within a minute or two. Oh, and don’t forget to tell the agent a little about yourself, your bio, and where this story came from.

Mission Impossible. 

Going to a pitch conference is one of the scariest things I’ve done in ages. I mean, I’ve been writing this book for a couple of years, and it’s 86,000 words, and now I have to sum it up in two paragraphs and garner the interest of a person who listens to pitches for a living.

Web advice says: 

  • Don’t bore the agent by saying too much.
  • Don’t confuse the agent by saying too little.
  • Don’t be so detailed that the agent’s eyes glaze over.
  • Have it down pat.
  • Don’t sound canned.
  • Don’t be shy.
  • Relax!

Sometimes, I hate the web. 

Web advice also says: 

  • Be calm and be confident because no matter what happens, you win:
  • If the agent requests your material, you have someone excited to check out your story.
  • If the agent doesn’t request your material, you get the rare opportunity to ask why and improve your pitch for the next time around.

Sometimes, I love the web.

Right now I’m reading book jackets and studying how authors (with books I love) summarize their stories.

Here are a couple examples of brilliant book summaries.

  • When Breath Become Air, by Paul Kalanithi At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student possessed as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.


  • Half a Life, by Darin Strauss Darin Strauss examines the far-reaching consequences of the tragic moment that has shadowed his whole life. In his last month of high school, he was behind the wheel of his dad’s Oldsmobile, driving with friends, heading off to play mini-golf. Then: a classmate swerved in front of his car. The collision resulted in her death. With piercing insight and stark prose, Darin Strauss lead us on a deeply personal, immediate, and emotional journey—graduating high school, going away to college, starting his writing career, falling in love with his future wife, becoming a father. Along the way, he takes a hard look at loss and guilt, maturity and accountability, hope and, at last, acceptance.


  • The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
    Recent Le Cordon Bleu graduate, Kathleen Flinn watched a woman load her grocery cart with expensive, ultra-processed foods and asked her why. The answer was simple: She didn’t know how to cook. Inspired, Flinn persuaded nine “hopeless” cooks to let her reorganize their kitchen and teach them the basic skills they needed to have confidence in the kitchen.
    With practical cooking tips and simple recipes, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School proves that you don’t have to be a domestic goddess or spend a lot of money to enjoy healthy, easy, homemade meals. Flinn’s warm and inspiring call-to-cook will transform the way that you and your family eat.

Pitching Practice

Besides studying book summaries, I’m reading query letters and rewriting mine. And rewriting it again. I’m writing my pitch. And rewriting it.

Hopefully, in the next week or two, I’ll start practicing it orally. If so, beware. I’ll be accosting people on the street. “I’m writing a book. It’s about …” If you see me, you can run and hide. I give you permission. Or, if you’re feeling brave, just walk up to me and ask. “So, what are you writing about these days?”

Hopefully, I’ll be over my jitters by the time the conference begins. Hopefully, I’ll know what the heck I’m talking about. Hopefully, I won’t bore the agent to death or die of embarrassment. I tell you what. Being a writer is the wildest job ever. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

 Photo credits to the delightful and talented Kris Kandel.

Jill Kandel
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