Oral Pleasure – The Verbal Pitch
by Alex Schumacher
Welcome back to another enthralling edition of your favorite depraved writing column, Bread Crumbs from the Void! This week, dear readers, I happen to be gearing up for a trek to the untamed wilds of that annual geek convergence in San Diego: the Comic Con. By ten o’clock Friday morning I will be nipples deep in a swath of fanboys enveloping me with their profuse B.O., unmitigated virginal libidos, and obscure facts regarding Babylon 5 or JJ Abrams. Lord, give me strength.
While I did begin attending the now mythic gathering as another fan of the floppies, I was anointed a verified “professional” as of 2013. My first graphic novel The Unemployment Adventures of Aqualung was a newly christened ‘indie book to watch out for’ and I believed my proverbial star to be on the rise. I was a starry-eyed half-wit salivating at the thought of literary stardom, not unlike many of you miscreant rubes currently reading this article. Allow me to be the first to disabuse you of any such notions in today’s publishing climate. In the event you are fortunate enough to even have a publisher allow you to sniff their panties and publish a first book, it will categorically fail to launch you into any sort of celebrity or meritorious stratosphere.
Believe it, pumpkin.
Over the last four years I retreated to lick my wounds, completely altered the trajectory and focus of my career, and return to the dork summit this year armed with a brand new graphic novel to pimp. However, I now face an entirely different hurtle: The verbal pitch. My agent and I will be meeting with editors from several venerable publishers and during such interactions I will have roughly 10-15 minutes to regale them with my roman a clef stylings, fondle them inappropriately, and secure their interest in procuring my book. That is quite a tall fucking order, right?
The simple answer is: Yes, it is a tall fucking order. It is not an entirely unassailable one. To this end, I have pored over the annals of information available on the topic. I have spoken at length with my editor on DECADES OF (in)EXPERIENCE and my agent regarding the specifics of the black art of the elevator pitch. What follows is a summation of my findings thus far, presented in chewable form for those of you ducklings who find dense information challenging to swallow.
In-person or verbal pitch sessions are a great opportunity for you to whore yourself and your writing. This intimate scenario offers you the unique opportunity to shed your digital penitentiary and impress — or more than likely fucking repulse — either an agent or editor. These are the gatekeepers to the magical land of publishing you are currently attempting to penetrate. If you emit the stink of desperation, or worse yet inexperience, you will have already screwed the Doberman.
No pressure though, kiddies.
It is at this juncture that I will elucidate the two most corpulent obstacles wedged between you and an immaculate verbal pitch: nerves and lack of preparedness. 90% of the work for a strong elevator pitch is done well before you are in close enough quarters to have your nose hairs singed by your target’s steamy lunchtime kielbasa belches. If you put in the concerted effort to have all of your tattered ducks in a row you are that much more likely to refrain from making a complete asshole of yourself. A few of the more integral components to prioritize are:
I will not sugarcoat the reality of the situation. Pitching is stomach-churning and nerve-wracking. It does get easier the more you do it, but this requires incalculable hours in the fold. To be fair, most nerves are caused by a dearth of confidence. Such a condition stems from either being ill-at-ease with the material or the cognizance to recognize your ramblings simply sucks ass through a bendy straw. If you are convinced it is not the latter, and wish to appear as unclenched as possible in the midst of your pitch, you should prepare it at the VERY least one week ahead of time.
One other tip is to practice it daily. Out loud. Pitch to your significant other, your grandmother, your dog. Pitch to the ice cream man, the mail lady, or your preferred exotic dancer. Pitch to anyone or anything that will provide a rapt audience with which to gain comfort in your approach and verbiage. Do this until your pitch haunts your god-damn dreams. Do this until your face turns purple and atrophies. Your objective is to cultivate a truncated, demotic, beguiling representation of your deformed brainchild.
Great Taste, Less Filling
Now that your comprehension regarding the legwork necessary before the actual pitch commences has marginally improved, I will ration the basic ingredients and recipe for the story casserole you want to serve up piping hot to those ravenous carnivores in the industry.
Keep in mind the portion encapsulating your story should only be 2-3 minutes long, MAX. Bloviated diatribes detailing every single aspect of your speculative BDSM romantic comedy will only cause an editor or agent’s eyes to glaze over and attention to divert. There is absolutely no need to expose all the intricacies of your plot and idiosyncrasies of your characters during this first date. It is said that satisfaction is the death of desire, so keep the chastity belts locked tight! At least for the time being.
Your introduction can include your name, publishing history, etc., but be mindful to keep this curt. If your pitch and story are an unmitigated disaster, no editor or agent will give two shits that you had an experimental short story published by the Atlantic in the fall of ’97. A killer opening is customized to be short and catchy, a few pithy sentences that describe your novel in the most compelling and titillating manner possible. Hook the prospective junkies with that first intense taste of literary heroin and then reel them back for the next fix!
The body of your verbal pitch should describe your book in a bit more detail, but again rein in your tendencies toward expounding ad nauseam. I am certain you lust for the mellifluous sound of your own voice and are enthusiastic, perhaps even intoxicated, by your own creativity and brilliance. This is a conversation though, not a fucking academic lecture. Specifically in the course of an initial encounter, authenticity and passion will always eclipse minutiae and trivialities.
For a tangible example, here is how I structured my verbal pitch:
Pare down the characters you include to one or two of the main protagonist/antagonists. Hinting at additional characters and/or plotlines is fine, so long as you are adhering to the eradication of any and all labyrinthine entanglements. The point at this stage is to avoid convolution. An editor or agent will appreciate the courtesy you are extending in foreswearing the need to bore them any more than contractually obligated.
When you have blown your wad, be prepared to answer a number of questions if the editor or agent is interested. Your ability to field the queries will display your intimate relationship to your work, which is one in a cornucopia of reasons I iterate the importance of having a completed work before even thinking of scheduling pitch meetings. If you are lucky, and have managed to avoid fucking up the pitch entirely, the editor or agent will request a portion of your book to read. At this point there is no harm in clarifying precisely what they are asking for – would they like to read the first few chapters or the entire manuscript?
Most likely the interaction will conclude with absent stares and unenthused grunts. Either way, exchange business cards and contact information, thank them (even if it may be disingenuous), and gear up for the next pitch!
As always, if you would like to hear me elaborate a bit more on my own process, you can find links to a couple of interviews conducted recently with me on my website at: https://alexschumacherart.com/about/. Drop me a line from the contact page if you have any other questions, complaints, insults, or declarations of lust.
Bread Crumbs from the Void will return in two weeks with another thrilling edition of hard-nosed reality for you big-talkers and wannabes. Until next time, keep scribbling you freaks.
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