Monday, August 12, 2013

Preparing for a Writers Conference: One Sheets, Business Cards & Pitching

With the ACFW Conference less than five weeks away, I'm busy preparing for the meetings, classes and networking I'll be doing while there.

For an unpublished author, pitching appointments are at the top of my preparation list. Everything else pales in comparison when I start to think about pitching. We can never start practicing and preparing for these important meetings too soon.

Three areas I'm preparing right now are one sheets (or pitch sheets), business cards and practicing my actual pitch.

One Sheets. When I start to prepare for my pitching appointments, the first place I start is with my one sheet. This is the piece of paper I'll place in front of the editor when I sit down to pitch. Here's mine from last year (modified with my agent's info for this year):

On my one sheet I have my story question (or hook), an image that represents my story, my picture, the "back cover copy," information about the book's length, genre and series potential, and my bio. Last year the bottom contained my contact info, but this year it contains my agent's info.

I feel that this one sheet captures the essence of my writing and I've received some great feedback on it from my agent. Make sure your one sheet does the same.

Last year I took Beth Vogt's advice and organized a pitching folder. You can watch her great vlog here. Since she does such a fabulous job explaining pitch folders, and how to have a successful pitching appointment, I won't go into too many details. But I want to share what I felt worked really well about her advice.

My pitching folder from last year

I bought three sturdy folders and placed my one sheet on the left, my full book proposal on the right (including the five page synopsis and first three chapters of my novel), as well as my business card in the little slots on the bottom left. When I sat down for my pitch appointments I took out my one sheet and placed it on the top of the folder. It was great to have the pitch sheet ready to give to the editors when they extended their hands. I based my pitch on the "back cover copy" and if I needed to, I could easily look at it for reference if I forgot my words.

Having everything together in one place came in handy when an agent--who I talked to in the hallway before a meal--ask for my entire folder.

Business Cards. I discovered business cards were mostly used to connect with other writers. When I came home from ACFW last year I had dozen and dozens of business cards from people I met. It was a great way to gather contact information. The editors I talked to didn't take my one sheets, but they did take my business cards.

Here's what my business cards looked like last year, with modifications for this year:

I tried to make my business card and one sheet look similar. (I included my personal phone and address on the original, but deleted it for this blog post.) My best advice is to make sure you put your picture on your card! This will help people put a face with your name later on.

At the conference be sure to have these card easily accessible! You'll find yourself exchanging cards all the time.

Pitching. Ah, pitching. I admit, I was very nervous to pitch my story last year (and nervous to pitch again this year!). But I learned a few things before I went to the conference, and I learned a few things while I was there, that have put my nerves to rest...a little bit.

First, practice, practice, practice! Practice in front of the mirror, practice with a friend or family member, and practice while you're doing household chores. It's hard to condense a 100,000 word story into a two or three minute pitch (because that's about how long it should take you)--but you can do it! You want to hook the agent or editor in the first thirty seconds and then keep them hooked for the next few minutes. After that, hopefully they want to know more and they'll ask.

Start with a great story question. Last year I asked: Can breaking someone's heart be the ultimate act of love? Both times the editors raised their brows and said: "Can it?" This year I'm going to ask: Can best friends compete for the same lady--and remain friends?

Here's a great tip: register for the Pitch & Promotion Seminar with My Book Therapy taking place before the ACFW Conference. It was the best thing I've done for my writing career. You can see the promotional video I made for the seminar here.

In the video I talk about how the Pitch & Promotion Seminar helped me land an agent!

One thing that surprised me about pitching was how it was actually done. It's hard to imagine what it will be like, so I thought I'd explain it as best as I can. First, you show up for your scheduled meeting about fifteen minutes early and wait in the waiting area with a lot of other very nervous people. :)You're told to be quiet, since meetings are taking place close by.

People are talking quietly together, encouraging and praying for one another. A few minutes before your scheduled time, the coordinator with call all the writers to one place and explain what will happen. There is a long hallway with many meeting rooms. You will be told where your agent/editor is waiting.

A minute before you go into your appointment a whole group of other people will be exiting the meeting rooms, done with their appointments. Then the coordinator will tell you to find your meeting room--quietly. At this point, you walk down a long hallway with about fifty other people. It kind of feels like you're being herded!

The meeting room is well lit (I say this, because for some reason, when I imagined my pitching appointments before last year, I imagined sitting at a table in a dark room with a large light shining directly on my face...) :). There are about five or six small tables set up in the room, with two chairs at each table, directly across from one another. There will be name tags on their tables so you know which person to go to. The agent or editor will be sitting on one side and you'll take the chair on the other. Hopefully they are smiling at you when you walk in! :) You sit down, with a smile on your face, and take a deep breath. Remember there are about a dozen other people in the room talking, so don't let their chatter distract you.

My first editor started by introducing herself and asked me to tell her a little about myself. This immediately set me at ease. I love talking about my home and family. After that, we launched into my pitch. The second editor greeted me with a handshake and told me to tell her about my story.

My first pitching appointment! The editor had this lovely smile
the entire time I talked to her. She put me at ease and asked
great questions about my writing.
Five minutes before your time is up the time keeper will come into the room and say: "Five minutes left" or something like that. My first appointment I used my entire time, the second one I finished with a minute or two to spare, but I felt like everything had been accomplished and I said my goodbye. Both editors asked for my manuscript, so I felt good!

There is nothing I can say that will magically prepare you for the conference. It takes a lot of time, hard work and determination--but you can do it! Remember that you are the expert concerning your story and that God has called you to write it--no one else. Don't forget to be confident, yet humble. Try to put your nerves in their proper place. God gave you these nerves to keep you alert and conscious of your performance, but if you let them have too much control they can work against you.

And last, but not least in any way, pray, pray, pray. If God has called you to it, He'll walk you through it. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).

Your turn: What makes you the most nervous about pitching? If you've pitched before, tell us about it. If you have any advice about one sheets or business cards, I'd love to hear it.


  1. This is so helpful, thank you. I'm going to bookmark it. I wish I were going this year, but I'm not quite ready. I hope for next year. [It makes me a little nervous just reading about it]. Many prayers for all of you going this year!

    1. The last thing I want to do is make people nervous! I actually enjoyed pitching very much. It's such a different experience. My hope is that by sharing I can put people at ease, because they know what to expect! I hope you can come next year, Lisa!

  2. Great conference post, Gabe! I need to be ordering new business cards, so I liked seeing your design. :) Thanks for the extra shout-out about the MBT pitching seminar, too. It's such a helpful experience.

    Probably the thing I was most nervous about in pitching was simply that I'd stumble all over my words and not explain my story well. (Which makes me extra thankful for MBT training--helped me avoid that!) But thankfully, I had mostly great experiences helps to remember agents/editors are people too. :)

    1. Yes! And it was helpful for me to learn that agents and editors have to also pitch! Agents pitch to editors on behalf of their clients and editors have to pitch to pub boards when they want to acquire a story. They know how it feels to be in our shoes!

  3. I just kind of got nervous again reading your post. Haha. Overall, I had decent pitching experiences last year. I did have one editor who was very nonresponsive. I pitched my book and she didn't really give me feedback, just told me I should get an agent. :P When I tried to probe for more feedback, I didn't really get any. But I feel like I did my best and didn't embarrass myself, which was the goal for that first year. This year, I'd love to land some requests!

    One tip is that it helps so much to have friends there when you go in for your appt and stay until you leave. That way, you know someone is there praying for you the whole time. It put me at ease for sure.

    1. I found there is a fine balance in writing about this subject. I want to encourage people and put them at ease, but the truth is that everyone who pitches is going to get nervous. It's natural to feel that way. What I hope to do is give people tools and hope! Pitching is a lot of fun.

      Yes!!! Knowing there are friends waiting outside the meeting rooms praying for you is a HUGE comfort! Thank you for being one of those friends, Lindsay!

  4. Awesome post! Thought of those first two times I pitched at ACFW. One of the best gifts my new friends gave me was asking me at random times for my elevator pitch. Forced me to get comfortable with it! And about the one sheet, less is more. Make it readable and friendly to the eyes and focus only on one book.

    I can relate to Lindsay's comment about the blank stare "get an agent" response. Don't let those moments discourage you. Although I left one appointment my first year and cried my eyes out. After a deep breath and hubby's voice on the other end of the line, I went back in there and ended up meeting my agent that night. So you never know how things will work out. Just be yourself, and don't forget to ask people about themselves too. It's a conversation, after all. And I think editors and agents appreciate a break from listening all day long. :)


    p.s. On a side note, don't put your address or phone number on your business card. You can always share that info later if a person contacts you via email and you decide they're safe to know where you live. Just sayin… :)

    1. Great advice, Raj! I especially love the wisdom of making the pitch a conversation. With one of the editors I pitched to, I discovered she grew up in a tiny town in the middle of Iowa--one I was actually familiar with! I think she might have been a little impressed--the town is tiny! But I knew about it because I lived a couple miles away from there when my husband was going to school in Iowa. We had a great conversation. That's why I left my appointments feeling good. It was fun!

      Conferences can feel like emotional roller coasters, but it's good to remember that our dream agent or editor might be one or two conversations away. Thanks for sharing your hard earned wisdom.

  5. It was so good to hear a step by step explanation of what happens! It takes some of the fear away, for sure!

    I have to know...who took that picture of you while pitching? ;)

    1. Sherrinda, I think it was the conference photographer. I really don't know! I was so involved in this meeting that I didn't even notice that someone was taking our picture!! It was a wonderful surprise when the editor in this picture emailed it to me.

  6. Such an informative post, Gabe -- and I'm so glad my "pitch folder" helped you during the ACFW conference last year!
    Lots and lots of good info here -- but most of all I love your positive attitude and your willingness to help others by sharing what you've learned.

    1. Thank YOU for your help, Beth! I know I have a lot more to learn, but if I can help one or two people feel more prepared and confident I'll be happy. Can't wait to see you in a few more weeks!

  7. Gabe, such a fun and informative post! And great advice about the one sheet and business cards! (And yes! Absolutely want to have a photo of oneself on the card. So helpful to editors and authors when it comes to remembering folks they connect with.) I do list an address on my cards, as well as my social media sites, but it's my business addy which is a PO Box in a completely different town from where I live.

    My pitching sessions last year were fun, too. :) I had requests from both and they immediately put me at ease. Thankfully! :)

    (An awkward moment? When a young lady "pitched" her project to me while at dinner one night. (I think she saw my Books and Such client ribbon and perhaps thought I was an agent... It was a great pitch though. :)

    1. Cynthia that is hilarious!! Did you correct the girl? Or ask for her manuscript? :) I have a feeling you're a natural at pitching. Can't wait to see you soon. I'm so excited that we'll be roomies!

  8. Fabulous conference post, Gabrielle! All the basics. I love your one sheet.

  9. You know, Gabe, I didn't correct her...because it didn't dawn on me who she thought I was until after she left the table. I just thought she was drawn to my bubbly personality! haha

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