PITCHFEST – One writer’s experience

Pitch Instructions
Part of ITW's Instructions on How To Pitch


The article below is a guest post by Deb Merino about what it is like to pitch at Pitchfest - the ITW event held right before Thrillerfest where authors can pitch to fifty or more editors and agents.


The dreaded pitchfest…at least that's what I used to think. 

I've pitched at Thrillerfest three times. Now I no longer dread it—I embrace it. 

Where else are you going to have the opportunity to personally pitch your novel to over fifty of the best agents and editors in the business? Some of these agents are not generally open to submissions, so this is your "foot in the door" moment. Even if they are open to queries, Pitchfest gives you an opportunity to attach a personality (hopefully a pleasant one) to your name.  

A few weeks before attending Thrillerfest,  I printed out the list of agents and editors that would be there and researched the types of books they published. This gave me a list of about ten agents and editors that I thought would be interested in my manuscript.

Then I refined my pitch. By “refined”, I also mean I obsessed over it. The pitch can be defined as your elevator speech, a few sentences that define your story. People have different ideas about how to pitch. When I Googled "How to pitch your book," 4.45 million results were generated. You need to find what feels natural to you and what fits your story. If you can give your pitch conversationally, that's great. But don't be afraid to carry a cheat sheet. I certainly do. I practiced my pitch with my fellow pitchees the night before. The one thing everyone needed to do was shorten their pitches. Start off with a hook and you can fill in additional details through conversation with the agent. 

The day of Pitchfest, I took about an hour of quiet time in my room before the event. I ate lunch because I knew if I didn't I'd be tired and starving and not at my best toward the end. I put my feet up, because I knew I'd be on them for three hours. Shoe choice is paramount. 

I selected a simple dress, business attire. Whatever you do, do not dress as one of your characters. Yes, I've seen it. You will be remembered, but not in the way you'd like. I practiced my pitch a few more times out loud. 

Before I headed downstairs, I brushed my teeth. You'd be surprised how many people in the lines had bad breath. Pack mints and share. 

Prior to the start of Pitchfest, all attendees form a single file line upstairs. You'd think it was the line to get into Best Buy on Black Friday. Once downstairs there are shorter lines for each agent or editor. Don't fret if you are not in the front of the stampede. I was toward the end, but the agents were still all there and just as receptive.  

Even though I'd pitched before, I was still a little nervous. I made a point of not pitching my dream agent first. I pitched someone else, and once I felt more confident, I pitched the agent at the top of my list.

In total I pitched seven agents and one editor. Everyone I met with was very kind. Two agents declined to ask for my pages. If an agent doesn't connect with your work, don't take it personally. I admit, it's a bit of a downer, but you want someone who is passionate about your story. 

I also went to the "No pitch zone" during the event and met with the great Jeff Kleinman. Within five minutes he helped me re-configure and improve my pitch. It took time away from pitching, but I believe it was worth it. I do wish that they had provided this opportunity the day prior.

Less than two weeks after Pitchfest, I sent each agent what they asked for (whether partial or full), in the form they requested.

That last step is the most important. All the work preparing to pitch is worthless if your manuscript isn’t ready. That is, beta read, professionally edited, and polished, more times than I'd ever believed was necessary. I'm not saying you must run out and hire a professional editor. But edit, edit, edit. Then edit some more. If you aren't ready to vomit at the sight of your manuscript, you’re not ready to submit. Trust me on this. I've sent my manuscript off in the past when it wasn't ready and all I heard was crickets. 

This year my manuscript was as good as I could make it. So I’ve sent it out, and now I wait.

But while I’m waiting, I’m hard at work on my next project, so I can pitch it next year. 

Deb Merino



Deborah Merino

Deb writes suspense novels. She is also a strong animal advocate and her passion can be felt within the themes and characters of her novels. Her novel, Scratch Line, has finaled in numerous Romance Writer's of America chapter contests, including the Orange Rose, Marlene, Catherine, Cleveland Rocks, and Golden Rose.