Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Problem With Pitching

“You must learn to pitch” is a commonly heard mantra in the publishing industry. I’m not going to be so disingenuous as to suggest that a writer doesn’t need to pitch well. If you can write a compelling story in 100,000 words, you dang well better be able to say a sentence or two that makes people want to read those words. Boy Howdy, you betcha!

But beware of buying into the fallacy that pitching is the Be All and End All of a writer’s career.

Ty Cobb probably knew how to pitch a baseball, but that’s not why he’s remembered. Pitching didn’t make him great. Knocking the ball into next week is what made him a legend.

On more occasions than I care to remember, I have gotten a writing job because someone else lobbed the publisher or producer a heckuva pitch—

And then choked when it came time to deliver.

Usually those writing gigs end up being Top Sekrit Ghost Projekts that I can only talk about in the vaguest of terms because – really – it’s just bad form to go around saying things like “I got this job only because Writer A can’t write her way out of a paper bag" or "If Writer X hadn't choked when it counted and turned in drivel that would embarrass a kindergartener, I wouldn't be here."

A pitch is an idea.
It needs a writer to make it live.
You see, it's one thing to be able to say a few glowing sentences and get people excited about a project's potential. In fact, being able to get people SO excited that they are willing to pony up real, cashable checks, payable to you, just on the basis of those few sentences is a special talent. Frankly, it's a talent I wish I had.

I don't. (More on that in my next blog post, tentatively titled "How to Get a Book Deal When You Suck at Pitching.")

Instead, I have something else: the ability to actually create a book or script that takes the idea of a pitch and turn it into real words on a page.

"You can't copyright an idea" is a famous Real World truism.

Another is "you can't publish (or produce) a pitch."

The problem with pitching is too many writers feel that once they've successfully lobbed the idea at the Dealmakers, then their job is done. In reality, it has only just begun.

To quote literary agent Scott Eagan:"You can have a rocking query but if the writing sucks, then the writing sucks." Granted, Mr. Eagan wrote that line in a post about the importance of writing a great query letter (or pitch), but there is no escaping the fact that the best query in the world won't mask the travesty of a manuscript that doesn't deliver.

The problem with pitching is that some writers have spent too much time practicing their salesmanship instead of perfecting their craft. They are then shocked - shocked! - to discover that when it's time to deliver the heat, they strike out. What they thought was a kickass fastball doesn't have enough juice to carry it over the plate.

"You must learn to pitch" is very true. I don't dispute that for a second. But if you don't first learn to write -- and write WELL -- then you're going to strike out long before you hit the major leagues.


Gale Martin said...

Very nice post, Ami, and well written! I'd like to feature your blog next month on my author blog. I'd also like to do an author Q&A. Let me know if interested. XO

Unknown said...

At this point in my very short writing career, I can't imagine pitching a book that I haven't already written and I'm confident in. I guess that's because I'm terrified of failing to meet expectations. Looking forward to your next post!

Ami Hendrickson said...

Gale: I'm honored. Of course I'd love to be featured & to do a Q & A w/ you. You da best! (BTW: Wait till you see where MY vacation pic of "Don Juan" is taken. ;P)

Brianna: If only more writers, regardless of where they are on the career ladder, felt the way you do.

Pitching something and knowing you can deliver is one thing. Some -- especially non-fiction writers who are experts in their fields -- can do that and do it well. But pitching an idea for fiction and expecting it to be SO GOOD that it magically creates a manuscript with merit on its own is all too common.

Keep on keeping on! Good luck with your writing!

Jodi Lea Stewart said...

Hear! Hear! Writers...listen to this sage advice! What good is the steam if the tea is tasteless?