Conference Series: Pitching & Promotion

Welcome to the Conference Series Workblog, Day 2. (Link to Day 1)

Self-promotion is one of the many possible reasons for attending a writing conference. Although the possibilities are endless, I’m going to discuss three primary tactics to achieve this goal: Pitching, Freebies, and Volunteering.


The first thing I’d like to do is debunk a myth.

Pitching–aka, enticing an agent or editor to request full or part of your manuscript through a physical meeting and verbal story description–is not “just for newbies” or “just for unpublished authors”. Pitching, (a verbal alternative to querying, which we can discuss at a later date,) is for any author in need of an editor and/or agent. I have an unagented friend whose first and only published book went out of print several years ago. You can find a used copy of the book on Amazon. You can find my friend pitching at conferences.

The second thing I’d like to do is offer an analogy.

Imagine, if you will, that you are at a video store with your spouse or sibling or best friend (hereafter: Alice). There’s a movie out that you really, really, really want to watch. (For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s The Princess Bride.) Alice–a serious movielover–has never heard of it. You’ve forgotten your purse/wallet at home, and Alice has kindly offered to pay for the movie herself–IF you can convince her the movie you want to see is worth renting.

Here’s what you don’t do:

You don’t cry or clam up or mumble something about how it’s impossible to condense a two-hour masterpiece into a ten-second explanation. You don’t hand her a bunch of homemade pamphlets about the movie and/or tell her how your mom said it was “lovely”. You don’t clutch the DVD box like it’s your last grip on humanity and read the text on the back in a robotic monotone. You don’t say, “Why don’t we rent the one that isn’t quite finished and hasn’t been edited, but the first half or so doesn’t completely suck.”

Here’s what you should do:

You think to yourself about why you want to see this movie so badly. Is it the action? The romance? The suspense? The mystery? The characterization? The unusual premise? And then you think about what Alice’s favorite types of movies are, and you sell her on that angle. You might say, “TPB is a screwball comedy about a farm boy turned pirate, out to rescue a pampered princess named Buttercup.” Or, you might say, “TPB is a funny, sweet romance about a princess in need of love, and a dashing rogue unafraid to risk his life–or his heart.” Or, you might say, “TPB is a guy-friendly action movie filled with swordfights, circus performers, and rodents of unusual size.” Remember: ALICE LOVES MOVIES. Alice WANTS to take home something great. That’s why Alice is in the video store with you in the first place!

Practical tips:
* Research the agent/editor before you pitch.
* Ask questions about the agent/editor to critique partners or chaptermates
* DO pick an agent/editor who enjoys your style/genre of book.
* Do NOT pick an agent/editor who does not represent your wordcount/genre.
* Do NOT pick an agent/editor with a bad reputation.
* Pitch a completed manuscript. (Do not waste the editor/agent’s time.)
* Pitch a manuscript you can mail immediately if asked to do so.
* When crafting your pitch, think back-of-book or DVD-box blurb.
* A pitch is not a query letter. Less formal, more fun.
* Short is better than long.
* Practice in the mirror.
* Practice with a friend.
* Practice with a stranger.
* Speak up and slow down.
* Memorize from a notecard if you must, but do not read from it during the actual pitch.
* Make eye-contact! (Impossible if reading from said notecard)
* Know your story.
* Know about the editor/agent.
* Know about the editor/agent’s clients/line/new releases.
* Be prepared to be interrupted.
* Be prepared to answer questions about your story.
* Be prepared to answer questions about yourself.
* Be prepared to answer questions about your career.
* Be prepared to explain why you chose this editor/agent.
* Be prepared to ASK intelligent questions to the editor/agent.
* Be prepared to discuss what else you did/will write.
* Smile. Be personable.
* Ask “How are you?” and listen to the answer.
* Alice loves books!
* Alice wants to love YOUR book!

Number One Takeaway:

Remind yourself of the worst case pitch scenario: Agent/Editor does not request to see your book. Then remind yourself of what happens if you DON’T pitch: Agent/Editor does not request to see your book!

Pitching is win-win. Even if you don’t get a request, you get 5-10 minutes with an industry professional, during which you can get all sorts of information that you’d never have a chance to ask about under normal circumstances.

My other posts about pitching: [Link 1] [Link 2]


Many conferences have a fun little section called the Goody Room. In this room, you will find tables filled with a plethora of promotional items, all of which are free for the taking. Typically, almost anyone can sign up to donate items to the Goody Room.

Who does the Goody Room self-promo?
* Published Authors
* Unpublished Authors
* Publishing Houses
* Workshop Presenters
* Industry Professionals
* Bloggers seeking increased readership

What kind of items can be found in the Goody Room?
* Free books
* Free book excerpts
* Free bookmarks
* Free business cards
* Free magnets
* Free cover flats (often autographed)
* Free pens/pencils/erasers
* Free notepads/stickynotes
* Free DVDs with book trailers and/or excerpts
* Free pins with logos/sayings/etc
* Free candy/chocolate/etc (sometimes branded, but not always)

The best (most popular) items are:
* Useful and/or consumable
* Compact for ease of travel
* Lightweight for ease of travel
* Branded with your name and web site

Another popular self-promo item is the branded t-shirt. You may give them away (here’s me in a Colleen Gleason tee) or simply wear them around like a walking billboard to create buzz. Buzz=good.

An important thing to remember about freebies is that freebies = free for them, not necessarily free for you. Always keep ROI (Return On Investment) in mind.


An often overlooked method of self-promotion is simply volunteering your time. Conferences are hard work. Most of the people who organize and run them are unpaid. You could be one of them!

Uh… great, you say. What’s in it for me?

For one, good karma. Being helpful is a fine quality!

For two, you get your NAME and your FACE out there. You might be the one managing the agent/editor appointments, for example. Or the one facilitating the workshops, or sending out newsletters with updates, or ferrying the guest speakers to the hotel.

Volunteering is an unbeatable networking opportunity!

YOUR TURN: If I didn’t answer your question(s) on pitching, volunteering, or self-promotion, please ask them in the comments and I will respond. If you are a veteran pitcher, please share your horror/success story. If you have taken advantage of a goody room–either as a giver or a taker–please give your thoughts on what elements work and what elements do not have the desired effect. If you have volunteered at a conference, (or worked behind the scenes in any capacity,) please share your experience!


  1. B.E. Sanderson - Reply

    I loved the analogy! And it’s perfect for querying, too. (Although, thanks for pointing out the difference between pitching and querying.) I never thought of it that way, and it should help with my blurbing, if not for pitching. =o) Thanks.

    The freebie thing is an old promotional thing. When I was in sales, the companies I represented always had goodies to give away. The best freebie though was one of my customer’s: a chocolate bar with the company name molded into the chocolate, and the wrapper was printed in the company’s logo and colors. In the winter months, every order got one. And it was damn good chocolate, too.

  2. Heather - Reply

    * Practice in the mirror.
    * Practice with a friend.
    * Practice with a stranger.
    * Speak up and slow down.
    * Memorize from a notecard if you must, but do not read from it during the actual pitch.
    * Make eye-contact! (Impossible if reading from said notecard)

    This reminds me so much of preparing 4-H presentations when I was ten. Some people have pageant moms, or team moms, or showbiz moms. I had a 4-H mom. That list brought back flashbacks of practicing my very first 4-H presentation: How To Make Instant Pudding.

    Needless to say, it was little more than a glorified reading of the directions printed on the side of the box. But with pizazz! And spunk! And a poster! I shudder just thinking about it.

    As painful as those memories are, your post made me realize that, thanks to my nutso 4-H mom, I actually have some of these skills.

    And I can make a mean instant pudding.

  3. Vicki - Reply

    I’m volunteering at the editor/agent appointments this year. Well, actually it’s my first year but I thought this would be a good thing to do.

    Since I’m not yet PRO I don’t have an actual appointment myself but still working at it is a good way to meet some of them and just perhaps they’ll remember some little tiny thing about me when the day comes to submit.

    Working hard on that day now! 🙂

  4. Success through Effective Communications - Reply

    I give presentations on effective communications skills. It was interesting to see how you related the same things that are important in doing presentations or networking. To compare:

    * Know your audience [Research the agent/editor…]
    * To network we need to build a relationship [Ask questions…]
    * When writing a presentation, start with the conclusion: the call to action […think back-of-book or DVD-box blurb.]
    * Keep the words simple and sentences short. Use gestures and voice to draw the scene [Short is better than long.]
    * Practice, Practice Practice […in the mirror….with a friend….with a stranger.]
    * Slow down and be deliberate [Speak up and slow down.]
    * Use an outline on 5×8 cards and used a minimum of 18 pt fonts spaced at 1 ½ lines [Memorize from a notecard if you must, but do not read…]
    * Eye contact is essential in our society [Make eye-contact!…] (Impossible if reading from said notecard) [I might add that, if you must read, it’s easier to “fake” reading if you use 18 pt fonts on 5×8 cards]
    * Practice, practice and practice to know your speech [Know your story.]
    * The three easiest ways to communicate with your audience is to smile, make eye contact and converse with rather than presenting to your audience [Smile. Be personable.]
    * Effective communications skills start with good listening skills [Ask “How are you?” and listen to the answer.]
    * Relax [RELAX.]
    * The audience wants you to succeed [Alice wants to love YOUR book!]

    Thanks for the reinforcing my perception of what’s important. I hope my comparison will reinforce your statements. I enjoyed it.

  5. Aura - Reply

    I’m volunteering in the Goody Room this year which I hope will really give me valuable insight into self promoting. Also, since I am Goody Bag Chair for this year’s Emerald City Writer’s Conference, I’m hoping to get more people to send goodies to me for the October conference. (That being said, if anyone here would like to send promotional materials to a great conference attended by about 250 writers, please email me at

    Erica- thanks so much for this info. It truly is very helpful!

  6. Carrie - Reply

    Great tips! I love the analogy – so perfect! For me it’s also important to remember that the agent or editor wants to find a great book. And also, if they don’t ask for the ms or partial, it’s because they know it wouldn’t be a good fit. It’s like interviewing for a job: let them see who you are and what you have to offer. They know what they want/need. If you don’t get the job, it’s for the best because it wouldn’t have worked out.

    Good luck to everyone pitching!

  7. Vicki - Reply

    Just wanted to I am so excited for you!!! I knew of 1 but 3 OMG. That’s all I’ll say for now…not spoil anything. 🙂

    Sending heaps of cyber chocolate and wine to you girl.

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Erica Ridley