Breaking Out of Your Shell

Networking and Pitching to Agents
(Even When You’re Scared to Death)

by Sabine Berlin

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

I have the world’s greatest critique group. Not only are the members super smart and talented, they are fun to be with. So why is it that every Thursday night I have to convince myself to get up and go to writers’ group? They don’t even care if I show up in my pajamas, so that can’t be it! The answer is, I’m a huge introvert. I love my down time, hidden in my room, not having to worry about socializing with anyone but Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Katniss and Peeta, or my favorite characters of the week (which this week happen to be Anna and St. Clair!). If you’re an introvert like me, you know this feeling. Maybe that’s why we choose to be writers. We don’t get distracted by parties and events, and we’re fine staying home on a Friday night to type away. Writing appears to be a very on-your-own type of career.

Until you finish your novel and actually want to get noticed.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,  had this same awakening after she finished her book. In an interview on Marie TV, Cain, a proclaimed introvert, said:

I spent seven years happily writing a book in splendid solitude and since then my life has been all about being public.”

I’m sure there are hundreds of writers out there who would love that type of a “problem,” but for those of us who walk into a room and look for the nearest exits and the quietest corners, it can be a scary thing. Especially when you’re at a con or writing event and you not only need to talk to perfect strangers, but you also have to get them to want to read YOUR book.

Never fear! Whether you are planning on pitching or just want to network confidently, we’re here with five great tips to keep in mind as you set out to your next con.

1. Listen to Me.

Many times, we look at our introverted personalities as a barrier, when actually they can be an advantage. One thing that introverts are usually great at is listening. Just because we’re quiet doesn’t mean we don’t know what’s going on. Listening to others—especially to an agent or presenter—can benefit your career greatly. Half the reason you’re at this particular con is to learn—so don’t be afraid to soak in all the advice you can. You’re sure to find great writing tips. Remember: Agents have hundreds of people who want to talk to them. When you take the time to listen to what the agents really want, you’re sure to be ahead when it comes to the pitching game.

2. Pitch Perfect.

If you’ve been listening, you’ll know the right time to bring out your pitch. But when that right time arrives, what should you say? On the introduction page of her website, Cain says, “I like to think before I speak.” This is another great introvert trait. Use it. Nothing is worse than being put on the spot. Knowing what your book is about doesn’t count. Even if you’re the most extroverted person out there, when you’re standing in front of your dream agent, anxiety will kick in and it’ll be nearly impossible to sum up your book in one brilliant sentence. Think about what you’re going to say. Plan out exactly how you want to present your book and yourself before you even leave the house! If this sounds as daunting as actually having to share it with someone, check out this article on writing pitches by our in-house expert Elena Johnson.

3. Don’t Overdo It.

Depending on which convention you’re attending, you may have the opportunity to talk to several of the presenters and pitch to several agents. If this makes you want to go back to your room and crawl under the covers, then don’t force yourself to do it. Cain advocates having a quota system. Tell yourself you’re going to network with one, two, or three people. Pick a number you feel comfortable with and stick to it. Wouldn’t you rather give one really great pitch or have one meaningful conversation on improving your skills than stress about having to live through five or ten mediocre ones?

4. Agents: Big Bad Wolves or Fairy Godmothers?

Agents are people too, and some of them are as introverted as you are. One member of our writing community, a solid introvert, wrote this after his first-ever pitch session:

This was going to be my first time actually interacting, in person, with actual agents. I follow some agents on Twitter, subscribe to some of their blogs, and read what others say about their experiences, but this was going to be my first pitch. Needless to say, I was extremely nervous—to the point I was worrying over how I should greet them. Did I go with the ‘Hi,’ the ‘Hello,’ or the ‘Nice to meet you’? I think I finally settled on ‘Hi’; it was all a blur. So what happened? All the agents were extremely friendly, open, willing to let me ask questions, responsive to my comments in their classes, and basically made me and the other aspiring authors feel at ease. Some people see agents as the big bad gatekeeping wolves, but for me they are now gracious fairy godmothers doing their best to create happily-ever-afters.”

Don’t be afraid to look for a kindred spirit among the agents and pitch to that person. He or she may, after all, make your wishes come true.

5. This, Too, Shall Pass.

Just because you’re at a con, you don’t have to spend all your time pitching. But if you’re there, chances are you love your book enough to give it a shot. So do it. Make the pitch. According to Cain, we can act out of character for work we really love. But we should do it mindfully and then restore afterward. If you’ve practiced your pitch and set your quota, then you’ll be all right. Make the pitch. Break the shell, then give yourself a break. As Marie Forleo, who interviewed Cain and is, herself, often overwhelmed by being in the world spotlight, says, “When it’s time to fly, don’t deny.” Go ahead and let yourself restore when you need to.

Trying to convince someone else that your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread can be hard and scary. But it doesn’t have to be. So stop trying to talk yourself into it and get the skills to feel confident. Follow these steps and you, too, “can shake the world in a gentle way.” We believe in you!

Do This Now

  1. Write your pitch. Check out our How-to Guide.
  2. Start seeing your introversion as an asset to your career and learn how you can be successful without changing yourself. Check out the Susan Cain interview on Marie TV.
  3. Believe in yourself just the way you are. You don’t have to be swinging from the chandeliers to get noticed at a con.

Have any great pitching experiences or ways that helped you overcome your introverted side? Share them with us.

Sabine BerlinSabine is an avid reader of everything from Asimov to Zusak. She has a degree in history, writes YA fiction, and was selected to attend Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp, where she studied writing and critiquing. She has been with Eschler Editing since 2012. She invites you to visit her blog.

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Comments

  1. I find that the best way for me to feel comfortable in a stressful situation, it’s best for me know exactly what to say ahead of time. I actually write and practice scripts in the mirror. It really helps build my confidence. You may have to deviate from your script, but at least you have something to fall back on if you need it. Great tips!

    • Janelle,
      That is a great idea. Especially for a one line pitch. Those are not as easy to pull off the top of your head as people think!

  2. Great article, Sabine. Makes me want to be less wussy at conferences!

    • You can do it! Its sort of frightening when there are so many new people to meet, but allowing yourself the freedom to wind down after is helpful.

  3. Nikki Trionfo says:

    Dude, I’m totally wussy and when I hear how people corner these poor agents in the bathroom, I feel proud of that fact! However, I love the advice to practice and be able to speak WHEN APPROPRIATE, haha. The more I do it, the more comfortable I get with it, almost to the point that sometimes I don’t even realize I’m “pitching,” I’m just in a conversation.

    • I could NEVER approach an agent or anyone in the bathroom. Maybe in the hallway right outside :). I love the idea of being so comfortable you don’t think about pitching.

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