Another blog from 2016 Pitch Perfect winner Alison Belsham but this time she comes with lots of advice for this year’s pitchers, and for everyone out there who would benefit from some top tips!

The 2018 Pitch Perfect entrants have been announced, and for these lucky eight, the hard work is just beginning. A three-minute pitch might not sound very long, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, condensing your entire novel into a couple of pages and then standing up and pitching it to a panel of industry experts – that’s a tall order indeed!

Whether you’re one of Bloody Scotland’s chosen few or whether you didn’t even enter Pitch Perfect this year, knowing how to craft a spoken presentation that will capture the essence of your novel is a skill that all writers can benefit from. A pitching competition means pitching in a formal setting, but even on a less formal occasion, the value of being able to talk persuasively and with clarity about your story and your writing credentials cannot be underestimated.

It’s all in the preparation

Pitching is not something best done off the cuff – for most of us, at least. Yes, you want to make an impassioned case for your story, but without preparing your words in advance and practising your presentation, you’re likely to leave out a critical point and stumble over your words as you scurry back to it.

So, work out carefully what you need to say and then tailor it to your audience. If you’re pitching to a panel of agents and/or publishers, like at Bloody Scotland, do your homework. Check out who they are and what sort of books they might be looking for. This is not so you can pitch your crime novel as a romance to an editor from Mills and Boon. It’s more about nuance and particular angles you might play up or play down.

Once you know who you’re talking to, it’s time to structure your pitch. It’s not a three-minute race to cram all your plot, sub-plots and characters into the allotted time. You simply won’t be able to. So rather than viewing it as condensing your story, it’s probably better to look at it as an exercise in expanding your premise. You have got a premise, haven’t you? Then stick to one or two main characters and the main plot strand as you lead the audience into the world of your story.

But the outline’s not the only thing you need to talk about. Your interrogators will want to know what genre and sub-genre your book is, and where it will sit in the market. This information is essential and if you don’t know or can’t decide on your genre, you’ll need to work this out before drafting your pitch. You’ll also want to let them know of any writing credentials that you have – whether you’ve been published before, whether you’ve completed any writing courses, won competitions and so on, as well as any personal connection to the subject of your story.

It’s a lot to fit into three minutes!

This year’s pitchers

Here’s how I structured the pitch with which I won Pitch Perfect in 2016.

Firstly, I introduced myself and the title of my book. My book is set in the tattooing world, so I drew attention to my own tattoo to give me credibility in writing about it. So, for example, if you’re an ex-cop, have practised as a lawyer or have experience in some other job relevant to the plot, tell them that. Or if you’ve lived in the country where your novel is set, include that. These things don’t have to come right up front – the order’s up to you, but don’t leave them out.

Then I used a question to set up my premise. What if someone was going around stealing tattoos? What would happen if… Find the question that leads straight to the heart of your story. Ask it and your audience will want to know the answer. Tell them about the world you’ve created and why readers will be drawn to it. Now, sell your plot and end on a cliff-hanger. Leave them wanting more.

Next, tell them a bit about your writing journey, even if it’s only just beginning. Include anything that can show that you’re serious about your writing and that for you, it’s more than just a hobby.

Finally, I thanked the panel for listening. I think this is really important. Professional courtesy is another way of showing that you’re serious and that you’re thinking about the next stage.

Alison giving some pointers to the 2017 Pitch Perfect-ers (Photo by Paul Reich)

Practice makes perfect

Your first attempt at writing a pitch will run over time. That’s fine. Your next task is to whittle it down to three minutes and practise the hell out of it. Rehearse it ten times more than you think you need to. Then do it some more. Subject your family, friends, work colleagues and pets to it, until you virtually know it off by heart and can perform it without pause or hesitation, and without tripping over your tongue. Practise making eye contact with your audience and projecting your voice. Get your listeners to ask you questions at the end.

Work hard at it, because these chances don’t come up very often and they’re like gold dust when they do. But most of all? Enjoy the experience. Whatever happens as a result of it, you will have gained something and you’ll find yourself more confident in your ability as a result.

Good luck!