Friday, June 13, 2008

The Perfect Pitch

This weekend, an editor is attending our local RWA chapter meeting. After her workshop, she’s taking pitches. At this precise moment, there are about ten or fifteen people hyperventilating in the Northern Alabama area. In honor of this, I’ve put together my take on the different types of pitches with the help of Wikipedia (since I have no actual knowledge of baseball aside from nachos and beer.)

(Note to those of you pitching tomorrow – none of this will actually help, sorry if I got your hopes up.)

The fastball is the most common pitch in baseball and also in the world of writers. Most authors have some form of a fastball in their arsenal whether they know it or not. It is basically a pitch thrown very fast, some with movement, some without. An example of this would be the eight-minute rehearsed pitch that is delivered to an editor in exactly 47 seconds. Some wildly gesticulate with their hands, some nervously clutch their index cards, but the common factor is the lack on breathing on the part of the author. The downside of the fastball is the remaining 9 minutes and 13 seconds of uncomfortable silence before the appointment is over.

A variation of the fastball is called the sinking fastball. This has extra movement that affects the trajectory of the pitch. Most commonly, this pitch is thrown when the author senses the book is hopelessly doomed in the eyes of the editor, but continues to throw the ball quickly to get it over with. This is usually followed by a walk to the bar.

Another variation is the cutter fastball, which slows slightly as it reaches home plate. This pitch is long-winded and manages to take up the entire allotted time. When the appointment keeper announces that one minute remains, the author will switch to the cutter fastball, cramming everything else they have to say into 30 seconds, leaving the editor enough time to request a partial, but not ask questions.

The curveball is known for its movement, usually sideways or downward in response to pressure. This pitch is thrown when the author realizes that the editor is completely disinterested in their project and starts changing the storyline in response to her facial expressions. This makes the pitch difficult or confusing for the editor/batter and she is less likely to be able to hit it back (ie. decline the proposal). Although this pitch provides the author with a sense of euphoria when they receive a request, it is usually followed by a panic attack when they realize they have to produce a book that doesn't exist.

The curveball is similar to the changeup, which also tricks the editor. It’s an off-speed pitch, usually thrown to look like a fastball but arriving much slower to the plate. This is used most often when an author wants to pitch a book in a genre the editor isn’t really interested in (but if they just read it, they'd love it). They disguise the book (a paranormal, for example) describing it primarily as a romantic suspense in the hopes of getting a request. The reduced speed coupled with its deceptive delivery are meant to confuse the editor/batter’s timing. Its a temporary victory, usually followed by the quick return of a SASE when the editor regains her footing and realizes she's been mislead.

Last, but not least, is the slider. This is the pitch scheduled deliberately as the last appointment of the day. This author counts on the editor to be tired in the hopes that she will agree to read their book regardless of what the author actually says or does, simply so she can be finished and move on with her life.

I couldn't come up with anything witty for a spitball, so I'll stop there. I admit I'm guilty of the fastball. Of course, I was also the only kid in my 10th grade English class who could deliver the entire 3rd Act soliloquy of Mark Antony from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in under a minute. How about you? If you've never pitched, what's your favorite superstition (it's Friday the 13th, if you haven't noticed)?



Maven LJ said...

Only once did I have to try to pitch to an editor who wasn't already mine. It was a group appointment. I was brand new and had received NO advice on how to do this. It went something like this. "It's, uh, ummm, a western. There's this, uh, guy. Oh, he's a bounty hunter. And there's this . . . but wait, I should back up." And so it went. Painful. Horrible. It happened fifteen years ago and I remember much too clearly. I was NOT prepared.

Even after I sold, I remained horribly inept at explaining an idea verbally to an editor. We'd meet at conference, sit down and get a drink, relax, and then they'd ask me what I wanted to work on next. And I tried, I did, but it was ugly. Usually they just laughed and told me to send it to them.

If you're prepared and have notes and know what you're going to say, then it has to be better than my sad, sad attempts, no matter how fast or deceptive or panicked you are.

My husband says Friday the 13th is always a lucky day for him.


Jen said...

Brilliant, SP! You definitely hit a homerun with that analogy -- okay, I know, too early for a bad joke. I am still terrible at pitching -- even when it's a new idea to my editor I've been with for nine years now. Sad really except I'm a WRITER and I always write it better than I tell it, thank God, cause I'm a terrible "teller."

Playground Monitor said...

I've never pitched. I have nothing to pitch. So I guess I'm 0 for 0.

Favorite superstition? I'm not really superstitious but I try not to walk under ladders just as a general safety thing.

Good luck to all the pitchers. My your pitches go smoothly. Just breathe. Remember that editors are people too.


Rhonda Nelson said...

SP, you crack me up! Great analogy. ;-)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Too funny. I have somehow managed to never have to pitch. Though Rocki did ask me what my book was about when she was here for the luncheon and I went, "Uh, well, there's this special forces team, and uh, a chef, and uh..."

Written pitches? I can do that. :)

I better figure the verbal pitch out, though, with National just around the corner.

Hugs and good luck to the pitchers. Relax. This isn't your only forever once in a lifetime chance. If this editor doesn't want this book, there are lots of other editors -- and you probably have lots of other books inside you too.

Instigator said...

I love this analogy! I'm sure Birdzilla will be here shortly to comment on the baseball aspect of the day :-)

Yeah, I'm guilty of the fastball just to get that part over with. Fortunately, I've had some pretty good pitching experiences...even the one where I was asked if I had a different story to pitch. :-)


Instigator said...

Oh and I'm not superstitious about Friday the 13th. I was born on a 13th and so every few years it falls on a Friday. The first time it happened (that I remember) I decided that meant the day had to be lucky for me.


Kathy said...

ACK! I'm pitching tomorrow. Lucky for me, I'm recovering from what the doctor tells me is now an upper respiratory infection. I've got very little voice left and a mean cough due to the meds that are breaking everything up. Oh Joy! My only prayer is that the editor doesn't fear I'm the walking plague....

Sherry W. said...

The 13th is a lucky day around my house too. Today is my daughters 17th birthday so there will be cake and presents later today.

Pitching.. I could kick myself. I have known about this in plenty of time and did not get anything ready to pitch. Fear is a powerful thing. But I'll be there waiting in the wings with moral support...or a fan and a cold cloth for those who feel faint. (LOL)

Hey SP.. do you think they would mind if we set up a bar?? The beer and nachos sound great! : )

Problem Child said...

I can't say I'm a good pitcher--I've always received requests off my pitches, though, so I've obviously been very lucky (or only pitched to sympathetic editors).

Good luck to all those pitching tomorrow! (Or all those pitching in SF in July!)

Smarty Pants said...

Sherry - people bring cupcakes and such all the time. Who am I to say they can't bring beer and nachos? :)

LJ - I did both kinds of pitches. With my first, I read off the card. It went fine and I got a full request. The second one I played by ear even though I prepared cards. There was definitely moments of "so there's this girl and she's like...a cop. and the hero is a guy...well, of course he'd a guy, but he's in construction. and there's some dead people." I ended up getting a request for that one too, although strangely, the agent has never respondeded. Hmm.... :)

Smarty Pants said...

respondeded? jeez. maybe beer is a bad idea...

MaryF said...

Alright; I got the verbal pitch (sort of) together. I'll try not to blurt it out in 5 seconds or less. *eek*

As for the partial; well; I have it; its just not polished.

I'm bringing paper bags for hyperventilation.... I'd bring valium, but I don't have that, and I'd rather not be drooling when I pitch.

Oooh, I've been asked not to drink too much caffiene before I come...I wonder why??? Possibly me chattering on and on....much like now...

Ok, going back to breathing....

catslady said...

I'm not superstitious either but think it's fun - don't step on a crack..., ladders, broken mirrors, black cats, spilled salt, lol.