I don’t like the word ‘pitch’. It’s a black kind of a word. Even with ‘perfect’ in front of it, I’m not convinced.
Musically speaking, it is supposed to be a great asset to have perfect pitch i.e. the ability to recognise any note you hear as an F sharp, B flat or whatever. I once tried to teach myself perfect pitch by carrying a tuning fork around in my pocket. Clonked against any hard object (your head will do if nothing else is forthcoming) this useful implement will reliably provide you with the note A. I would test myself by trying to sing an A at regular intervals throughout the day and check with the tuning fork to see if I had it right. I was getting quite good, but then one day the fork disappeared during a walk on Dartmoor (if anyone finds it, I’d quite like it back…)
No doubt if I’d persisted I could have trained my ear to pluck any given note from the air, but really, in the great scheme of things, did it matter? The only person I’ve ever known to have perfect pitch (he bragged about it at length) always sang out of tune and had a horrible voice. No, I decided; the actual music is what matters.
Recently I had the experience of trying to ‘pitch’ my novel to literary agents. This means an attempt to cram a 70,000 to 80,000 word book into a tantalising little nugget three sentences long. Why would anyone put themselves through this agony? Because it’s the only way to persuade very busy people (who receive 30 submissions from budding authors every day and take on only a couple a year) to consider your novel. Was I screaming and tearing my hair out? I was.
Winchester Writers’ Festival gave me a narrow slot of time to meet some agents face-to-face: a wonderful opportunity to try out my pitching. My first experience of this was unmitigated disaster. The agent in question was a last-minute addition, so had read none of my writing. I stumbled and bumbled my way through my plot as her face plainly displayed her opinion that I was a complete waste of space. I came out close to tears. I comforted myself with the fact that the others would at least have read my first chapters and synopsis. Three had also requested my ‘pitch’ letter. One hadn’t. I’d read on the Internet that, when asked about pitching, this one had said; “That’s the agent’s job”, so I immediately liked the sound of her!
The next agent I met talked loads about my written pitch and didn’t ask for my full manuscript. The other three talked about my book itself and did ask for my full manuscript. The one who loved my writing most was – you’ve guessed it – the one who hadn’t asked for a pitch at all. Happily I can boast that she, the very one I wanted, is now representing me. Not because I pitched well (I didn’t) but because my novel itself somehow resonated with her.
My wonderful guru Simon had advised me to ‘let your writing speak for itself’ and he was right as usual. It's a matter of priorities. A certain amount of pitching in the broader sense is inevitable in our lives. But so often we struggle to fit into some expected pattern because we think it will impress others. Really, though, it isn’t so vital to get your pitch perfect. What is much more important is honestly expressing your own unique thing... in your own unique way.