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Devourer of Words 038: Get Ready for the Pitch

Marc Bernadin for Comic-Con International's Toucan Blog

We are 10 weeks—give or take a few sleepless nights—from the beginning of Comic Con. And if you are attending, preparations are, I’m assuming, well under way: Hotel rooms are secured, transportation is sorted, cosplay is being fabricated.

But if you’re a writer and you’re heading to Comic Con, there is an entirely different checklist that needs completing—especially if you plan on plying your wares.

Who Are You Going to Pitch

It’s a little early to know which publishers will be exhibiting at the show, but you can absolutely make some educated guesses. Keep in mind: The larger the publisher, the less likely they’ll take the time to listen to your pitch at the convention itself. When it comes to Marvel or DC, your only real play is to swing through the booth—after softening the ground with an email or two—and just say hello. Just being a person— who is personable and able to hold a conversation (and know when to get out of a conversation)—will go a long way.

But do your research. See which publishers are looking to publish what kind of content. Cater your pitches appropriately. Nothing will get you shut down faster than, say, pitching a superhero book to an editor who wants nothing to do with them. And, as the date gets closer, you’ll be able to scour social media and, eventually, the official schedules to see which editors will be on the ground.

What Are You Going to Pitch

Now is a perfect time to go through your files—you know, the ones marked “ideas” or “pitches” or “proposals” or “amazing things that need a publisher to take a chance.” Take a good hard look and see what’s still viable and what needs that push in the right direction to make viable.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got dozens of pitches that you’ve cobbled together over the years. Some are, needless to say, stronger than others. Some are more fully developed than others. You’ve got a little more than two months, so, right now you’ve got time to spend whipping them into shape.

But the key right now is to find the things you are still in love with. Or, at the very least, can fall in lust with. Because in the math that editors use to calculate if a writer and a pitch are worth rolling the dice on is passion—the sense that this is the person to write this story, and that they have to tell it or they’ll die inside.

Maybe that’s an old idea you’ve still got feelings for; maybe it’s a new idea that stumbles into your head fully formed—but either way, you’ve still got time to hammer that thing into shape.

How Much Are You Going to Pitch

Here’s the thing: If you do manage to get an editor’s ear on the floor—or, more likely, for a 15-minute walk off the floor—they are not going to have the bandwidth to listen to you prattle through a dozen ideas. Have three pitches to roll in with. Your three strongest, naturally.

And practice that pitch—don’t go in there thinking that, because you are a dazzling raconteur, you can just spitball it off the top of your head. A verbal pitch should be like the inverse of a Russian nesting doll. You start with the Big Idea. If they like that, then you go a little deeper—tell them who the main characters are and how they relate to one another. If they’re still interested, then you tell them the broad strokes of the whole story, from beginning to end. (Yes, you have to tell them the end. A pitch is no place for being coy and anyone who is going to bankroll the telling of your story will want to know, at the very least, that you know your story.)

It’s up to you whether or not you want to print out copies of your proposals to leave with those people you pitch—a “leave behind.” Some people like the idea of reinforcing the pitch with a physical object the editor can refer to. But others, like me, prefer to do that reinforcement with an email a couple of weeks after the convention. In my experience, no one likes to have to pack up a bunch of stuff to take home with them—and, with as many pitches as editors get, some will treat your “leave behind” with the same respect as you treat the fliers tucked inside your windshield wipers when you park at the mall.

Business Cards

I like ‘em. They’re small enough to not be a burden to schlep home, and if you do it right, you can make a real impression while still imparting the necessary information. But, listen: Don’t spring for the expensive ones, with the full-color and fancy card stock. You’re a writer: Be creative. The artists will have the pretty cards—you make sure you have the witty one. For years, I had a card that simply said “Marc Bernardin: Established 1971,” with my email and cell number. It made people chuckle. And that’s all it had to do: Make a positive impression that I can exploit later.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!