If you’re a writer of a certain age (i.e., not young), pitching face-to-face to a young agent or editor, your understandable anxiety may include the subject of your appearance. Seated across from the agent, you may misinterpret the look on her face, while imagining the agent’s internal voice wondering: “Just how old is she?”
Whether the look on her face is caused by indigestion or consternation about your age, the effect will be the same: going into your pitch, your confidence will plummet. In your flustered state, you may even forget the important points to deliver in your pitch about your own creation, your baby, the work you’ve spent years polishing until it shines.
When this happens, it’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to your work, and it’s not fair to the agent, who really is looking for great writing by an author she can promote.
So what is happening here, and what can you do about your panic at the look on her face, so you can pitch with confidence during your 10-minute chance to shine?
So Shine, Already!
Plan on taking care of the physical aspects of shining. Maybe you can’t look so young or beautiful or handsome as the young agent across from you, but you can look your best physically—take a look at the look on your face. Is the look on your face one that will invite and intrigue the human being sitting across from you?
Presentable and professional is the minimum requirement for your hair and clothing, how far up you go from there is up to you. You should be alert and pleasant, as comfortable and relaxed as possible, with plenty of shine. You must be focused in thought and passionate in your speech, with the latter as clear, crisp, and understandable as you can make it.
The key to all of the above is your self-confidence, based on your dedication to your own work.
How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!
Practice your pitch a lot, out loud. Start with a one sentence summary and then fill in the details through the end of the allotted pitch time.
Practice in front of a mirror—check the look on your face—while your phone records and times your pitch. Play it back and listen to how you sound—is your passion for your project coming through clearly? Don’t rush but keep close to the time allotted for your pitch (out of the usual 10 minutes with an agent, time your pitch to 1-1.5 minutes; the rest can be used for the agent’s questions and also for yours).
Practice again in front of your family, your friends, your writer’s group, inviting critique.
Keep in mind that the agent will listen to 100 pitches that day, so make yours one that will grab and keep her interest by getting to the point of the novel (play, screenplay, short story collection) at the beginning of the pitch.
Think about how you felt about yourself in your youth. What is the one thing you wished you had more of then, or even now? Self-confidence?
Many of us lack the self-confidence we should have, especially middle aged plus women, especially women of a certain age who began writing or returned to writing later in life.
To be an artist, you must have pride, you must be proud of yourself. You know this when a sentence just isn’t good enough, not up to your standard, not meeting the level you want to achieve. At your computer or with your notebook open, sitting alone, you know this in your bones. In a large room full of your fellow writers vying for places in lines to pitch to one of fifty agents, that feeling of pride may evaporate, to be replaced by panic.
So ahead of being in that room, or opening that Zoom, you must remind the inner you, the proud, dedicated artist deep within, that you are just that: a self-confident, proud artist with a passion to write and a great book to pitch.
Irish artist collective The Hags, Na Cailleacha in Irish, meaning “wise women,” is a group of 8 women, mostly over 70. These artists (6 visual artists, 1 musician, 1 curator/writer) formed a collective to break through the invisibility of age, and to create a forum to show their work. They came together for the camaraderie essential to continue developing their art.
Most older people begin to feel invisible, lose an essential network, and a good sense of how to move forward. The Hags have found it. When asked, all of them said that the thing they lacked as young women was self-confidence. When they developed more self-confidence with age though, they were no longer invited to show their work, and were assumed to be retired by the youth-oriented art world. They felt forgotten. With the collective though, they found an enjoyable and productive way to be visible, to develop and show their work.
What happened to the 8 women pre-Hags, happens to older writers too. But there are many communities and groups of writers, everywhere, online and in person, and as much as we work alone, it’s essential to find the support of a writing community—and you’re in one right now! DIY MFA offers myriad ways to develop your writing skills, professional writing life and community. So, find your community (see my March post, Finding My Writing Tribe) and start pitching your work!
Constance Emmett was born in Brooklyn, New York where her mother’s family landed after leaving Belfast, Northern Ireland. Constance’s debut novel, Heroine of Her Own Life (2019) and sequel, Everything Will Be All Right (2022), books 1 and 2 in the Finding Their Way Home series, were published by Next Chapter. A Massachusetts Hilltown dweller, she is writing book 3 in the series and a novel set in 18th c. New York.
You can find her on her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.