Elevator Pitch, Part 3: TRUST THE SILENCE

Welcome to Wednesday’s post! Today, we’re finishing up this summer’s Elevator Pitch series with a look at another critical element of a winning pitch: Trusting the Force Silence.

In the original STAR WARS (Episode 4: A New Hope, for the Star Wars geeks among us), Obi-Wan Kenobi teaches a young Luke Skywalker how to use a lightsaber, the traditional jedi weapon. When Luke has trouble defending himself against a floating practice probe (aka, “the evil baseball of doom”), Obi-Wan suggests Luke lower the blast shield on his helmet, depriving himself of sight.

“Your eyes deceive you,” Obi-Wan says when Luke complains. “Reach out with your feelings. Trust the Force.”

Obi-Wan’s message applies to pitches, too.

Last weekend at the Historical Novel Society conference in St. Petersburg, I worked with several authors on pitching and pitch construction. In many cases, it wasn’t the author’s understanding of his or her novel that caused the problem: it was the author’s unwillingness to trust the story (s)he created.

Failure to trust your story almost always results in a rambling pitch.

Most of us talk when we’re nervous. (Myself included.) Silence creates discomfort. Yet without silence the listener has no chance to ask you questions – and those questions are the heart of the author-agent or author-editor session.

The pitch is designed to hook the listener and open a dialogue about your work.

A dialogue requires two people speaking. When the author goes on and on … and on … there’s nothing left to ask about (assuming the listener is still awake to ask). Run-on pitches lose the listener every single time.

Many authors create long pitches because the author fears the silence that follows. Not without reason. Silence could mean rejection, and rejection equals pain. Run-on pitches create a false sense of security in the author. (“I’m still talking, so (s)he can’t reject me yet.”) Run-on pitches allow the author to delay the moment when silence falls and judgment will take place.

And yet, very often, that run-on pitch creates the very rejection the author hoped so desperately to avoid.

So … how do we fix the author’s fear of silence?


You must learn to TRUST THE SILENCE, and realize that silence isn’t always bad.

Work on your one-breath pitch until it’s polished, shiny, and snappy to the ear. Then practice it – and also practice the silence that follows.

Pitch to a friend, and tell the friend to vary the length of the silence before (s)he asks a follow-up question. Pitch to a stuffed animal, a beanie baby, a Lego man, or a plant. Then shut up and allow it time to answer (Note: if it actually does, you might want to get that looked at.) Experience silence to conquer your fear of silence.

You will learn that silence is not your enemy, even though your nerves will tell you otherwise.

Confidence pitching involves creating a solid pitch, but also learning to face and conquer fear. Your nerves betray you, just as Luke’s vision betrayed his instincts. But he conquered that weakness, and you can conquer yours also.

Practice the pitch. Make it simple. Keep it short. Practice silence, and learn to get past your fear. If you’re still having trouble, find someone to help you–classes work, but so do other authors with experience pitching and writing a solid pitch. Find one, and ask him or her to help you out. You’d be surprised how many of us are glad to jump into the breach and lend a hand.

Have questions about pitching or other publishing business and legal topics? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Also: This is your final chance to leave a comment for a chance to win an ARC of my upcoming mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT! I’ll be drawing a winner at random from all of the comments on Wednesday publishing legal posts in the month of June! And, of course, the legalese: To be eligible to win, you must be at least 18 years old, leave a valid name and email address in the comments and and live or have a mailing address in the US or Canada. No purchase necessary to win. Odds of winning vary with entries received. One entry per household. One winner will be drawn at random from eligible comments.

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