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Ever wonder what it's like to be in that moment between struggling artist and published author? Read on and find out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview with Shannon Messenger

            Shannon Messenger is the author of Keeper of the Lost Cities, an artist, a Bookanista, and a founding member of WriteOnCon. All of that in just one person – amazing. Most importantly, for the purpose of this blog that is, she was willing to share her experience in the industry to help the unpublished authors with pitch sessions.

            She has a great blog as well, that you can see for yourself.

(Check out the awesomely colorful costume she wore to Comic Con.)

            Without further ado – heeeeeerrrreeeeessss Shannon.

Randy: Do published authors still have to pitch their stories?

Shannon: Unfortunately, yes. Authors are CONSTANTLY asked: what is your book about? (which is a good thing—you want people to be interested in your book). And the answer to that question is nothing more than a glorified pitch for the book.  So yeah, pitching never stops. The bright side is though, once you’re published, your agent/editor can help make sure the pitch you use is as awesome as possible. Teamwork is an amazing thing. :)

Randy: How do these pitches differ from those of unpublished authors?

Shannon: Honestly, I don’t think there should be a difference. The point of ANY pitch is to make the book sound interesting, and to make the person you’re pitching it to care enough to want to read it. Whether the book is published or not shouldn’t matter. The end goal is the same.

Randy: How long do you spend on writing, perfecting, and practicing a pitch?

Shannon: Totally depends on the project—but I don’t think it’s something you should rush. Remember, you spent weeks, months—maybe even years pouring your heart onto the page to write your book and get it perfect. Why wouldn’t you put the same care and effort into your pitch?

Randy: As a published author, are you nervous during a pitch?

Shannon: I’m fairly comfortable with things like public speaking and talking to strangers, but of course there’s always that tiny bit of anxiety that comes with worrying: OMG WHAT IF THEY THINK MY BOOK SOUNDS STUPID??? But I’ve learned to shove that little voice to the back of my mind when I’m pitching, because it’s SO important to BELIEVE your pitch. You have to be convinced that your project is as awesome as you’re saying it is, otherwise the person listening won’t be convinced either.

Randy: What’s the most important thing for an unpublished author to keep in mind when they pitch a story?

Shannon: To smile. Seriously, I know that seems obvious, but it’s amazing how hard it is to smile when you’re nervous. And who wants to listen to someone who looks grumpy or terrified or miserable? So take a breath, think about how it’s actually SUPER exciting to get to talk about YOUR BOOK and tell them how AWESOME it is. And once you’re smiling, THEN start your pitch.

Randy: Should an author attempt to customize a pitch to the specific agent or editor?

Shannon: Yes and no. See, to me, I think a pitch really has two parts. The first part, where you give them a few quick sentences to really spotlight the amazingness of your book. And the second part, where you pause so they can ask you questions based on what they’re interested in. I don’t think you need to tailor the first part of your pitch to any individual specifically, because it applies to everyone. And you won’t have to worry about customizing the second half because they’ll do that for you when they ask you questions.

Randy: Do you have any interesting pitch stories that you can share with us?

Shannon: I don’t know about “interesting.” But I did meet my agent at a conference and pitch to her. She requested a partial from me at the end of the pitch, and requested the full manuscript the day after I sent her some pages. Two weeks later she was my agent. So I can definitely testify that pitching at conferences can have wonderful results.

Randy: What is the biggest “must do” for pitching a story?

Shannon: To relax!!! And you do that by remembering two important things:

1)      You know your book well enough to talk about it. Sure, you want to practice and really prepare what to say. But don’t stress too much about: what if they ask me something I don’t know. Uh… it’s YOUR book. You know this stuff! (and if you don’t …um … you might have bigger things to worry about than pitching)

2)      The agent/editor knows you’re nervous. That’s not a secret. Even better? They don’t hold it against you. So it’s okay if your hands shake or you mess up a word here or there. They know you’re human. In fact, they’re rooting for you to recover.

Randy: What is the biggest “don’t do” for pitching a story?

Shannon: Don’t do all the talking. Most pitch sessions at conferences have a set amount of minutes, and no matter how brief the pitch time may be, you still don’t want to write a pitch that fills the entire time period. Like I said earlier, you want the person to be able to ask questions, show you what they’re interested in, and become actively engaged in the conversation. Bonus to that? You have less to memorize as far as the pitch goes. Win and WIN!

Randy: Do you have any handy tricks that make pitch writing easier? Or that will greatly improve the quality of the pitch?

Shannon: My agent—the incredible Laura Rennert, with Andrea Brown Literary—has a saying that I’m totally going to borrow (okay, I’m stealing it. Whatever). She says a pitch should cover: Who, What, Where, and Why should I care? And personally, I think the most important part of that is the why should I care?  WAY too often I see writers get so caught up in trying to cover the plot of their book in chronological order that they forget that what’s MUCH more important to communicate is: what makes your book special? What sets it apart from the thousands of other books out there? Why should someone care about it, instead of all the others? Frame your pitch around THAT and you’re golden.


  1. Thanks so much Shannon and Randy. Very informative stuff.

  2. Good stuff. I love the questions that the pitch should cover, especially the last :-)

  3. Shannon and Randy - thank you so much. This is very helpful. I especially liked the last part about who, what, where, and why should I care - that's really what it's all about. Shannon - I can't wait to read Keeper of the Lost Cities! :)

  4. Thanks so much for having me, Randy. This was fun!

  5. Great pointers on pitches. I'm not at that point yet, but the thought of pitching scares the patootie out of me.