Pitching Your Novel? Two Simple Ways to Improve Your Virtual Experience with T.K. Sheffield

Did you spend the summer polishing your fiction novel? Congrats! Perhaps you’re pitching it this fall. Some excellent virtual conferences are available, including the Writing Day Workshops and the Midwest Writer’s Workshop Agent Fest.

I recommend attempting a virtual pitch if you’re ready; check out the links for the writing events listed above and sign up. Pitching is a great experience, and it forces you to polish that novel—and develop the essential supplemental materials including a one-sentence description, a synopsis, and a concise, persuasive pitch. Even if the goal is self-publishing, having those support documents is vital.

For example, I’m pitching The Backyard Model Mysteries. When an agent asks about the series, I can immediately describe the books in a sentence: An emotionally detached retired model solves murders in her touristy hometown; after all, who better to spot “posers” than someone who specializes in it?

I’ve been pitching the series from my home office. I also teach writing in the space, so it’s set up for virtual work. That means it has good lighting, a unique background, and it’s hardwired. In this blog post, I’m offering two tips for pitching your novel from home. Pitching is stressful enough, so I’ve boiled it down to two “hacks” that hopefully will assist as you sell your manuscript to an agent.

First, review the lighting you’ll use when pitching; make it the best it can be. Second, pay attention to where your computer is located when you pitch. Both of those strategies can boost your confidence during the stressful process that is pitching a novel.

Use Great Natural Light—or Invest in Good Lighting

If you have a window with amazing natural light, use it. Make sure the time of your pitch (usually it’s a ten-minute window) corresponds with the time the light is most beneficial. The location should be a quiet spot with an uncluttered background. If the time doesn’t correspond or you don’t have great natural light, use a portable ring light. They’re not just for Instagram models! Ring lights are cheap, and they’re easy to use.

They usually have three settings. Play around with the settings that work for your situation. And when you see yourself on camera, don’t criticize your appearance! Your family and friends know the spark shining within you; focus on their helpful perceptions rather than a wrinkle or a few gray hairs. And, smile. Your eyes will light up, and the friendliness will convey your personality and approachability. A bright smile can overcome self-doubt, trust me!

Don’t Pitch with the Laptop in Your Lap

Yes, I’ve seen “low-placement” mistakes. During virtual pitches, sometimes the moderators allow writers to meet in the Zoom waiting rooms. I enjoy the time because it’s a place to share ideas and take the edge off my nerves. It’s kind of cool, actually; it amounts to rows of talking heads in boxes like the opening to the Brady Bunch TV show. But sometimes, it’s, ah, more than that.

Consider where your computer is placed; it should not be too low. If you’re looking down at the camera because your laptop is in your lap, change the position, please. The low angle emphasizes the wrong thing(s), and the top of your head is chopped off in the image box.

Position the computer and its camera so that you’re looking up at it. When I work or pitch other than in my office, I travel with a cardboard box and a portable ring light. My laptop goes up on the box—not in my lap!—and the light gets positioned closely behind my computer.

A low angle is an easy thing to fix. Place your computer up on something, and you’ll show your face during your pitch. The agent can focus on your ideas rather than a distracting image.

These two simple upgrades to the pitch process—good lighting and an upward position of the computer—are meant to ease the stress of pitching. I hope they boost your confidence during the stressful time that amounts to selling your work. Of course, if you’re interested in an in-person mystery conference (at least at the time of this blog post), the New England Crime Bake is taking place November 12-14. That’s a different gig than pitching from home. Best of luck if you go.

Happy pitching, writers.

If you attend one of the virtual conferences, please let us know how it went!

T.K. Sheffield, MA


Great, simple tips. Thanks!

I absolutely love my ring light -- right now the light is good in my office in the morning but dismal as the day progresses! (My husband borrows it for his zooms too and sometimes I have to track it down on the other end of the house!) - Val

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