Shall we do it? Shall we talk about pitching?
*Disclaimer: I have never knowingly pitched.
Which doesn’t mean to say that I’ve never pitched. It just means I haven’t done it knowingly. I’ve been in plenty of situations where a pitch might normally required, but I wasn’t sitting there thinking Right then, get my pitching hat on. I’ve also done plenty of written pitches, some of which were even successful. I didn’t really think of those as pitches either. I seem to remember deciding early on that I was never going to pitch, never ever ever – partly on a political level because a good pitch didn’t necessarily mean a good script, and also because I just didn’t fancy having to do it. I’m not a salesperson, I’m a writer, and all that jazz. Pitching was some nasty Hollywood invention, designed to make producers’ lives easier while humiliating the fuck out of desperate writers. No thanks. Among theatre-writers, pitching is a bit of a dirty word and not something we want to encourage. Imagine having to pitch your play to a theatre. Ewww.
Except we do pitch. Obviously. We just don’t call it that. We tend to call it Having a chat about a few ideas. Or Just give me a brief outline. Or Have you got any thoughts about such-and-such? Or even Put forward a one-page proposal of your ideas, if you want to get formal about it. Yep – it’s pitching alright.
At workshops, I’ve met writers who are terrified at the thought of pitching. Just the word itself can reduce them to a sweaty panic, their bodies suddenly tense and hard, hands clenched. Forget about pitching, I’ll tell them. Just tell me the story. And relax.
You see, we put pitching outside ourselves. We reckon it’s a skill, a sales skill, something that you’re either born with or not, all bluster and confidence. Well yes, it’s a skill and it’s something you can work on and improve – but most writers don’t score very highly in the realms of bluster and confidence. In fact, we’d go as far as saying that writers that are good at those sorts of things aren’t real writers, they’re not true artists, they’re hacks. And we don’t want to be hacks, we don’t want to be one of those wankers who talks the talk but can’t walk it. So we push it even further from ourselves; it’s a skill we don’t have and don’t want, frankly, because we are artists, dammit.
And then we find ourselves having to pitch.
I recently read a post by Chela Davison, Fuck the Elevator Speech, aimed at people trying to promote their own business, but I reckon the principles still apply. It’s not necessarily about making sure you’ve got down the precise 30 words to sell your project, or that you’ve rehearsed the spiel enough times in your head. It’s about relationships and stories. Knowing who we are, what our strengths are, knowing what story we want to tell. Getting to know who the other person is, what they want, what you can give to them. A successful project depends on three things: the right idea, the right people, the right time. If one of those is out of alignment, it’s not going to work. That big idea you have? It’s not going to be right for everybody. That producer you just met? Turns out she’s already done a play about bats and the economy, who’d have thought? A good pitch is as much about listening as it is about talking. You have passions, so does the other person. Find out where they intersect. The idea that you went in with might not be the idea you come out with.
Get used to talking about your ideas. Practise while you’re stuck in traffic, or washing up. Not just the story, but the inspiration behind it. What’s driving you forward? What’s getting you excited or angry, what’s leaving you speechless? Create a manifesto before you create a pitch. Your story isn’t just about a girl who meets a boy who happens to be a werewolf. It’s about that feeling you get when you wake up suddenly at 4 am and the world feels so massive. It’s about seeing your son’s shoulder blade and the sheer disbelief that anything could be so perfect. It’s about seeing David Cameron on TV and wanting to shake him, wanting to punch him in the face because he doesn’t know what it’s like to be Ed, who just killed himself because he couldn’t deal with the stress of having no money any more. The magic phrase, as ever; What I really want to say is…
Personal connection to the work is good. Passion is excellent. Why does this story matter, and why should you be the one to tell it? You need belief to drive a pitch. Belief in yourself and belief in the story. It’s going to be a lot harder to pitch with conviction about something you don’t care about, something you’re taking on to pay the bills or because you think it’ll lead to something better in the long run. Rather than rehearsing a mediocre pitch of a lacklustre idea, go back and find the gold. Re-think the idea until it shines for you. Because you’re not a shyster. You’re not a confidence trickster. You’re not trying to scam anyone, get someone to buy into a shitty idea. You’ve got something you believe in.
There’s a new wave of female entrepeneurs creating products and services that they’re passionate about, a lot of which revolves around forms of personal coaching. They’ll talk about creating the right business, finding the right clients, getting their message out into the world, financial and spiritual abundance. Some of it is inspiring, some of it comes across as shiny bullshit, or at times a virtual pyramid sales scheme. It might not seem to have much relevance to writers, but I’ve managed to learn from a few of them. The basic message is this: if you have something to say that will make a difference to other people, then they will want to hear it. If you can demonstrate your ability to make a difference to their lives, they will be willing to pay for it. Your work will not be for everybody, and so you need to connect with the right people. As a writer, you’re also a business – I know that feels dirty, but go with it – if you want people to give you money for what you do, then you have to sell your work and yourself. Find your audience. Find your people. They’re waiting to hear from you.
Why do you want to write? If that’s some kind of self-satisfying ego-thing, then you and I are pretty much done at this point. But if it’s because you seem to have some kind of ability and your writing seems to speak to people in some way, then we’ve got a starting point. If you believe that there are stories which need to be told, important stories, if you believe that make people laugh or cry or feel alive, dammit, then we’re getting somewhere. If you believe that you can tell stories in a way that helps us all to understand what it means to be alive, that can teach us, inspire us and move us, stories that ask big questions while entertaining us at the same time – then why wouldn’t you want to share that with the world?
Pitching is merely the act of finding the right people to help get your ideas out into the world. It’s your job to make the actual writing as good as it could possibly be, and it’s your job to find ways of getting that writing out there. It doesn’t mean that you should cling too tightly to your ideas, either; not all of them will come to fruition. Right idea, right people, right time, remember? Otherwise you’re all going to be wasting a lot of time and energy, as well as the heartbreak of another completed script that doesn’t go anywhere. The reality is that it’s never going to be you and Sonia Friedman or Stephen Spielberg stuck between floors in a lift together, doing the elevator pitch. The reality is a lot more mundane: you’re gradually getting to know more people in the business, you’re gradually raising your game, you’re gradually getting a shot at bigger opportunities, you’re gradually getting better at pitching. Ultimately pitching is asking a question; is this the right story for the right people at the right time? It’s just telling that story, with belief and enthusiasm. You’re a writer. You’re a storyteller. Tell your story.