How Operant Conditioning Sold my Pitch

Kitsune-TsukiI spent last weekend immersed wholly in words. I don’t talk about it much here, but I also write fiction, and I’ve decided lately to put more effort into that area. So two things happened last week — my novelette Kitsune-Tsuki came out on ebook, and I attended a writers’ conference.

I hadn’t been planning to pitch to any of the agents at the conference — I didn’t feel my newer projects were wholly ready — but a new friend listened to my practice pitch and then literally led me to the agent board and signed me up for a pitch. Now it was on.

I hate pitches. I think all writers hate pitches, really. Just as Isadora Duncan famously protested, “If I could explain, I wouldn’t have to dance!” I feel that if I could sum up a story in five sentences or so, it wouldn’t have to be a hundred thousand words of manuscript. Pitches and queries are setting years of hopes and work out to be judged in literal seconds by a stranger. No one likes them; everyone gets nervous about them.

So I practiced. I got in my car, turned on some epic music, and rehearsed. I had carefully chosen my words (of course!), and I back-chained them to guard against stuttering or forgetting what came next. I made a focus point of one key phrase which kept tripping me. And like a good trainer, I ignored mistakes to avoid packing frustration into the endeavor, and I simply practiced and improved.

So when pitch time came, I felt confident and fluent. Fluent enough that when my pitch appointment was re-scheduled at the last minute, I wasn’t unduly rattled and knew I could get into the zone again. Fluent enough that when the agent interrupted with a question, I could answer relevantly and pick up again without stumbling. Fluent enough that he requested my manuscript.

That’s a long way, of course, from a signed contract. But it’s also a long way from being politely rejected outright. But honestly, even if he hadn’t been interested, I was pleased with my pitch performance — and I knew where it had come from. Good behavior analysis had made me fluent and confident in minimal time.

(Two hours later, my novella Kitsune-Tsuki was announced as winner of the 2012 Luminis Prize, which was another healthy dollop of delayed-but-much-appreciated reinforcement!)

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
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  1. I literally love everything about this post. Awesome!

  2. Such a great story. can I cross post it with (name and blog link) Where do we order the book!!

  3. I’m very proud of you, Laura. Reach for the stars! (click on the book cover image above to order!)

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