12592611_771581496277161_5277452345117460282_nA year ago, I was invited to attend “Adapting to Hollywood,” a conference thrown by Sisters in Crime (primarily the fabulous LA Chapter) and for which I didn’t have to spend one red cent. I still don’t know how I got invited, but I’ll take it. What was obvious from the get-go was that indies like me were the major exception. I buddied up with the awesome Paisley Ray once we discovered we were the unwashed. However, while I didn’t have a built-in buddy group from my chapter or my publisher, people were without exception kind and helpful to me (and to Paisley). Paisley went out and Googled everyone she met on day one and learned we sold more books than all of them put together (and our reviews out numbered theirs like 1000 to 1), so that helped us feel a lot better, too :-). Plus we heard the usual kvetching about lack of control. But I digress. Let’s talk film.

SINC had arranged for us to pitch to Hollywood producers. We were given some instructions ahead of time, and we had a morning to prepare, but—honestly—I would have preferred the pitches occur at the end of the weekend not after lunch on day one. The woman I was supposed to pitch to (and had prepared for) got her days mixed up and no-showed. I was shoe-horned in at the last second with someone I knew nada about, and based on advice I got from our “wrangler,” I pitched a different book than I’d prepared.

And I pitched it badly. Which was 100% my fault. *ARGH*

So what makes a good pitch? Heck, what is a pitch in the first place?

In this case, a pitch is your attempt to interest someone in spending time and money taking your book from print to screen. We were doing five-minute pitches, and we were told to be Clear, Confident, and Committed, action-oriented (build suspense by telling the beginning, middle and end of our book), and to start with a log line. We were told a log line was a one sentence summary of our book. I’ve found a better way of looking at it since then, HERE.

Now, if we hadn’t had pitches scheduled with  producers, we would have needed to research the market to see what producers were putting together material on our topics for media companies/outlets that would work for us. That’s maybe the most important tip I learned: don’t just pitch anyone. Hone in on someone who can make money on your work.

  1. RESEARCH.

In this case, SINC had tried to identify that for us by who they brought in. Most of the producers were looking for Lifetime or Hallmark type of projects.

The next thing I would advise is to listen to your gut.

2. RESPECT YOUR INSTINCTS.

I let myself be swayed by the opinions of others, none of whom had read my books or knew anything but what I told them, and all of whom were trying to help a large number of people at once: I wasn’t getting their focused attention. My gut told me to stick with what I’d come expecting to pitch. I didn’t listen to it.

Next, I heard after-the-fact that I should have focused on characters instead of story. That was also what my gut had told me, but, again, I was too waffly, instead of Committed and Confident.

Third, bring water.

3. RE-HYDRATE.

I didn’t have any water. Part of that was because of the fire drill when my person didn’t show, but, whatever the reason, my throat closed up at one point so badly I couldn’t speak. I’m not kidding. When that happened, I then got scared and confused and the rest will just go down as the worst pitch of all time and one of the worst experiences of my life. I wasn’t Clear, Confident, or Committed. I just wanted out of there. Had I been Clear, Confident, and Committed, I would have said, “Yeah, I think you’d probably be more interested in my novel about a woman who completes an Ironman triathlon to honor her murdered husband, only to put herself and her kids squarely in the sights of his killer?” since she seemed to be Lifetime-focused, something I should have been able to flexibly respond to, and would have known had I researched her ahead of time. C’est la vie. I’m just glad I didn’t faint in her presence.

Fourth, don’t contact people on your own behalf. You have no credibility. We did in this case, because we were selected by SINC, but I would want an attorney, film agent, or credible industry person to initially present information about my books. We heard ad nauseam, “We don’t take non-referred material.”

4. RELATIONSHIPS.

You need relationships. Yeah. A lot of them.

Fifth, expect your pitch to succeed in a real request for material maybe 1 in 100 times. And only 1 in 10 of those to move forward.

5. RESILIENCE.

You must have it. This is not a world for the weak of stomach or those in a hurry or unable to be flexible. And it’s creativity by committee, whereas novel writing is a solitary pursuit. They highly encouraged us that if we ever get a deal, we should take the money and get the hell away from the project.

I learned SO MUCH at this event. I came out with a battered ego, but a clear personal strategy on how to pursue film deals. I’m more confident than ever that my books translate to a visual medium in a three-act structure. I don’t see myself returning to Hollyweird unless there’s a gun to my head (or a check waved in front of me), but being a screenwriter has never been my dream. I’m a storyteller. My vision is to find another medium for my characters and stories to make their way to people who will enjoy them, and another way to monetize my work for me.

I’d welcome your war stories, tips, and questions in the comments below.

One year update, following the tips I wrote a year ago: I now have a completed screenplay by two wonderful screenwriters for Saving Grace working with Voyage Media. And I have a top notch producer who is shopping it as a TV movie. Stay Tuned 🙂

For tips like these and many more, check out my classes on the SkipJack Publishing Online School (where you can take How to Sell a Ton of Books, FREE).

Pamela

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes overly long e-mails, hilarious nonfiction (What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?), and series mysteries, like What Doesn’t Kill You, which includes the bestselling Saving Grace (e-book free everywhere) and the 2015 and 2016 WINNERS of the USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction, Heaven to Betsy and Hell to Pay. She teaches writing, publishing, and promotion at the SkipJack Publishing Online School (where you can take How to Sell a Ton of Books, FREE) and writes about it on the SkipJack Publishing blog.

Pamela resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, Texas and in the frozen north of Snowheresville, Wyoming. She has a passion for great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long trail rides and hikes with her hunky husband and pack of rescue dogs, horses, donkeys, and whoever else wants to tag along, traveling in the Bookmobile, and experimenting with her Keurig. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound (if she gets a good running start).

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5 Responses to The Down Low on My Hollywood Pitch Trip: My 5 Rs of Book-to-Screen Pitching

  1. Candace Davenport says:

    Great story (not for you, but for us who can commiserate along with you!). I have a question from your last paragraph. Although you are convinced your books would make great films and you understand how to get there, you’ve decided not to return to Hollyweird but to find another medium. If not film or TV, what medium will you be pursuing? Can everything you’ve learned be applied to other mediums and how? Thanks!

    • Pamela says:

      Hey Candace! I mean that I am going to concentrate my efforts on two things: 1) continuing writing my series, building readership and sales, and hopefully coming to the attention of people that might refer my work and 2) simultaneously try to a) get my work into the right format to find someone to refer it on my behalf (log lines, synopses, coverage, potentially work with a screen writer) b) find someone to refer it on my behalf (contests, queries, networking) and c) make sure that the person referring it on my behalf does research, with or without my involvement, to get the right material in front of the right people. Right now I am in the information gathering phase for 2a & b while always doing 1. Whether the right person ultimately sees my work as TV movie, feature film, series, or online content, I do not know at this point. The keynote speaker at Adapting to Hollywood, Megan Abbott, talked about two of her books that are in development. One was in feature development for several years and ultimately is now green lit for TV series. My point being that I know too little to close any doors at this point. The primary message I came away with from the meetings were that the main thing is having interesting characters, just like it is in fiction writing, honestly. After that, having visual content and a 3-act structure is important. So ultimately, if my writing is to ever translate to screen, I must be involved, but I am not going to be running back to LA and devoting all my attention to personally researching and pitching, but instead focus on the steps above. If I ever go back, it will be because someone wants me to based on actual interest in a particular piece of my work, from a referral. Anyway, that’s my strategy.

      • Candace Davenport says:

        Thanks for the great followup on your post. Even more great content. Basically, your experience did not make you give up hope for the content to film/TV, just gave you a different focus and plan. So, despite not walking out with a contract in hand (and being embarrassed!), the event was successful in that now you have your approach (and us too because of your share!). Thanks again.

  2. Excellent post. I the thing that jumps out most to me as I watch you go through this is for people to understand just how slow this process it. If you are a writer and are frustrated at the pace that things move in the writing/publishing world, the movie/TV world will really drive you crazy. I think it is a worthwhile trip for you but we have to be in it for the very long haul.

    • pamela says:

      Wow, that was so well said. Yes, movie/TV is slow to the Nth degree, much worse than books!!

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