Nervous about pitching at Nationals? Turn your nerves into enthusiasm.

Please welcome 2011 Golden Heart finalist Ruth Kaufman to the blog.

Whether extrovert or introvert, many authors clam up when someone says, “What do you write?” or “Tell me about your book.” They may have stage fright (like Barbra Streisand) or they may feel uncomfortable talking about their work.  In fact, today a published Facebook friend posted that she didn’t like to toot her own horn.  These authors look away, hem and haw, and eventually manage to get out something about their genre: “I write contemporary.”  Conversely, nerves lead them to babble on and on about plot details.  Neither approach is likely to intrigue the listener.

It’s hard for me to understand why anyone who has spent hours and hours writing and submitting would be loathe to discuss her passion at any opportunity.  I heard an author say that at the literacy signing (a yearly event at RWA’s National Conference where hundreds of authors sit alphabetically, sign books and proceeds go to literacy) she was too nervous to introduce herself to her senior editor.  

Some may fear sounding stupid.  Others may fear rejection.  Even I get nervous to some degree when the spotlight is on.  The key is to learn to control any fears instead of allowing them to control you.  Turn your nerves into enthusiasm and make them work for you.  If you don’t, at a conference you may miss opportunities to make connections with other authors and industry professionals (IPs).  When out and about, you miss opportunities to grow your readership or make contacts.  

Tips for talking about your writing with confidence:

Focus on the message and what you’re saying.  Think: this is an opportunity I’ve been waiting for for a long time!  I’m so excited to talk to EDITOR about my work.  Don’t think:  OMG, it’s EDITOR.  I’ll faint if she doesn’t request something.

Answer these questions: 
     1)    What do you fear the most when talking about your work?
     2)    What is the worst that can happen if your fear comes true? 
     3)    Do you avoid verbally promoting your writing?  If so, why?

Remember that this is a business. You are a professional. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur, a salesperson with products to market.  Salespeople would get fired if they failed to promote the benefits of their products to potential clients. Salespeople have thick skins and know that each “no” means they’re closer to “yes.”

Prepare a short (around 15 second) summary of your book that includes a hook. Also know what makes it different from others in its subgenre (Regency-set, vampire, etc.).  Practice out loud, preferably with others.  This way you’ll be prepared.  You’ll know what to say.

Know your hero’s and heroine’s goals, motivation and conflict inside and out.

First impressions mean a lot.  Don’t talk too soft or loud, apologize for anything, fidget, giggle.  Avoid lots of “like, you know,” ums and ahs. Better to take a breath instead.

Have eye contact and smile.

Have fun! If you enjoy yourself, your audience will too.  If you act nervous, your audience picks up on that.The next time someone asks what you write, I hope you can answer with confidence.  Don’t let opportunity pass you by. 

Ruth Kaufman’s inspirational medieval AT HIS COMMAND is a 2011 Golden Heart® Finalist.  An attorney with a Master’s in Radio/TV, Ruth is an on camera and voiceover talent, a freelance writer and editor and workshop presenter.  She lives in Chicago and actually thinks pitching is fun.  Learn more at and


  1. Thanks for coming on today, Ruth. You have some great tips.

    I have to admit I'm one of those authors who hates to talk about my work. Not because I don't love it...I think my grandma's words to me "It's not nice to talk about yourself" still resonate. Should get over that, eh? :)

  2. IMO you're not talking about yourself, you're talking about your products. For many of us, written queries or promotion alone won't be enough to sell our products or grow readership. If we don't believe strongly enough in our products to talk about them, who will?

  3. These are great tips, Ruth! You're a natural in a group or one-on-one, so friendly and knowledgeable. I always seem to fall back on trying to be the funniest guy in the room, which is probably some Freudian thing, and maybe people laugh, but they never have a clue I've written a book. I don't know why it's so hard to bring it up.
    Definitely working on it, because I want this one to do well SO much.

  4. Ruth, this is such a wonderful blog on a critical topic. The best salesperson, I've been told, is someone who falls in love with his/her product and wants to share that love. What a great analogy for writers to seize to generate confidence in presenting themselves with energy!

    Thank you!

  5. Ruth, I "get" what you're saying, I just don't do it. Well, I don't do it enough anyway. But I'm getting better. When people ask me what I do for a living, my first answer is always "I'm a fitness trainer." I don't always follow up with "and writer," but I'm working on it.

  6. I have the opposite problem; I am so excited by my books, I could talk the ears off the corn belt once started. Serious verbal editing is required lest my quarry's eyes start to glaze.

  7. You're so right about it all.

    I've learned I rarely get nervous talking to a crowd (no less one-on-one with an editor) when I know my material (day job residue). So practice your pitch, practice talking about different aspects of your book (goal, motivation and conflict) and what makes your book stand out. You wrote the thing, you should know everything about it. The editor won't ask a question about it that you don't know. Practicing with others, talking outloud, you can catch what doesn't sound true and correct it before you get in front of the real deal.

    I hope to see you next year's RWA, Ruth. Missing out on this one. HUGS.