Most of you are probably familiar with this television show from the 70’s & 80’s. The Gong Show was the original America’s Got Talent (or Britain’s Got Talent).
I had a strange crush on the host, Chuck Barris. I thought he was adorable in those hats and when he danced to Gene, Gene the Dancin’ Machine. But, that’s neither here nor there. I just drifted back to a childhood memory for a moment.
Anywayyy, some of you know I attended a writer’s conference recently. I thought they had an ingenious idea by offering a workshop called The Gong Show Pitch Fest. The premiss was to have authors pitch their novels to a panel of agents and publishers. Like the TV show, if a panel member didn’t care for the pitch they could gong the author. After three gongs the panel members would give the author tips on how to create a better pitch.
The judges gave out scores to each author. The one with the most points won a free pitch with an agent or publisher (there was normally a charge).
I’d been aware of this workshop since I signed up for the conference months earlier. I was dying to try it … dying with fear that is. By the time the Pitch Fest rolled around, I hadn’t had my Gum Girl experience yet and was petrified to sign up as one of the pitch authors.
When I stepped into the room where they were holding the Gong Show, I realized they had opened the banquet rooms for a larger group, at least 100 people. Yipes! I saw authors signing up near the podium and the panel finding their seats behind judging tables.
I had practiced a pitch back home, but knew my mind would go blank with an audience.
I crept ever so slowly toward the sign-in table. Time was ticking, and I needed to sign-up before they started. I carefully picked up the pen, purposely dropped it, picked it up again and signed my name. I was the last one on the very long list, and the Gong Show Pitch Fest began.
The first author read from notes and didn’t get gonged. The panel gave advice when the author finished. Another author pitched, no gong. The third author received cheers when she finished. If no one did any better, it was obvious #3 would be the winner.
I think the panel grew tired of the less engaging pitches afterward, because the following authors were gonged. One by one, they got closer to my name as my heart nearly leaped out of my chest. I know, it’s a bit anticlimactic, but they ran out of time and didn’t get to me.
Since I’m just over my 500-word limit, briefly, here are the lessons I learned … don’t use notes. Know your story intimately and share it with passion. Begin with an attention grabbing log line (first sentence). Leave out details. Tell the beginning, middle and end, along with the key conflict. It might also help to tell the emotional arc of the characters. Don’t pitch for longer than 2 to 3 minutes. Research your genre and the agent or publisher you are pitching to. Any questions?