One of the great things about conferences (at least from my POV) is the verbal pitch. Before you say, "I'm not signing up for the pitches. Too scary!" consider what a pitch actually is.
What is a pitch?
It's a quick "about" your ms.
So your new BFF you met during breakfast asked you what you write and you say, "I'm writing an Adult Cozy Murder Mystery about an erotic book club that gets caught up in the murder of the local strip club owner."
Congrats. You just pitched. A rather captivating hook, I might add.
In other terms, you don't have to talk to an agent in order to pitch. Every person you ever talk to about your book will be a pitch. Friends, editors, yes agents, and most especially prospective readers.
If your BFF asks for more info--or if you're in a pitch session with an agent--you'll need to expand on your pitch.
Character (remember, we need to care about this main character): Raised in the deep south by a conservative gun toting mother, Mary is qualified to do three things, fetch drinks for her husband, plan a party, and shoot a dime from fifty yards. So when her husband leaves her for the local strip club owner, Mary's lost. That's when her mother inducts her in her book club to loosen her up--it's an erotic book club and the women aren't shy about their opinions, at least not when they're drinking "ice tea" at ten in the morning.
Conflict (make it unique): When her ex's new squeeze, the local strip club owner, is murdered, fingers point at Mary as the culprit. She'll need all the help she can get from her new friends to find the killer, clear her name, and steer clear of the sexy detective who looks way too much like the main character in the club's latest read.
Set this baby in the deep south and you've got a winner I can't resist. (and in my head, this is a cozy--meaning closed door "romance" if there is any at all. I'm having too much fun with making stuff up)
Okay so you have the basics. Hook. Character. Conflict. You need your own credentials--the author bio part. Word count if asked, genre, comparables, etc.
That sounds like a query!
It has all the same dynamics. But it isn't a query.
You heard that, right?
Your pitch IS NOT your query.
Your query will have intricate sentences to include information and flow and demonstrate your writing capabilities. Your pitch needs to be easy to swallow. In other words, if you're having a hard time memorizing it, throw away the paper. Pitch everyone. Pitch the air. Until you can talk about your ms smoothly without memorizing complicated sentences. Try pitching your favorite books to your friends--you'll find that you're not repeating the back cover blurb word for word.
If I were pitching the above erotic book club murder mystery, I'd use that as my template. To myself I'd think "hook, character, conflict" and stick to those guidelines. Then practice pitching it until I find something that flows well and is easy to say (I do the same thing with projects I'm pitching to editors, and family, and friends, and colleagues--I'm constantly gauging interest and the best way to capture attention).
For example, pitch The Hunger Games. "It's set in a futuristic world where the government punishes the districts--like states--for a rebellion in the past. They draw a lottery in which one girl and one boy from each district between twelve and eighteen have to compete in a televised event where they have to kill each other. The last person standing wins and gets money and prestige." That's the very quick pitch, and usually no one needs anything more because it's so cool! But of course, in a real pitch you'd talk about Katniss and her sacrifice and struggles and whatnot. But the point here is, Don't memorize your pitch. And for the love of Herman Melville, don't read it. I'll allow it, I won't kick you out of the session, but put the tiny bit of effort in. It goes a long way.
Your know your ms better than anyone. Talk about it. Without rambling of course. Stay within the confines of a query, without quoting your query. A pitch should be less than 90 seconds. A quick pitch should be less than 30 seconds.
So what's the point of a pitch? Why can't I just send the query? Because I usually get more out of a face-to-face pitch than I would from a query. I can ask questions. Get info out of you I won't get in a query. And if your query/pitch isn't working, you can ask for advice and I'll give it to you. That's why I'm there, after all. And if there is something about your pitch I like, I'm more likely to request than if I were just going through my queries (my rejection rate in queries is way higher than at conferences).
Remember, I'm collecting FAQs about conferences.