Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

What Ant-Man’s Luis Can Teach Us About the Art of the Pitch

By Heather Phan

The SCBWI Southern Breeze Spring Mingle 2023 conference is right around the corner and today we
would like to offer our thoughts on the art of the pitch to help you prepare. To get started, click the play
button on a scene from Marvel’s 2018 movie Ant-Man and the Wasp in which Ant-Man/Scott Lang’s
friend and fast-talking storyteller Luis explains…well, we’ll let Luis explain.

Actor Michael Peña’s rapid-fire delivery is hilarious and brings dimension, depth, and a whole lotta
funny to the character of Luis and his monologues. But no one wants to sound like Luis when pitching a
story to prospective agents, editors, and others. So, what can we learn from Luis and those who
communicate stories and other information orally? Studying their performances can be a great source of
craft and inspiration when it comes to the art of the pitch.

Now, we’re not suggesting that you take an acting class and, for goodness’ sake, don’t do your own
stunts—let the professionals handle that. We would, however, suggest that just as stories are more than
a collection of words, there’s more to a pitch than the pitch itself. Let’s break it down.

Luis does not need to breathe; you need to breathe. In HBR magazine’s Breathing Is the Key to
Persuasive Public Speaking, public speaking expert Allison Shapira notes that “Many times it’s the way
we sound that makes the difference between whether or not we are actually heard…” and outlines four
ways better breathing can support your speaking skills and help you connect with others.

It’s common for some of us to speak more quickly when we’re feeling nervous, reading aloud, or reciting
memorized text while giving a speech, presenting a slideshow, or, say, delivering a pitch. Your vocal
cadence is the ebb and flow of your speech: the speed at which you speak, its pace or tempo, and the
overall rhythm and pitch of your voice. This matters because we’re not just putting ink to paper here; we
are drawing on an entirely different skillset to communicate our stories. Your live-and-in-person pitch
delivery can be smooth, well-rehearsed, and confident or rambling and uncertain. It can be the
completely intact, undamaged, and professionally placed package on your doorstep or it can be the
Godzilla-stomped heap of cardboard that somehow ended up embedded in your holly bushes.
We know you don’t want to end up in the hollies.

So, how can you become more aware of your vocal cadence and use it for a more engaging and effective

Ask another to listen to your pitch or, for a more in-depth analysis, record yourself on your phone or
another device and see what you can mine from playback.

Are you rushing?

Pausing too often or in a way that interrupts the flow of your pitch?

Using filler words like um and like and you know?

Staring off into space?

Work with your pacing, tone, and pitch until you hit the right cadence.

Need something more concrete? Print your pitch and mark the places where you’d like to emphasize a
point or pause for a beat and use this as a script for your delivery. As writers and illustrators, we
normally let our hands do the talking…for a pitch, though, it’s not just your words or images but your
voice and physical presence that will help you tell your story.

For a deeper dive, take a look at a video from voice-over training specialists Such A Voice called The Art
of Voice-Over Cadences in which they say that “Mastering the art of vocal cadences…will allow you to lift
the words off the page, keep the listener’s attention throughout, and become more present and
compelling with your reads.”

Not all of us enjoy the limelight, and some of us might devote more attention to remembering our pitch
than to actually delivering it. Watch Sense and Sensibility’s (1995) Edward struggle to meet Marianne’s
direction in this video clip regarding how he reads William Cowper’s poem, The Castaway, aloud.

You may not be an actor, but oral (or spoken) communication is performative in its own way, and just
like an actor’s performance, your delivery needs life! But how to achieve this? Imagine your favorite
actor delivering your pitch—how would this actor add dimension to your words, and bring them to life?

Now compare this to the recording that we know you’ll make of yourself delivering your pitch per our
suggestion earlier, channel your inner movie star, and you’re ready for your close up!

Pitches, like picture books, novels, poems, and the five-paragraph theme, have a clear and defined
structure, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t include this on our list. An actor’s performance is built on the
foundation of a script, so make sure that this critical piece is in place: know thy format. Keep it short,
simple, and compelling. For more information on how to craft a pitch, take a look at Pitch Wars’
informative post The 35-word and Twitter Pitch Simplified and Nonfiction Ninjas’ Peggy Thomas’ advice
and additional resource links in Crafting the Perfect Pitch for Children’s Non-Fiction. In it to win it? Keep
it to a minute.

Catchy, right?

We may not be body language experts, but we do remember that our mothers told us to stand up
straight, and with good reason. Actors often use body language in ways both subtle and broad to bring
their characters to life, and whereas we don’t suggest incorporating a pratfall into your pitch, we would
certainly encourage you to stand up straight. That said, we’ll let the experts take it from here. In their
post Posture, Poise & Gestures, the website Professional Communicators offers four tips for better non-
verbal communication.

In short, yes, it’s absolutely about your words and/or images but it’s also sometimes about more than
just your words and/or images. For an eight-minute-and-eleven-second look at what this means,
BookEnds Literary Agency offers their thoughts on standing out in What Makes a Good Pitch.

Here’s where you bring it all together. To help you get your pitch to perfect, we’ve put together a Pitch
Perfect Bingo card for you to download and play.
You’ve got this.

If you ever feel like you’ve got more of a blooper reel than a movie, don’t worry. Continue to develop
your craft, hone your skills, believe in yourself, and don’t give up. If you build it—and pitch it like a
boss—they will come.

Go practice, kidlits, and let us know how it goes by leaving us a comment on Facebook or hitting us up
on Twitter. Bonus points for anyone who records and posts a version of their pitch in Luis’ signature
style and includes hashtags #scbwi and #pitchitlikeluis.

Good luck, and we can’t wait to see you at the Spring Mingle 2023 conference!