Perfect Pitch: Tips for editor/agent appointments
The mere thought of pitching to an editor or agent strikes fear in the heart of many authors. Here are some suggestions I’ve developed after giving numerous pitches and watching others pitch. I hope some resonate with and help you.
Almost everyone gets nervous. The key is to learn to turn your nerves into positive enthusiasm for the opportunity to discuss your work.
Don’t: giggle, fidget, tap your pen on the table, mumble. Never mention how nervous you are. Ever. Don’t read 100% from your notes. IMO, this makes you seem unprepared and not comfortable enough with your own work to discuss it. Don’t memorize, either. Unless you’re an actress, chances are you’ll sound stiff and rote.
Do: make eye contact and smile. Remember that this is a business and do your best to be professional and not flustered.
Think: Talking about my work to this editor/agent is an amazing opportunity. I am a professional. I’m here to sell a product.
Try not to think: This is my baby. . .it’s so hard to put her out there. What if they don’t like her? Why am I doing this?
Focus on the goal: to get them to request some of your work. Most of the time they will, because it’s all in the writing, not the pitch. Even if they don’t make a request, it could be for the best…you won’t be wasting time and effort submitting and waiting for this industry professional but can search for someone who might be interested. Don’t be surprised if the editor/agent just wants to talk and not hear about your book(s).
Keep your pitch SHORT. Editors/agents don’t want to hear every plot twist or character detail, no matter how fabulously fascinating you think they are. And think: how can I make them want to know more, rather you wanting to tell more.
I used to have a one-minute pitch. Then I pitched in a few sentences or less. I could tell by their faces that this approach grabs more attention and interest. For several projects, I had a “high concept” pitch, which many editors/agents like. Use familiar movie characters/titles or other books to sum up your story, such as: Cinderella meets James Bond in 1810 England. Other approaches: focus either on goal, motivation and conflict or something unique about your manuscript.
Try to start your pitch with a hook so you can intrigue them with your first sentence. How many times do you think they’ve heard, “My story is about. .. .” or “TITLE is a completed XX word manuscript. .. .” One way to begin is with what makes your ms different from others in your subgenre. Some advise starting with a “what if” question.
Be prepared to:
• discuss another manuscript/work in progress. They’ll want to know you’re not a one book wonder. Or they may have just taken on a story they think is similar to yours.
• tell them how fast you write. How many pages can you write a week? How long does it take you to finish a book? In today’s market, content is king. One book a year isn’t usually enough.
Know WHAT you write. Saying “contemporary romance” isn’t specific enough. You need to know your market/subgenre and what makes your manuscript different from what’s already out there. Learn about the editor/agent, including who they edit/represent. Maybe you have something in common, like you’re both alumni of the same university. This info will help spark conversation, help you converse on a professional level and show that you have knowledge of the industry. Check #mswl on Twitter to see if they’ve posted specific requests.
Focus on the editor/agent. The pitch is about the buyer, the editor/agent, not you, the salesperson. Make your time about them as much as possible. Watch her/his body language. . .do their eyes seem to be glazing over or are they leaning forward and paying attention? Try to be attuned and be flexible enough to adjust your planned pitch if necessary.
Be in the moment and listen carefully to their questions. If you don’t know the answer, don’t get flustered or make something up. Simply say something like, “I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you.” Then follow up.
PRACTICE. Out loud is best. Consider practicing in front of a mirror or someone else. Reading your pitch over and over just isn’t the same. Make sure you’re writing for the ear, not the eye, and use shorter sentences. Not only will this help you to breathe, but as in TV news, shorter sentences are easier for the ear to understand.
Remember that each pitch is a two-way street. Of course you have an interest in them buying your book/representing you. But you also have an interest in knowing whether or not this is someone you’d feel comfortable working closely with.