Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Pitching a Winner!
By Josi S. Kilpack
You've written your book, you've revised it, and you've let your friends read it while chewing your fingernails to the quick. You then took their suggestions and made your book even better and realized it was time to face the facts--you are running out of excuses not to seek publication. You thought writing the book was intimidating--now it's time to send it out to the world and hope it finds a home with a publisher who will love it as much as you do. It's time to learn your market, it's time to query, and for many writers it's time to meet an agent face to face and pitch your book. **FYI, if what you sign up for is a "Review," meaning you submitted your actual writing prior to the meeting, all of the following information still applies.
So, what is a pitch exactly? And how can you use the time as efficiently as possible?
First, A pitch is basically a face to face meeting with an agent/editor who MIGHT want to read more. It's a powerful opportunity, but in order for it to be of greatest benefit to you, you need to look at it from all perspectives:
1--Author Development: We are writers, that means we love words, but we usually prefer them on a page. I'm convinced that one of the reasons I started to write was because I couldn't revise things I said out loud. In a book, I can sound like a genius and always say the right thing...not so much in real life. Still, if you want to become a published author you need to be able to talk about yourself and your book. Sitting across from a real live agent/editor forces you to do this. Practicing what you'll say before you sit across from said agent/editor (hereafter referred to as "agent' because I'm getting annoyed with agent/editor) will help you do this well. If you're intimidated, remember that when you do get published, you're going to be put on the spot all the time to talk about your book--the days of the eccentric author hiding in the woods ended the day the Unibomber was arrested.
2--Name recognition: Getting a face to face with an agent/editor is your chance to rise out of the slush pile. IF they request your book, you can remind them that you met them at such-and-such conference. Agents receive thousands and thousands of queries, and request hundreds of partials, but you met them, they then have a connection and that sets you apart.
3--Knowing the agent: When an writer sits down to start researching agents it's an overwhelming prospect trying to find an agent that might be a good fit for your book. At any given time there are likely dozens of agents who could be the one--but a pitch gives you the excuse to study up on a particular agent. Learn about their clients, their history, the company they work for. Learn their submission guidelines, find out which publishing houses they seem to have a good relationship with, and learn about the books they've placed. You likely don't have the time to do this type of research for every agent you'll query, but it's worth your time to really dig into this one. The process will also benefit you if you need to research agents in the future because you'll know best how to go about it.
4--Insider info: Agents eat, breathe, and sleep books. They know what sells and what doesn't sell. They know what imprints are the best fit for certain genres. They know what's hot, they know what was hot 6 months ago, and even if they aren't interested in your book, they will know who might be. Sitting across from them is like having the chance to discuss reduction sauces with Julie Child or Chimpanzees with Jane Goodall--they are experts and their industry knowledge is priceless. I think this is the area of a pitch most writers don't take advantage of the way they should. They are so eager to convince the agent their book is great (not that it isn't) they forget to listen to what the agent has to say. Not every author who meets with an agent is going to get their book requested, but every single one of them has the chance to learn details of their market they might never learn otherwise. Because of this, having questions you want to ask will ensure you will leave the pitch smarter than you went in.
A couple other tips:
1-Be respectful to their time and their status. These are industry professionals. Even if they say something you don't necessarily agree with, arguing is not going to reflect well on you.
2-Be Prepared. Know how to verbalize your book and your long term writing goals, come with questions you want answers to, and know the agent your meeting with.
3-Play nice. Don't defame other authors, books, or agents. Writers quick to put down someone else are often attempting to make themselves look better in the process, and that's rarely the result. You don't need to make someone else look small in order to make yourself look good.
4-Have realistic expectations. Every writer wants to submit to the agent they pitch to, but the fact is agents request less than 10%. Usually it's because the book isn't ready or they know they're not the best fit. Because of those two things, you shouldn't feel offended or hurt if they don't want to read more. Please, please, please view your pitch as an opportunity, not a guarantee.
5-Evaluate. After the pitch is over, evaluate how it went. Did you say what you wanted to say the way you wanted to say it? Could you have done better? Did you learn any tidbits of information that could improve your book or your agent focus or your next pitch?
6-Deliver. If you were lucky enough to have your book requested, be sure to submit it quickly, when the memory of your meeting is fresh in the agent's mind. Most agents will not take submissions at the conference--they don't want to haul manuscripts back home with them, so find out how best to send it to them and then follow their instructions to the letter.
It's an exciting opportunity to meet with people who have made bestsellers out of a writer who was once just like you--use your time wisely and take full advantage of the information available.
Here are some additional links for information on how to pitch:
Julie Wright's blog Post The Perfect Pitch
Nathan Bransford's Post How to Maximize Pitch Sessions
LDStorymakers 2010 Agent/Editor Information