Pitchin’, pitchin’, bitchin’

So this happened.

I’m sure a number of you have already seen it, but for those of you who haven’t, literary agent Janet Reid argues that pitch sessions should go the way of the dodo bird at conferences.

When I first read it, I was all fired up, thinking “Nu-uh. Pitch opportunities totally need to stay.” And yes, I did it in the manner of a seven year old girl fighting with her brother over who made the scorch marks on the carpet.

But, instead, I’m going to tell you a story.

I have been to exactly three conferences that included opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. Of those three, I took advantage of one. I was nervous. I’m not very good at selling myself (no, not in the hooker sense. In the sense I don’t have a big stage presence.) and essentially, that’s what I had to do. They were interviewing me about my book, and I had to convince them my book was the best candidate for the job.

I had two chances to pitch, both to editors. On the first day of the conference, I was hanging out in the writers’ lounge, waiting on some friends, and started making small talk (something else I’m terrible at) with another woman who was sitting in the same seating arrangement. Somehow it came about that her glasses were all scratched up because her cat had dragged them off her bedside table in the middle of the night and into the litter box. Yeah, ew, gross, I know. Anyway, I mentioned how nervous I was about pitching the next day, and she said she was, too – only she was getting nervous because she would be listening to them. Turns out it was Carrie Jackson, editor with Ellora’s Cave, and I was scheduled to pitch my contest entry to her.

When I sat across from her the next morning, she remembered me. Not only that, she remembered my story. I didn’t even have to use the whole three minutes I was allotted.

Lest you think, well, fuck me, I can’t do that, I have more.

My second pitch session was with Melissa Singer, editor at Tor. I was a little less nervous for this one because I had longer (ten minutes) and I’d already done it once that morning. I was a little more nervous because I was pitching a different book.

So I told her I thought her hair was awesome.

It was. It was cotton candy pink. This led to a brief discussion about how my best friend had recently dyed her hair pink (the perks of being a stay at home mom) before she asked me about my book. I got through the pitch, which I’d timed to a minute. Then she started asking me about the MC’s issues – I was pitching Finders Keepers and the heroine, Brenna, has obsessive compulsive personality disorder. We talked a little about the OCD tendencies that everyone has, and in the end, she asked for the full.

Now, she did end up declining it, and I ended up pulling my other book from consideration with EC. But both editors made me feel comfortable and like I had all the time in the world. They were interested, and they were engaged. They knew what questions to ask. While I didn’t walk away with a publishing contract in either instance, I would absolutely submit to either of them if I felt I had a project they might like.

I get why Ms. Reid is against in person pitch sessions. And as an author, I get why we almost feel like they’re a necessity. I also know I wouldn’t want to waste my time talking to someone who doesn’t have any interest in what I have to say. So my point with those stories is that one part of making the equation of in person pitches lies with the editors and agents. Be present, be enthusiastic, and it’d be nice if you could be a little patient with us. If you can’t do the first two, well, why are you here? Do you have any idea how disheartening it is to try to sell yourself to someone who looks like they’d rather be walking over a hot bed of coals than listening to me talk about my book? (No, that’s never happened to me, thank god. But between the three conferences, I did see a number of bored-looking editors and agents). Feel free to decline invitations, or, if you want to attend, offer an alternative – query critique sessions, cold reads, whatever strikes your fancy.

Now.

If you, the author, will be pitching, for fuck’s sake, practice. And don’t just practice the pitch. Probably the best advice I got prior to pitching was to treat it the way I would a job interview. If you go in with that mindset, it’s possible you’ll actually remember what your book is about and be able to come off as a semi-intelligent human being when the agent or editor asks you questions about the book.

Remember that three minutes is longer than you think. But to be safe, time your pitch. If you are prone to rambling, re-consider pitching. If your friends look at you askance when you tell them you’re going to pitch, re-consider pitching. They might be right.

Above all, have confidence in your book.

You have to remember that you wrote not just a good book, but a fucking fantastic book. That is where I was able to find the confidence to chat with Ms. Singer about the differences between obsessive compulsive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Knowing my book was good enough to final in a contest allowed me to think my book was the shit – and starting off with the story of how I came up with the idea helped, too.

You can take it too far – this is not the place to say you are the best band in the world and are bigger than the Beatles. But if you remember you wrote a book, you wrote a fucking fantastic book, and you have all these points about why people will think your book is fucking fantastic (no, your mother loving it is not one of them), you’ll be fine. Probably.

Look, there are articles and YouTube videos out there that offer advice, some of it good. There’s no reason authors have to keep perpetrating the dismal results Ms. Reid is seeing at the cons she’s attending. Think of it as another duty to your book – not only do you owe it to your craft, and your book, to edit the sucker so it’s the best it can be, you owe it to your book to present it in its best light. By the way, saying your book is the next Twilight? Not the best light for your book to be in.

So, let’s all pull a Scar: Be Prepared.

Or, you could, you know, not pitch.

There. I said it.

Just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean you need to jump on it. I missed my chance to pitch to Sarah Younger at this past year’s conference. I can still query her. I think we work ourselves into this state of oh my god oh my god I can sit in front of Dream Agent and woo them and oh oh OH and then we utterly, completely Fail. With a capital F. You know what? It’s okay to not pitch. I know, it’s got an ooh, shiny quality to it but is it less shiny if we, say, query in the normal fashion, with a good ol’ email? No. If you know yourself, and dear lord, I sincerely hope you do, and you know there’s a Very Good Reason your friends are looking at you all sideways when you say you’re going to pitch, take a minute, hell, 30 seconds, to ask yourself if you really want to do this, or are you doing it because it’s there?

Your pitch, or your query letter, is not what’s going to land you that agent. Your book, your devotion to your craft, your hard work and flexibility, that is what lands you an agent, that is what nets you your publishing contract. You could have the most fantastic pitch in the world and still not land a deal because that book you wrote? Is utter shite because you spend all your time working on the pitch. I think it’s easy to lose sight of this in the face of Dream Agent sitting across from you. But Dream Agent will not want you if you haven’t given your book everything you have and some of what you don’t.

So go forth, my lovelies, and pitch. Or don’t pitch. Whatever floats your boat.

4 thoughts on “Pitchin’, pitchin’, bitchin’

  1. That pink hair WAS awesome…and yeah, practice breeds confidence which lends itself to success. All of which is grounded by a lot of hard work.

  2. Her comments seem to stem from lack of prep, and that’s on the author, not on the editor or agent. But in the end it makes us all look bad, so yeah, practice practice practice, and the fine art of saying “no”.

  3. What I liked about Janet Reid’s comments is that she offered an alternative; she said she’d much rather review query letters handed to her in advance and then speak with authors. This seems incredibly practical, and I’ve seen a version of this work. At an RWA chapter retreat, an editor read through one first page from anyone interested in feedback. There were 50 of us total, maybe half of whom submitted a first page ahead of time and then we had a brief meeting with the editor where she handed us the page back with notes. The times were scheduled in the same way a pitch session is. I think this worked very well.

    I ended up cancelling a pitch appointment and I’m so glad I did because I was not ready. Instead, I focused on all the craft sessions at the conference, met a bunch of writers, industry folk, and that’s what led me to joining RWA, when I had zero intention of ever joining a romance writer organization. I think pitching CAN work, but I like the query letter idea better.

    1. My one experience with a query critique didn’t go as well as yours did. On paper, the idea was great, and at first went off well. But as we worked our way around the table, one person monopolized the agent’s time with question after question, essentially dissecting her query word by word and re-writing it while we were there, leaving the remaining people with very little time to hear their critique. So while I’ll agree they can be useful, you need moderators who can control authors when they start thinking it’s their own personal session.

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