Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Live Pitches Are Better Than Queries

I will begin by saying that I am probably in the minority here when it comes to other agents and editors. Time and time again, I hear my colleagues say they truly hate the concept of pitching. The time constraint, the pressure for the writing, and probably the real reason, the fear of the editor or agent being forced to say no to an author. I am one, however, that believes the live pitch session is one of the best approaches.

First of all, let me set a few things straight here. Yes, the book you are pitching is the central focus. I get that! I know that even if you have a great pitch with me, the story itself may completely fall apart when I finally get it into my hands.

Let me also say that I get why editors and agents don't like the pitch. 8-10 minutes is tough to sell someone on a book. I also get that we see far too many people pitching stories that need to spend much more time on their craft before they come to an editor or an agent. I get that sitting in these sessions can be pretty tiring! I am not going to deny that.

But... what we can get from that pitch session is much more, and it is this added "stuff" I am looking at when listening to pitches.

As an agent, I want to work with an author for the long haul. I am not looking for some one-hit-wonder. For this reason, the book being pitched is really just the starting point for our discussion. We want to look toward the future. When I am talking to an author during that pitch session, I am thinking about whether or not this business relationship is right for either of us. Are we thinking the same way? Are we seeing the vision of the future the same way?

Let's take a 10 minute pitch session and break it down as to what I am looking for.

Minute 1 - Introductions and niceties. "So how are you enjoying the conference?"
Minute 2-3 - So tell me the basics about your book. This will include the title, genre and word count. At this point, I am getting a sense of the professionalism and the readiness of the author. Is this person already pulling out there scripted speech? Have they already started shoving a business card in my hand so I can call them with an offer? I will also add here that since I already know what genres I acquire and what things I am looking for in each story premise, this part should go pretty quick!
Minute 4-5 We are fleshing out the story now. At this point, we want to see if the story they started with is really matching up with what the story is really about. We'll ask questions about goals, motivations and conflicts. The idea here is to see how much the author really knows about the craft or if the author is still at that elementary level of writing. At this point, even if the story has potential, I am thinking about how much work this author will take to "get ready to play in the majors."
Minute 6-8 Now we move on to the future. What other stories does this author have? Where does this author see their writing in 5, 10 or 15 years? This is further telling me where this relationship will head to. This is also giving me a sense of how to market the books, where their real interest is at, and even who I might market the books to. It is amazing, but in this phase we often find out how far the book they are pitching really is in the writing process. I sometimes find out that the story isn't even done in this part.
Minute 9-10 We discuss what the author should send, collect any information we need to further the discussion or even discuss how the story could be improved should I say no. I should note, sometimes this process begins around minute 6 or so.

I think the one thing to understand here is something I have mentioned here before. Deb Werksman, of Source Books has often said she doesn't sign a book but she signs an author. That's what the pitch session does. We are looking at you as a professional writer now. We are putting a face to a story now.

I will also say, this is something I love about going to conferences and meeting authors. I people watch. In look around those rooms and I listen in around the hallways to the authors that really have it! I see those people who have the potential and those that don't have it. I see the authors that are composed of nothing but "smoke and mirrors." If I were simply reading a submission, I might not see that. Along the same lines, you don't get a chance to see me an an agent either. You're simply relying on what you read here and what you "hear" on the loops.

The problem we have with those written pitches is that we aren't really seeing who you are as a person. You have run that query letter though so many critique circles that we are not really seeing what the story is truly about. Essentially, we are seeing the story as you "want us to see it" and not what the story really is. This is part of the reason why you hear of so many stories getting rejected. The premise looked great but the writing really wasn't that story.

I do find it a shame that so many editors and agents don't want to participate in pitches. I find it a shame that so many editors and agents just tell the authors to "send me something" even if they are already starting to make decisions. I find it a shame that we aren't using this block of time to really get to know the authors. I, for one, will continue to do pitches. I, for one, will continue to sign authors I meet at conferences (which I have done a lot of). There is just too much we lose if we don't have these sessions.

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