Monday, May 5, 2014

The Problems Associated With Face-To-Face Pitches At Conferences

I have to say, I both love pitch sessions at conferences, but also despise these activities at the same time. Maybe the whole reason I have these mixed feelings is the simple fact that I have no idea what I am getting myself into at each and every conference. Still, I do think there are a lot of issues when it comes to pitching that could easily be remedied to make this a more profitable time for editors, agents and certainly writers.

Let's address a few of these:

This one is probably the issue I am most frustrated with when it comes to pitch sessions. As an agent, I am eager to hear what you have to say. I am honestly taking this time to attend a conference with the hopes of finding a story that we could work together on. Look, if I was not acquiring new authors, I would not be attending a conference and listening to pitches! Too often, however, I have authors sitting across from me at a table and it seems as if they haven't even thought about this brief time together. It is almost as if they were driving down the freeway, saw a writer's conference going on and ran in thinking "Hey, let me pitch a story."

Being prepared is to think through the session ahead of time. This is something I say over and over again. Pitching a story to an editor or agent IS a job interview. You treat it as such!
I get that you don't want to forget things during the pitch session. Before I go into an interview for a job, I always have notes with me of things that I might miss. No, I am not going to read these! The notes are there "just in cases."

I am sure you have all heard of the "B.S. Detector" and that is simply what happens when we have an author with a fully scripted pitch. As you crank off that completely memorized speech, it becomes apparent that this is what you want your story to be, and probably not what your story really is. Along the same lines, one of the reasons we have these pitch sessions is to get to know you as a person and as an author. If all you want us to do is to see the story and not you as a person, then your better bet is to just send it in as a standard query.

This one simply kills me. At almost every conference I have someone who says this is not only his or her first time pitching, but they just wanted to use this as a learning activity. Ummm, no! as I said in the prior section, this is a job interview. You have your critique partners out there to practice with. Many writing chapters have full workshops to "practice this." Heck, editors and agents will often come to your chapter to teach you how to pitch. You do not use this valuable time to practice.

What many fail to remember is that your first impression like this will be remembered. How can we take you seriously later on when you do have a great project to pitch? Are you practicing with this one as well?

 Today, writers attending the RWA National Conference can start signing up for appointments with agents and editors. There will be a mad frenzy and there are a lot of authors who will not get a chance to meet with someone to pitch their story. These slots have been filled with people who "just took any opening." There will be authors pitching single title projects to Harlequin and Entangled editors. There will be authors pitching projects to people who don't even acquire that genre. There will be authors pitching stories to editors and agents who openly state they don't like that type of story.

A couple of years ago, I attended an RWA conference where 1/2 of the authors were pitching stories that were not genres I represented. What was frustrating is that several of the authors complained that they had "paid big money to attend this conference and this meant the editors and agents they pitch to should ask to read the stories they pitch." Let's think about this for a minute. Yes, you did pay a lot of money to attend the conference, but why would I pitch a story to someone who doesn't take your genre. The fault is not with the editor or agent, but with the author.

The information is out there. Conference put out spreadsheets and bios for the editors and agents. Most of these people have websites that are very accurate with what they acquire and don't acquire.

In simple terms - Don't sign up unless you know your story has the potential of being acquired. (NOTE: I am not talking about the quality of the project here either!)

This one goes for both those pitching and those listening to pitches. Honesty is important. This is valuable time and we have to treat it seriously.

I am one person who is willing to tell you "No" during a pitch session. If the story is not going to work, then I don't want to ask for material I have already decided on. I think this is fair. Still, I am sure there are those out there that will ask for more material simply out of kindness. Personally, I think this is a bummer for the authors but that is the approach they have taken.

For authors, that honesty is also important. If your story is not finished, don't go and tell us it is. If your story really is something else, don't go "tweaking it around" in the pitch session to make it fit what I am looking for. Not cool!

This one is probably more frustrating for us an editors and agents. There are times when we do hear a pitch from an author that makes us drool. We want this project. We are excited about it. The frustration comes when the author ends up not sending it. I have heard numbers as high as 30%-40% of the projects requested never make it to the editor or agent. Why?

I have heard some authors state that they didn't send it because once they met with the editor or agent they decided the project was not a good fit. See the above comment on research for this one.

I have also heard authors say they didn't send it because they heard from another editor or agent they wanted instead. Again, honesty and pitching only to people you want to pitch to.

I have also heard that many don't send it because they weren't finished.

The point is, pitches can be a very valuable tool for editors, agents and writers. But, if we want these to be valuable, we have to treat the time with the respect it deserves.

And for those of you out there wishing to know more about great approaches for pitching, I would be happy to come to your writing group and present sessions on this. And also, for those that might not have the funds to bring me out, we can do this online using that great SKYPE technology. Just ask!

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