Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Discussion of Pitching

As you get ready to head off to your next writing conference and you have the chance to pitch to an editor or an agent, I think it is important to remind you of a few helpful tips to make those precious minutes go by a bit easier for you. While there are many out there that say this is not a major issue I still want to emphasize that this is a job interview for you. You have to treat it just like you are going after a multi-million dollar job. I know that editors and agents say otherwise, but human nature says that they cannot help but make decisions based on this first impression. Give them a wrong image and it doesn’t matter how good your story is, you may have blown the opportunity. So, with that said, let’s chat about pitching. Shall we?

First of all, let me say that a pitch session is not a chance to practice your pitch. There are only so many appointment openings and frankly, if you aren’t serious about advancing your career, right there and right then, don’t sign up. I don’t care how much pressure you have from your critique partners, don’t do it. In reality, would you practice a pitch session with Bill Gates at Microsoft? I don’t think so.

Research is the next step and probably the most important. Know who you are talking to and what you bring to that editor and agent. Everyone is looking for completely different things. We may all say we take contemporary romance, but that doesn’t mean we all are looking for the exact same type of contemporary.

On a more obvious level, make sure the editor or agent is actually acquiring your type of manuscript. I was recently at a conference and following the pitch session, many of the editors and agents were talking about what they had seen. We were all shocked with the number of writers who pitched projects to us that we didn’t even acquire. This is something that can obviously be overcome with a few moments of research before heading to the conference. I don’t care if there are editors or agents there, if none of these people work for you, then don’t sign up.

Let’s assume you do have the project they are looking for. One of the biggest errors we all see are people pitching stories that aren’t finished. This is a HUGE error. Never pitch something that is still in the works. Don’t even think that you might be able to finish it up quickly. We are listening to the project and thinking about where we might place the story. In some cases, agents are actually looking for specific projects for editors. If we hear something that works, we don’t want to wait for it.

Finally, show you are a professional and you know what you are talking about. This again goes back to that whole first impression element I talked about earlier. We know you might be nervous but if you don’t know the intricacies of your own story, what does this tell us about you as an author? Know why you did things. Know how the elements in your story work and why your characters are doing the things they do. And most importantly, know how your story directly fits the need of the editor or agent.

Pitching is not a major issue. The key is to be prepared and go in with confidence.


  1. YUMMY! This blog is so juicy, I needed to lick my lips and fingertips when I finished! My first in April (ChicagoSF2012) and I'm extremely excited and stupid nervous. To the point where I need Chinese finger cuffs placed on me to stop my excessive tweet stalking of a certain agent...My public apology goes out to Sarah Megibow! Thanks for keeping it real for me.

  2. I remember my first time pitching. This was a group pitch and there were 9 other people equally as nervous. Still, I volunteered to go first and put on my presentation face. I had come in prepared. I knew everything about the agent I pitched to and went all out. At the end, the agent stopped, looked at everyone and said, "Now that is what a pitch is supposed to be like." She went on to talk about the fact that I didn't read my notes and I "knew" my story. While I eventually didn't sign with her, this said a lot. Amen to what Scott is saying here.

  3. Despite the numerous articles on not pitching until your work is ready, and pitching to the correct editor/agent, I wonder why you're still seeing these issues. At least, to that extent.

  4. Rashad,

    I personally believe we are seeing so much of this (and actually more than we did in the past) because of the lack of education this new population has in terms of publishing. People simply don't understand the system and how publishing works.


  5. Well said! One thing I’ve learned from pitching is not to get flustered when the person you’re pitching to interrupts with questions. The more questions they ask, the more interest they have in your story.