Monday, March 19, 2012

Scott's Approach To Pitching - The Things I Learn About You

Unlike many editors and agents, I like to do pitch sessions at conference. Now, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of frustrating things about pitches. 2+ hours straight, hearing pitches from people who didn't do their homework, hearing great stories and never seeing the projects sent to me. All of these certainly do wear on a person. But, I still have to say, I love pitch sessions.

Sitting down, face-to-face with writers tells me so much more than reading an email or opening an envelope full of material. This gives me a chance to really get to know the author. Along the same lines, listening to the person talk tells me really what the story is about and not what the author has written. It is amazing how human nature never lies to us.

The first thing I do is tell the writer to put away all of those notes they hastily wrote the night before the pitches in their room. They panic! You need to understand that I am in no way trying to scare the person, but darn it. If you have written this story, you should know it. You spent over 3 months writing the thing so telling me title, word count and genre should be pretty basic. Telling me what the story is about should be pretty basic. But there is more to this.

The odds are, that if you "wrote out your pitch", and, let's say (being in the positive thinking world of this morning) that you did your research about what I was looking for, you have drafted a query that says exactly what I want to hear. This may not be what you actually wrote. Too often, I see pitches (and yes these show up in queries too), that authors have written one story but tell me of a different one in their pitches. This is where taking the notes comes into play. When the author "tells" me their story in their own words, without the aid of the notes, it is amazing how the real story comes out.

What do I mean about the "real story?" The answer is simple. Your brain will spill out the things that are the most important things in the story. These are the things you spent more time on and made sure were emphasized more in the text. Let me explain....

I had one author pitch me a contemporary romance, and yet, when I had her talk, the first words out of her mouth were "inspirational", "guided by God", "finding faith", "redemption and forgiveness". Now, while these words can certainly show up in a number of stories, this gave me a clear sign that what she was pitching was a single title inspirational romance (which I didn't acquire). I discussed it with her, told her my thoughts, and yes, I did request material just to be sure. There was that chance that I was wrong. Yet, when I read the material, this thing screamed something being spotlighted at a Christian Bookseller's Convention!

I do the same thing to authors who have apparently "memorized" their pitch. When I get situations like that, I interrupt them and make them tell me about it. No, this isn't being mean, but a memorized pitch is just like a pitch that you are reading from note cards. This is a "well-crafted" description of a book but may not be your book.

Those pitch sessions also tell me a lot about who you are as a person. When I go to a convention, I people watch! I love sitting back and watching the authors that I believe show me a sign of being a professional writer, and those that seem to behave as if this is still just a hobby. Sitting down one-on-one with an author gives me a lot of insight into the person. The way they dress, the way they sit - all of those tips you are told for job interviews - give me a real picture of who you are.

O.K., so now some of you are crossing me off your list of people to pitch to. That's fine. It's entirely up to you. But, remember if you think you are going to "bypass" that whole face-to-face thing, you are mistaken. If you have a story that shows sign of potential, I will be talking to you. And yes, I will catch you off guard with the phone call.

Just something to think about on a Monday morning.



  1. I'd definitely pitch to you after reading this, pity my novel doesn't fit your genres! Nice blog.

  2. Nerve-wracking as they can be from the author's side of the table, I, too, appreciate pitch sessions. It gives me a feel for agents as people in all the ways you mentioned: Are they professional? Personable? Interested in and respectful of yet another lowly writer? I had one agent spend the first three minutes of my precious five-minute pitch on the phone making travel arrangements to cruise on the Queen Mary. Exciting for her, sure. But, it told me a lot about her priorities. Still, it was great practice in perfecting my "patient and unperturbed" expression!

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  4. Thanks the gods for this blog topic because I've been wiggin' trying to figure out what to say at my first conference. *cough* A conference that I believe you will be attending! Since the Spring Fling will be my first conference, and first opportunity to pitch, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm bowing at your feet for this enlightening perspective.

    Question. If material is requested, is it expected to be handed over on the spot? Emailed? If e-mailed, should I query in advance so it arrives soon after the meeting and still fresh in the agent's mind? Hope this doesn't sound like a ridiculous question, just trying to be uber-prepared.