Small...but not short sighted

Dear Miss Snark:

I've heard it said before that the publishing world is very, very small, and I'm now starting to panic. Last year I attended a quite horrible "pitch" conference where I paid to learn my pitch in one day (ha) then pitch it to four editors (one senior, three acquiring) from fairly large houses. Needless to say, I felt my pitch at the time was horrible, and that I was horrible too (as in nervous as hell and not as prepared as I'd hoped). I did not show my writing to any of the editors except one (the senior editor) who asked for it and told me she loved my writing but thought that the first chapter needed revising for plot. She wanted me to let her know what I did with it, and I'm planning to send it to her again soon. My question is, have I now completely blown my chances of ever getting published with those other houses, since the acquiring editors didn't ask to see the writing after my pitch?? Or am I being paranoid. (I can feel the sting of the cluegun as I write this).

Don't worry.
If they haven't read your work, it doesn't count as a pass.

Pitching is vastly over rated as a way to present books.
I hate "the pitch", and I think it's useless from querier to agent. Being able to talk about a book persuasively in 30 seconds is NOT something you can just quickly learn to do. I work on it every day, and hone pitches repeatedly for books I represent and this is my FULL TIME JOB. I write down my pitch and I use a script to pitch when I'm on the phone. And I'm not nervous. Face to face with an editor at a conference, I'd be tongue tied and shaking in my stiletto heeled boots too.

Far better to write a zippy query letter with a good hook and some bio, and let me read five compelling pages.

Polish your query letter and get back in the ring.


Anonymous said...

There you go being nice again. Must be the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Pitch conference was a bust for you. Did anyone come away with deals? Or is this a bit of a sham?

Anonymous said...

Which pitch conference did you go to? Would like to know for future reference as to which ones to avoid.

Sounds like the one editor liked it, so what is the harm in that. I would think that those editors didn't come with stilletos in hand, maybe a cluegun, but from what I have experienced, it doesn't hurt as bad as everyone says it does...

Good luck my dear.

Kara Lennox said...

Unless you made a complete ass of yourself--like you were drunk and threw up on the editor--they won't remember you.

I have to politely disagree with Miss Snark here about the usefulness of pitching, however. At romance conferences, where I have perpetrated many a bad pitch and witnessed many others, I have found that editors have a hard time saying no to your face. If you are anywhere in the ballpark as far as the type of book they publish, they'll generally ask to see at least a couple of chapters.

Screenplay pitch sessions are nightmarish by comparison--those Hollywood folks have no trouble saying no thanks, sometimes in the rudest way imaginable. But even at those I've gotten some yesses.

I hate pitching, makes me want to vomit just thinking about it, but it's a useful skill. Both my first agent and my first sale came directly as a result of pitch sessions.

Anonymous said...

I'm the author, and yes, Miss Snark was gratefully so nice. Also, I don't think anyone made any deals except the organizer, who hit us over the head consistently with the idea of using his company's editorial services and classes to "fix" our flawed (in his estimation) work.

Dave said...

That sounds difficult. Write the pitch in one day and give it the next. What a panic.

Anonymous said...

These conferences don't promise you'll "walk away with a deal" or even that agents and editors will request a partial from you. They're set up so you can network, learn more about the business, and meet agents and editors in person. Yes, it's an expensive way to query, but that doesn't make it a sham.

I attended a conference two years ago that offered pitch sessions. It also offered some great workshops and panels--which is why I went.

r louis scott said...

I'm going to make a pitch at a conference in June. I'm already dreading it and considering cancelling the appointment. A query letter is just so much more...


throckey said...

I'm a minimalist and I say "buttocks."

Please let me know when you sell my manuscript. It's very short.

Anonymous said...

Comment is correct about it being hard to say "no" to your face. Most conference pitch sessions end in just about everyone told to submit a partial. Your writing gets the op to stand on its own.
Pitch sessions are terrible for everyone, including the editors or agents. If they are not nervous (and plenty of them are, because the ones who mostly do them are the newbies), they are bored and their eyes glaze over after an hour or so.
Don't worry. Submit your query.

donroc said...

Way back during my callow Hollywood days, my pitches were consistently interrupted. If I had some detail, I'd get a quick, "Nah, it ain't gonna work." If I spoke generally, the reply was, "How you gonna play it?"

I have yet to do a verbal pitch to "literary" editors/agents. I suspect if one foolishly offers a category they do not handle, the pitch cannot succeed in any case.

Anonymous said...

This pitch thing is so painfully similar to speed dating.

Don't ask how I know that...

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I like pitch sessions, but I'm a little odd. Last year, I didn't sign up for any editors or agents because I didn't have anything completed, but I still worked on my pitch because ya never know when you're seated at lunch next to someone and they say, "Tell me about your book." Gotta be prepared.

I've learned to have three pitches ready (learned this at RWA Nationals in Dallas one year, and it's one of the best things I've EVER learned about pitching):

1) The 30-second elevator pitch. Sum up your book in 30 seconds in case you're in an elevator and someone says, "Tell me about your book." You're not taking up but a second of their time and you're competent in what you have to say.

2) The 3 minute bar pitch. You have more time than the elevator, but you're in a faster, more social setting so you don't want to bog into details only to have agent/editor lose interest, but it gives you more detail than the fast 30 second pitch. If they're interested, they'll ask for more details.

3) The five minute pitch. This is for face-to-face appointments. Get in your characters, plot, arcs, and why you think it's a good fit for the editor/agent. Still leaves plenty of time for them to ask questions and for you to ask THEM some questions about how they do things.

For people at conference who are very new to pitching, I recommend group pitches. I was in one with Deidre Knight - she's a sweetheart, and made everyone at the table feel relaxed (and almost spewed Diet Pepsi at one point - literally - and no, Deidre, I never did blog about it like you thought I would, unless this counts!) You get a chance to hear what others are saying, you get a chance to see how nervous they are (so it's not just you!), and you can see what they do/say that you don't want to do/say yourself. Of course, none of this applies if you're FIRST in the group. If that's the case, relax, pitch it, but mostly - have fun with it.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I've ever had to do to get published was write something people liked. And, as MS said, present a "zippy query letter with a good hook". With due respect to all you pitch people, I really don't care about interacting with you, or getting to know you or even networking with you. I network with written words, and so far I've never had to pitch anything in person to get published. And I know a lot of other writers who've done the same thing.

SurfGrape said...

I've pitched several times at different conferences, sometimes well and sometimes disasterously.

The disasterous pitch was me giving what I thought was a great hook, only to have the editor (tops in my genre)say, "And if your protagonist doesn't succeed in her goal, then what?" My mouth opened but nothing came out, and I was like a fish out of its bowl, all bug-eyed and gaping. The editor was, of course, talking about stakes, which my story didn't have enough of. He didn't ask to see pages.

I learned more from that one terrible pitch than from all the good ones. I learned not only about how to pitch, but also how to write. Since then, I've always kept high stakes in my mind when I write, and I thank that editor every day for being brave enough to say "no" to my face and tell me why he said it.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. I've never understood the idea of an author pitching his or her book. If any of us writers were good at it, wouldn't we be agents?

Janet Black said...

I seriously doubt any of them (except the senior edtior) will remember you or the revised manuscript after a whole year or more.

Anonymous said...

I usually panic when I get those $20,000,000 advances in small bills stuffed into a grocery sack. It would not have been so bad, except I had to walk through some bad areas to get to my bank. When I lived in Manhattan you could not do business at any bank branch except your own. I got run off the island on a rail afew years ago (more years than I care to ruminate about) and don't know how it is now that New Yorkers actually have telephones and modern stuff like that. If people stopped me I just told them I was a bag man for the Mafia.

That's just the occupational hazard of being a writer with a silver tongue who knows how to pitch ideas.

The next time I sell a novel I will just have a certain lady in one of the other boroughs pitch it.

Anonymous said...

There are many pros and cons here, and Miss Snark probably gave the most sound advice in her response. But I don't think pitch sessions can hurt either...if you look at them as a way to improve yourself on a personal level rather than an instant path to getting published.

I went to one once, and while I didn't gain anything professionally from it, I did gain a lot personally. And, wound up sleeping with two of the agents (at different times).

Bella Stander said...

"while I didn't gain anything professionally from it, I did gain a lot personally. And, wound up sleeping with two of the agents (at different times)."
Wow, that's some pitch you must have!

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Were you pitching erotica?

Just askin'...

Anonymous said...

To Bella and Brenda:

It wasn't planned by any means; just happened. And, no, the pitch wasn't for erotica :) Seriously, this has never happened to anyone else at a conference? I doubt that.

But I should also mention this was all strictly recreational and had NOTHING to do with business so people don't get the wrong idea.

Jo Bourne said...

Kara's comment about RWA Conferences is spot on.

You go to the conference, make a pitch that indicates you are currently among the living, and you will likely be asked to send a partial.

How much that partial buys you
that a good query + synopsis + couple pages does not,
I don't know.

As I see it ... if this is THE dream agent or THE dream editor and you've managed to snag her for a pitch ... then it's a shortcut to where you were headed anyway.
Great. Go for it.

But a lot of time what you're getting is a luck-of-the draw agent or editor. The pitch session is sending you to a less-than-optimal match.

It's no big if you lay your partial on an agent who wouldn't have been interested anyway.

But laying your partial on the wrong editor at a major publisher might have consequences. It might earn you a refusal that covers the whole house.
Do you want that?

Patient research or a good agent might send your query to a different desk, with maybe a request for a partial from the right editor ... and eventually a different answer.

And to Brenda Bradshaw ...

I dunnoh. Would you really want to pitch to somebody in an elevator? Or standing next to you in line? Or buying evian in the lobby store?

I can't imagine an editor or agent spontaneously approaching a stranger for a quick, revivifying manuscript pitch between floor 11 and the mezzanine. I just can't see it.

A hapless editor being pitched at by someone who is just taking up a second of her time and the editor's unable to escape the elevator without emitting high-pitched squeals and falling several floors ... Yes. I could see that.

Not that that's the case you're talking about, of course. It just struck me it might work that way for other folks without decorum and manners.