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Beyond the First Draft–Face-to-Face Pitch Sessions

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As most of my regular readers know, the ACFW national conference is just TWENTY-ONE DAYS away. In addition to figuring out what we’re going to wear (and how to pack it all) and where we’re going to go to dinner Wednesday and Friday nights, we’re also working on our dreaded synopses, proposals, pitch sheets/one-sheets, and maybe even revisions on our manuscripts.

One of the things I think we put off as long as possible thinking about are the editor and/or agent appointments we signed up for when we registered.

Well, I have good news!

If you have gone through the process detailed in this series—writing your one-sentence, one-paragraph, one-page, and full synopses; writing your proposal; writing your query letter; writing your pitch sheet and/or one-sheet—you already have the information you need to be able to prepare for your face-to-face pitch sessions.

Now is the time when I have to admit I’ve only done two face-to-face editor pitches. One was at the 2004 ACFW conference, the other was my last residency of grad school. The first was a trial-run, just practice. It was also a lesson in why we probably shouldn’t pitch books we haven’t finished writing. I was asked for a full and only had ten chapters. It was almost two years later before I had a full manuscript, and by then, that editor had left that particular publishing house. The second time around, I was pitching because I had to—it was a requirement for all fourth- and fifth-term students to pitch to one of two editors or the agent who attended our residency that week. Because the editor I had an appointment with was with a secular publishing house with no interest in inspirational—or even “sweet”—romances, I knew going into the meeting that I had nothing to lose. Again, this was just an exercise in gaining experience. It did turn out to be a good experience—the editor told me that if it were up to her, she would request a full, but since she knew her company wouldn’t publish it, we left it at that.

Earlier this week, Gina Conroy published a post about editor/agent appointments over at her blog, Writer . . . Interrupted. In fact, if you visit most writers’ blogs, you have a pretty good chance at finding a post about face-to-face editor/agent pitch sessions—and lots of advice of what to do/what not to do. So I’ve gathered and compiled some information into a list of tips:

  • Take a bulleted list of plot points to look at while giving your pitch. It’s more impressive if you can talk through the gist of the story without having to read it off a page.
  • Before your face-to-face, find several friends/acquaintances to sit down with to practice your pitch. It’s helpful if at least one person does not know what your story is about—they’ll be able to spot holes in your description of the story. Crit partners or others who’ve read your story will be able to remind you of important parts you may have left out.
  • Make eye contact. For introverts, this can be one of the hardest things in the world. But eye contact is a subconscious indicator of confidence.
  • Be confident but not cocky. Having a fifteen-minute face-to-face pitch session is a privilege for you, not them. They’re just doing their job.
  • Don’t just rush into your pitch as soon as you sit down. Take a deep breath and give the editor/agent a chance to start the conversation.
  • Talk slowly and clearly. When we’re nervous, we tend to speed up and jumble/skip syllables. Listen to yourself as you talk. Be conscious of the way words are coming out of your mouth.
  • Editors/agents are just people. They’re not out to “get” you.
  • You have nothing to lose. I know it’s cliché; but, really, the worst they can do is smile benignly, shake your hand, thank you, and not ask for a submission. They’re not going to yell or scream at you. They’re not going to laugh at you. They’re not going to throw things at you.
  • You have everything to gain. You owe it to yourself to do this. You owe it to yourself to be excited about your writing and about your potential as an author. You’ll never be a published author unless you start submitting/pitching. And now, even in the CBA, most publishing houses are closed to unsolicited/unagented submissions—unless you have met with the editor at a conference and they’ve requested a submission.
  • Rack it up to experience. Even if they don’t ask you for a submission, if you plan to have a few minutes left at the end (which is hard to do in a 15 minute session, I know), you can ask the editor/agent if they have any advice for you on what you can do to improve your story and/or your pitch.
  • Have fun. Everyone responds better to someone who is having fun than someone who is a nervous wreck. Smile. Laugh. Have a great time.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What’s your advice when it comes to pitch sessions? What’s been your best/worst experience?

  1. Wednesday, August 29, 2007 11:03 am

    Ooo, I’m nervous just thinking about it. I KNOW they’re just people, in theory, but they’re not JUST people. LOL! Even reading this post is giving me a shot of performance anxiety.


  2. Wednesday, August 29, 2007 11:16 am

    Great tips and thanks for linking to me!

    One thing you’ve made me realize is I haven’t started planning for Wed. and Fri. dinner! Last time on Wed. there was a group of people gathered into the lobby and we just piled into cars. Friday night was the hardest. I ate at the hotel, but would have preferred to have gone out, yet all my friends were meeting with their publishing houses or agents for dinner!

    Guess I’m in the same boat this year!


  3. Wednesday, August 29, 2007 12:35 pm

    My best/worst/ and only pitch experience came at the 2005 Florida Christian Writer’s conference. The bad thing: I was sick as a dog! I was running a temp and had a bad cough that I tried to suppress the entire time.

    The good news: The agent asked for a full anyway! She liked the story, liked the characters, said it was just what her house published.

    The worst news: She no longer worked at that house after that conference, so nothing came of the novel.

    This year…I’m nervous, excited, and NERVOUS about pitching.


  4. Wednesday, August 29, 2007 5:23 pm


    I know what you mean about pitching a book that’s not all the way already written, and I haven’t even had my face-to-face yet.

    In October I’ll be sitting with an editor to get a “consult” on the first 10 pages of my WIP, and my confident/self-flagellating sides are already at work imagining her response complete with, “can I see the full” and my stuttered er, um, it’s-not-done.

    It goes on (I have these horribly detailed conversations in my head) “Could I see it in 3 months?” With 3 kids under 5? Nope. Won’t be done.

    Anyway. Like you said (*repeating to self*): I have nothing to lose, I have nothing to lose…


  5. Wednesday, August 29, 2007 6:56 pm

    I pitched a book in March at the SCBWI Conference. Most of us didn’t get the coveted crit spots so we had to pitch in a moment’s notice when the editors where in between several other writers all doing the same thing. (NEVER EVER speak to an editor hurrying to the bathroom or inside one! Don’t ask me how I know this.)

    I wrote a quick paragraph of summary and memorized it. When I got the chance to speak to the editor from Random House, I tried to breath and not pass out while I asked if she thought I had a good idea. She did and encouraged me to submit it. (We all got free passes to closed houses to submit.)

    The good news is that an editor at Random House read my ms. The bad news is that while she liked the setting and character, she didn’t think it was right for them.

    It was a good experience anyway and editors are only human. (I sometimes wonder.) Two of them even waved at me as they left the conference. Hope you have a great experience too.



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