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The Scoop on Pitching, by Virginia Smith

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The ACFW conference is almost here! At my house I’ve started the Countdown to Minneapolis, and I’m already assembling all the important stuff I don’t want to forget – clothes, camera, book money, earplugs (for my roommate – I snore), and a couple of Sharpies. (Why Sharpies? I have no idea, but several years ago Camy Tang told me she always brings them to conferences, so I make sure I have a couple in my bag.) Of course, since I’m hoping to interest an editor or two in my new book project, I’m also assembling my one sheets, business cards, and my 30 second elevator pitch.

What? You don’t have a 30 second elevator pitch for your book? Well, it’s a good thing we’re catching this early. My dear, you simply must have one!

In today’s tough publishing environment, many publishers no longer accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts. Naturally, this is discouraging for a writer with a book that’s ready for publication. But here’s the good news: if you pitch your book to an editor or agent at a writer’s conference and receive an invitation to submit, your book is no longer unsolicited. See why the pitch is important? It could be your foot in the door.

What is the 30 second elevator pitch? Simply stated, it’s an intriguing sentence or two about your book designed to snag the interest of an editor or agent. (If you need help crafting your pitch, I’ll refer you Brandilyn Collins’ blog post “Creating a Pitch for Your Book” here:

Assuming you’ve developed a terrific pitch, let’s talk about how you can make the most of your opportunities to show it off at the conference.

Fear Not! – Many attendees, especially first timers, are nervous about approaching editors and agents. Let me put that fear to rest. Editors and agents go to conferences expecting to hear pitches. That’s why they’re there. So get rid of any misplaced notion that you’re bothering an editor. You aren’t, and they won’t think so.

Practice – No kidding. Stand in front of a mirror and give your pitch to yourself. Give it to your friends, your family, the people at church and work. The more comfortable you are in delivering your pitch, the better and more intriguing you will be when you come face to face with that scary editor. If you’ve practiced, your natural enthusiasm for your book will come through as you talk. Remember, enthusiasm is contagious!

Identify Your Targets – Make a list of the editors/agents who may be interested in your book. On the ACFW conference website, each editor and agent has specified what kinds of books they’re interested in seeing. Also, at the beginning of the conference there will be an Editor Panel and Agent Panel where each person is given an opportunity to state what genres they’d like to see. Take notes! You don’t want to appear unprofessional by pitching your science fiction novel to an editor who clearly stated they’re only interested in seeing historical romance.

Study the Mug Shots – You need to recognize the editors when you see them in the hallway. Look at the pictures on the conference website, and jot down reminders for yourself during the Panel discussions. At one of my first conferences, I sat in the lobby chatting with a stranger for ten minutes, only to find out after she walked away that she was the editor from the publishing house I desperately wanted to send my proposal to. Ouch!

Seize the Moment – You may have signed up for a meeting with your target editor, and if so, that’s terrific. But chance encounters will result in invitations to submit, too. Generally speaking, editors are not available for pitches when they are in the restroom, or during special times the conference organizers have set aside to allow them some privacy. At all other times, they’re fair game. At most meals you will have an opportunity to sit with an editor, and that’s a great time to pitch. If you encounter Ms. Editor in the hallway as you walk from one session to another, go for it. If you’re waiting in the lobby for another appointment and you spy Ms. Editor alone, grab her. And don’t forget the elevator. 🙂 Of course, you want to be courteous and not interrupt her while she’s talking with someone else, but it’s okay to stand off to one side and wait your turn. (But don’t hover.) Remember – that’s why she’s there.

The Approach – The scariest part of the pitch is knowing how to get started. My advice: go for the direct approach. The editor knows you want to pitch a book, so why beat around the bush? Walk right up to her and say, “I have a book I think you might be interested in seeing. It’s about…” and launch into your pitch. When you’ve given your brief pitch (that’s why it’s called a 30 second pitch), shut your mouth and allow her to react. She may say, “Tell me more,” and then you can give her a little more intriguing information. If she’s engaged and receptive, end the conversation with, “Would it be okay if I send you a proposal?” If she seems uninterested or bored, end the conversation politely and try again with someone else.

I know from personal experience that impromptu pitches really do work. At the 2005 ACFW conference, I sat at Krista Strover’s (Steeple Hill) table. Over dinner she told us she was interested in seeing cozy mysteries. As we stood up to leave, I turned to her and said, “I have an idea for a cozy mystery. A kitchen klutz tries to impress everyone by making a casserole for her church potluck. But someone plants poisonous mushrooms in her casserole to kill a gossipy old lady.” She smiled and said, “I’d like to see that. Send me a query.” The result? My second published novel, Murder by Mushroom.

So get busy on that pitch, writers!


Virginia Smith left her twenty-year career as a corporate director to become a full time writer and speaker with the release of her first novel Just As I Am. In March of 2008, Ginny was honored with the Writer of the Year award at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. She writes mystery/suspense novels such as Murder by Mushroom and A Taste of Murder, and humorous heart-touching stories like Stuck in the Middle, book 1 of the Sister-to-Sister Series, and Sincerely, Mayla.

  1. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 10:03 am

    Super advice, Ginny! The more comfortable we get delivering these pitches, the better we get. 🙂

    And even if someone has an agent, you can still network and deeped relationships in the industry. 😀


  2. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 10:27 am

    I love the advice on identifying your targets. We work so hard on finding the right agents and editors to query, why shouldn’t we do the same for in-person pitching? And what a great way to do it, too!


  3. Jess permalink
    Tuesday, August 26, 2008 10:42 am

    You really make this sound doable. And how does it feel to have written a book with the best title *ever*?


  4. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 11:30 am

    You never know when you need a sharpie to write labels or something like that! I promise, I always end up using them at least once for something random.


  5. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:12 pm

    That first “Fear Not” tip is probably one of the best tips I’ve read in the past couple of weeks. It’s a good perspective.


  6. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 2:00 pm

    Yes, I will study the mugshots. Because I’m so bad with faces/names, this is excellent advice.


  7. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:24 pm

    Great advice, Ginny! You make it sound so natural and easy. Maybe if I read this fifty times every night before I go to sleep . . .


  8. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 7:37 pm

    Great advice on pitching, Ginny. One more item to add to your must take list–underwear! I remember one ACFW conference that one attendee remembered everything BUT some clean underwear! LOL


  9. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 8:53 pm

    Your post made things seem a little less “scary”. 😉 I’ll be sure to add this to my “jots on what to remember” 😉


  10. Tuesday, August 26, 2008 9:33 pm

    Great advice! I was thinking about trying to study the mugshots too, but thought I was being overly dumb. Glad to know that it is recommended!


  11. Wednesday, August 27, 2008 8:25 am

    Great advice from someone who has obviously successfully pitched a few books. How many now? Ten and counting? You can get it done! And if people take your advice, they’ll get it done too.


  12. Reba Cross Seals permalink
    Wednesday, December 3, 2008 4:29 pm

    My book is almost finished, so this advice is approprite for now. Thanks a million.


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