This is a nerve-wracking process under the best of circumstances, but these authors did it in the new--and often unfamiliar--technology of the website chat room. We are very proud of them.
I'd like to share in a small series what people did right and what people did wrong, in hopes that some of you may learn from them should you ever have to the opportunity to pitch. First some rules of thumb:
1. Meet deadlines. Do I really need to say more? Well, one thing--if you don't get what you want because you missed a deadline, don't keep coming back asking for an exception to the rule.
2. Read and follow directions and guidelines: This really causes headaches more for the people organizing the pitch sessions than the editors, but it can put you in a bad light. Quite often, the biggest reason for rejection was the book did meet publisher's guidelines. Some were close--a few were far off.
Biggest problems in following directions this year:
--Fiction that is not complete. We stated this in our directions, yet many people registered then told us later that it wasn't done. It was too late to get more people, so we let them pitch, but it took a spot from someone else and is a no-no for the author without a track record.
--Already published books (self published, esp.) Despite the occasional success stories, publishers are not interested in a self-published work, unless it has a good track record (5000 is the rule of thumb.) Again, we allowed exceptions. They did not work well, and we won't do that again. If your book is previously published with another press and out of print, be sure you have all rights and a sales record to back it up.
--Not what the company publishes. Do not think that a publisher, however small or Catholic or kind, is going to make an exception for your book. Publishers have buyers with specific expectations--unless they are branching out (and they will say so in their guidelines), they will not accept something outside their area no matter how wonderful it is. For example--your spiritual handbook will not sell to the fiction publisher.
--Make sure you can attend. Pitch sessions were scheduled ahead of time. Emergencies are one thing, but asking if the publisher can reschedule for you is a no-no. They are giving us time from their busy schedule, and while we're all busy, too, they are the ones doing us the favor.
--Word count is outside the genre norm. Way too many of our books this year were too small or too large. The average novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words. After 100,000, it gets more expensive to produce.
In the CWCO's case, and I think for most pitch sessions, the editor, publisher or agent were very kind in making suggestions, but sometimes it meant a slot was taken that another author that did fit could have used.
3. Practice: Because we are dealing with an unfamiliar technology, we held several practice sessions so people could get used to chatting, copying and pasting, and even get critiqued on their pitches. The people who attended made significant improvements, were less nervous and sold their books more readily. It was also very obvious who did not attend.
4. Prepare: get your pitch critiqued. Check to find out what the publisher is interested in--and have some replies ready! We had some people who had answers ready for common questions (quick bio, experience, etc.) Some read up on the person or publisher they were pitching to. They rocked their pitch session.
5. Be receptive to what the publisher has to say. When the book was not right for a publisher, the person hearing the pitches (editor or the publisher himself), often took time to give advice. This is a golden opportunity to talk to someone in the trenches specifically about your book. One year, we had someone who didn't get accepted take that advice, applied it to his query letter and sold it to the next publisher he submitted to.
What if you don't do this? Check next Monday and find out.