Monday, April 05, 2010
Pitch Session Successes or How to Make a Good Impression wiht and Editor
Last week, I talked about our shining example of what NOT to do when pitching to an editor. I'd just like to note that this is the first time in three years--probably 150 pitches--that we had any problems of that magnitude. Overall, the people who attend the conferences are inexperienced, but professional and eager to learn. It thrills us coordinators not only to see the successes but the growth they show in just a few days.
Attending the practice sessions was the single-most important factor. We had people who, before a session, weren't even sure how to log into the site; by pitch time, they could navigate both rooms, copy and paste their words, and were comfortable with the technology so that they could concentrate on the questions.
We asked that everyone prepare a 100-word pitch. This is like the first paragraph of the query letter and should give a good idea of the book. Some of the pitches in practice worried me! They rambled, didn't give a good sense of the book, or were too long. We spent about 10 minutes in group critique, giving suggestions for tightening, from general advice "You need to tell us how it ends. Tease the reader, not the editor" to actually rewording sections.
Every pitch I privately cringed over got taken, scrubbed, and polished to diamond quality. I got chills sometimes at the improvement!
Another thing we suggested was preparing for some common questions and doing some research into the publisher. In our instructions, we gave folks the general topics covered in a proposal and told them to have answers ready--in their heads if not in a file. Some, however, prepared a pitch file, and it not only cut down their time trying to come up with answers to questions, but it made them come off as definite pros!
We had a lot of problems with word count this year, but after the sessions, people realized their error. Some, however, turned that weakness to a strength: "I know it's short for YA, but I do have subplots to build it up and would like to work with you." "Just a note: It was originally 138,000 words; I've cut it to 117,000 to make it more accessible, and would appreciate working with an agent on advice concerning where to tighten it more." NOTE: This won't work in a query letter. Fiction must be complete unless you are an established author querying to someone who knows you or your work. However, when in pitch, especially when you are pitching to a smaller press or have a publishing record to back up your ability to produce, you can turn this weakness in word count into a strength in willingness to partner with your editor.
I always gave a play-by-play of what's happening in the pitch room to those waiting in line. Sometimes the publishers have a specific focus. People who paid attention to my commentary were able to modify pitches and have some responses prepared. In one case, an author changed his pitch to better focus on the publisher's interest. Another time, all those waiting wrote out quick bios and had website links ready--the first two questions the publisher asked everyone. This gave them more time to talk about the book. Once, I warned everyone that the publisher made up her mind early, then asked if the author had any questions. "This is your chance for inside info!" One author took advantage of that and not only elicited some good information, but made a professional impression.
There's a lot to be said about grace under pressure. The chat room has quirks--it isn't very compatible with Ma; it can be slow to load; it sometimes posted pasted material twice. We all understood that, but those who didn't let that faze them, who forged ahead, perhaps with a small joke or apology, made excellent use of their time. Several people took the time to read and answer the publisher's questions (rather than just posting more information off their query letter or book proposal). Again, those that did got more focused feedback.