Pitching Out the Novel With the Bathwater

Or, How to Survive a 3-Minute Session With an Editor or Literary Agent

Okay, time to confess: I actually haven't sat on the knee-knocking end of a pitch-session with an editor or agent who is a stranger to me. However, I do give pitches all the time -- to my agent or editor du jour, and whenever I try to sell my books, in fact -- and I have spoken with many authors who have exposed themselves to this uniquely nerve-wracking experience. So here's my $0.02:

Unless you have totally failed to do your homework (say, by trying to pitch something with high sexual content to a Christian publisher), the person will never say no. Nor, 9999 times out of 10,000, will s/he agree to buy it on the spot. Most often they will ask to see the manuscript, so when you mail it, don't forget to emblazon "Requested Materials Enclosed" across the outside of the package.

Speaking of homework, it might be helpful for you to know your target market well enough to throw out a couple of well-known examples and be prepared to relate how your book is superior to them. You might even consider crafting your whole pitch around this approach. If this sounds like hype, you're absolutely right, but that's what fuels this biz. There's no room for modesty when you're face-to-face with an editor or agent. For you're the one who will always know your own work best, so if you don't hype it, the odds don't favor anyone else wanting to hype it, either.

While I have never participated in a formal pitch-session with a stranger, I have found myself in enough performance-oriented situations to empathize with your nervousness. One of the best tricks I have discovered is to cease focusing on myself … I know, it's far easier said than done, but it's very effective if you can pull it off.

Best of luck!

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Revised 14 March 2013