Pitch Perfectly by Following a Few Rules

by Bess McAllister
published in Community

Many writing conferences have pitch sessions. They can be a fantastic way to get your work in front of editors and agents. Even if you don’t end up finding an agent at a conference, pitch sessions are a great way to practice the fine art of talking about your book in a succinct and effective way. I’ve written more about the many benefits of pitching here.

However, while pitching can be an incredibly rewarding experience, it does have a few pit-falls. Most of them can be avoided by being prepared, polite and simply following the guidelines posted on the conference website. In the past few years, because I work as an editor and write on the side, I’ve been on both sides of the pitching table. Today, I’d like to talk about some typical rules for pitching, and the reasons behind them. If I miss any, leave a comment, and I’m happy to talk through them!

Only Pitch One Project at a Time

It can be tempting, when you’ve only got ten minutes with one person, to give them all you’ve got. Show them all your books, because they might like one better than the others. But it’s really difficult to pitch more than one book well in the time that’s allotted at most pitch sessions. What ends up happening is a writer spends all time talking about his or her projects, and there’s no time for questions, or feedback.

An agent or editor is only going to be able to sell or buy one project at a time (even when books are bought as part of a multiple book contract, it’s usually based on the first book). Having a strong, single pitch shows that you know how to follow the rules, are confident in your work, and are eager to interact with the agent or editor. One of the great benefits of pitch sessions is the time, after you pitch, to just talk and ask questions. Taking too long to pitch, or pitching multiple projects, cuts into that!

Don’t Bring Pages

It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal: a few pages are not that bulky, and they don’t take up that much space. But here’s the thing: an editor or agent isn’t just going to tuck said pages into a suitcase. She will have to carry them around all day. Make sure coffee doesn’t get spilled on them. Remember which author they belong to. The reality is, most agents and editors aren’t going to do that. They’re going to throw them away.

At one of my first pitch sessions as an editor, a writer gave me the first one hundred pages of a manuscript, neatly and professionally bound. For me, working as an editor is a constant battle against guilt. I think this is probably true of most editors and agents. We don’t enjoy rejecting things. It’s the worst part of the job. But it’s something we have to do. At the time, I couldn’t bear to do it without at least reading the pages. But I didn’t have a purse big enough to hold them, and I didn’t have time to run up to my hotel room to drop them off. So, I carried those pages around with me for the entire day, growing grumpier and grumpier. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t do that again. I’d give the writer my card and ask them to email me, same as everyone else. Printing pages is really just a waste of time and money, and it gives an editor or agent the impression that a writer doesn’t respect the rules or them.

Read Up on an Editor or Agent’s List

I work at a company that is known for science fiction and fantasy, but acquire historical fiction and contemporaries. Writers pitch me awesome sounding epic fantasies that might be wonderful, but are totally wrong for my own list. While I’m always perfectly happy to look at pages and pass them on to a coworker who might enjoy them, or to help a writer hone a pitch, I’m not going to be the most productive use of that writer’s time. Also, in taking up one of my slots, a writer is taking the space of another writer who might have the sort of book I acquire. It’s really in everyone’s best interest to sign up for editors and agents who want the type of book you’re going to pitch. So always be sure to read the bios included in the conference materials. It’s why we write them!I

Another great resource is to check out agents and editor’s #MSWL pages, or search their tweets and interviews. It takes a little extra time, but it shows initiative, resourcefulness and respect for our time. And hey! You may discover that your book is absolutely perfect for someone.

Bess McAllister writes epic books in expansive worlds from a tiny town in the Midwest. Previously, she lived in New York and worked as a fiction editor at Tor Books. Now, she spends her days telling stories and helping other writers tell theirs. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of Janklow and Nesbit Associates.
Check out her editorial services and connect with on Instagram.

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