I sold my novel at a pitch conference (as did the great Kim Boykin). Almost seven years ago, I walked into a small, mirrored room, sat down across from a tall, wary editor from Plume/Penguin, and sputtered forth the pitch for my novel, THE FICTION CLASS. I knew things were going well because Emily laughed at all my jokes, but in the pause between when I finished pitching and she started talking, I aged ten years. Then Emily said, “I think this is something we’d like.”
Since that time, as a workshop leader for the NY Pitch Conference, I’ve sat in on hundreds of pitch sessions. I’ve seen people burst into tears (bad idea). I’ve seen people beg. I’ve seen people offer to do anything (Anything!) if the editor would publish her book. And I’ve seen several people make connections that did lead them to sell their books. One reassuring thing I’ve learned is that editors really are looking for books. They want to hear a good story. They want to sell books.
I’ve also noticed that some people do better at pitch conferences than others. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to do with how old you are, how attractive, how well-dressed or smooth you are. So what are the secrets to doing well? That’s what I’ll be talking about at the conference, in my workshop Saturday morning (from 9:00-10:15 a.m.) on “Etiquette Tips for Pitching Agents & Editors from a Writer Who Sold Her Book at a Pitch Conference.”
But I will offer one tip here: Listen!
You know how politicians have a way of turning every single question into a way to discuss their agenda. Don’t do that. If an editor asks how old your protagonist is, don’t launch into a 15-minute disquisition on how the scene where the protagonist is thrown off the boat is the most exciting scene in history. It may well be, but if you swamp the editors with words, they’ll never ask to see them. Whenever an editor is interested in getting an answer to a specific question, it’s a good sign. She wants to know about your book. What you want to do is make her feel like she can ask you lots of questions. So listen to the question and respond briefly and sanely. (Keeping your sanity is a whole other etiquette tip, which I’ll discuss on another day!)
See you in October.