My previous article on pitching to editors and agents was in informal settings. This is more targeted information about when you have an appointment to speak to an agent or editor.
Because you have several minutes, the purpose of an agent/editor appointment at a conference is more than just pitching. It’s a chance for you to learn about the agent/editor’s personality, and if they’re someone you want to work with. This is very important. A business relationship is more than just professionalism—it’s how personalities work with each other, kind of like a marriage.
Therefore, use your time wisely.
I’m going to break this down into writer experience level, because I agree with Randy Ingermanson when he talks about Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior level writers. (If you haven’t read his article yet, please do so before continuing with this one, since I’ll be referring to it.)
For Freshmen, Sophomores, early Juniors:
My suggestion is not to officially pitch your story at all. I’ve heard Randy Ingermanson suggest this, as well (so actually, I’m borrowing parts of this idea from him).
The reason is that for a writer at Freshman, Sophomore, and even early Junior stage, it’s more beneficial to the writer to make a positive personal impression on the editor/agent than it is to pitch a story idea. Editors and agents remember writers, just like they remember story ideas, even if it’s only subconscious and a vague “liked it” or “didn’t like it” feeling.
You want them to have a vague “I liked this person the last time we met” feeling. It improves your chances of them being interested in your story idea the next time you see them and officially pitch.
So what do you do when you meet them? Randy suggests you tell them, “I’m not going to pitch to you, but I’d like you to look at my proposal and let me know what you think. I’d really like feedback on it.”
This accomplishes several things.
a) The editor/agent will give you more detailed feedback on your story and the layout of your proposal than if you’d pitched. They’ll highlight your strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes give you suggestions for improving the story or proposal.
b) The feedback not only helps you improve your story idea, but it also gives you insight into the agent/editor—what they like, what they don’t like, what they expect from new authors.
c) It takes the pressure off of you to present a perfect, professional pitch. Because really, unless you can do a perfect, professional pitch, you’re not going to give a very good first impression.
d) If the agent/editor reads the proposal—with the intent to give feedback, not to hear your story idea—but likes the story idea anyway, they might ask you to send the manuscript to them.
e) If the agent/editor only gives feedback and doesn’t ask you to send your manuscript to them, it softens the emotional blow of this form of face-to-face “rejection.” If you’d pitched to them and they hadn’t asked you to send your manuscript, let’s face it—that just hurts more. With this method, you wanted feedback, and you got it.
f) If the agent/editor doesn’t ask you to send your manuscript, you at least have good feedback about why they didn’t ask you to send it. If you’d pitched to them, they wouldn’t have given you as much detail about why they didn’t want to see more. In asking for feedback, you definitely get it.
g) In asking for feedback rather than pitching, it shows the editor/agent that you’re teachable. This is key in giving them a good impression of you both professionally and personally.
This feedback session might take up the entire time you have. If it doesn’t, then engage in small talk with the editor/agent. (For tips on this type of conversation at conferences, check out my article “How to Network at Conferences, part two: Questions to Ask”)
By this stage, you’ve met several agents/editors and feel comfortable talking with them. You don’t have that Oh-my-gosh-you’re-an-editor/agent look or I’m-naked-in-front-of-a-crowd look when you talk to them.
This comfort will translate into confidence when you pitch, and that is very important. It shows the editor/agent that you are a professional, not a new or insecure writer.
Yes, I’m yelling. Practice your pitch until it’s smooth and you don’t have to think too much when you give it. Make sure it’s natural, and that you actually sound excited about your story.
Know your story. Know all the aspects about it that you’d put into your proposal—theme, audience, spiritual take-away, marketing plan.
Know the publishing business. Research everything you need before the appointment—what the editor’s house publishes, what they’re looking for, how your story would fit into their stable, what books are in the Christian and mainstream market that are similar yet different from your story.
Don’t dissolve into tears if they’re not interested. Smile and take it in stride. If you have time in the appointment, ask them for feedback on how you could improve the idea, or their thoughts on what would fit better into the market/their stable.
Don’t take up more time than what you’re allotted. You don’t want to wear out the editor/agent’s time with you, nor do you want to be selfish and steal someone else’s time with them.
You don’t want to appear either pushy or selfish to this industry professional. That would be like farting and belching at a job interview.
If you’re not time-conscious, it will give the editor/agent a vague “There was something I didn’t like about you” feeling the next time they see you.
Utilize your time with an editor/agent to best effect, giving the best impression you can. Don’t feel like you have to sell yourself or your story to this agent/editor—just concentrate on presenting yourself as upbeat and professional.
I'll write another article later on some other practical tips for an agent/editor appointment. Leave a comment if there's something specific you want me to talk about.