Pitch sessions: the other side of the desk (part 3)

In which we conclude our series of amazing insights into the pitching process . . . .

As a writer approaching a pitch session, I get keyed up, hoping I make a good connection with the editor or agent, hoping she’ll be interested in my project, hoping this meeting turns out to be the key to getting this project published.  I have a lot invested, in other words.  As an agent, I’m thinking it would be nice if I end up picking up a client, but I don’t expect to.  A lot of the time I’m wishing I had a refill on my cup of coffee, and some of the time I’m thinking about going for ice cream afterwards and occasionally I’m focused on how soon I can get to the bathroom (I know, I know, you were hoping I was desperately attentive to every word that falls from a writer’s lips.  And if I were a better person, I would be.)  Listening to pitches for hours on a Sunday afternoon, even if you’re on a cruise ship at sea, is grueling.


7.  Recognize that after a certain number of pitches, an editor or agent is not quite as fresh and focused as she might be.  The later in the day your pitch is, the more you should be aware of staying focused yourself.  Try not to overload her with details, thoughts and commentary.  Be specific and to the point.  The more you can engage her in give-and-take, the more likely she’ll pay attention to the conversation you’re having and the less likely her thoughts are to wander to happy hour.  Remember sixth hour in high school, when your math teacher droned on and on and you could barely keep your eyes open?  Listening to pitches is a lot like that late in the afternoon. 


I requested about twelve proposals or fiction manuscripts from the people who pitched me.  In the weeks since I returned home, only four people have followed up by providing the requested materials.  This did not surprise me: when I first started working as an agent, I was amazed that people would pitch me and then when I would ask to see the material, never send it.  Now it doesn’t surprise me at all.  Writers constantly pitch things that aren’t actually ready, although they represent them as if they were (note: because of the way I opened up these sessions, some of the writers I talked to did not have a proposal ready and I knew it when we talked; I’m not referring to them here).


8.  Don’t bother pitching editors/agents (whether in person or via a query letter) unless your project is ready to go out the door.  It’s a waste of everyone’s time otherwise.  I know you’re thinking that an agent’s or editor’s interest is a great incentive to finishing the project, but when I ask for materials, I’m asking for them based on what I’m doing now, not six months from now.  What I think I can sell today may not be something I’m interested in taking on down the road.  Like many agents, my workload constantly shifts, so sometimes I’m more open to taking on projects/authors and other times less so.  I certainly have less room for new clients now than I did three months ago.   Same goes for editors: slots on their lists close up fast, and much as we’d like to believe every worthy book will eventually find its home, that’s just not true.  Luck and serendipity play a not inconsiderable role in the publishing process.  Do your part when either of these ladies comes calling.


9. Following up is crucial, Part I.  Even if you gave me a business card, I’m not going to email you asking you where your project is.  If you’ve sent in your materials and you don’t hear from me in a reasonable length of time, nudge me with another email.  Things get trapped in spam folders, accidentally deleted, never arrive.


10.  Following up is crucial, Part II: I don’t make writers jump through hoops to get to me.  I don’t make them fill out a special submission form, structure their queries in a specific way or even spell my name right.  Unlike some agents, I get almost entirely good stuff in my inbox (not that I can take it all on).  I don’t have to find ways to screen it beyond, you know, reading it and deciding if I can sell it.  I don’t think hoop jumping proves anything about a writer’s potential, and I’m not yet so cynical that it amuses me to make people do it, so I don’t ask them to.  But I do expect writers to care about their work.  If I’m on the fence about a particular project, the writer’s ability and willingness to follow up matters a lot.  When I ask for a proposal or a partial/full manuscript, I always give a sense of when I’ll respond.  If that time passes, and the author hasn’t come back to me, I’ll wonder if he or she really cares that much about the project, or about having me represent it.   So in a situation where I’m wavering, an author who doesn’t follow up will probably get a rejection.  That doesn’t mean following up leads automatically to acceptance, but it does give me a sense that you care about the project and want to make it work.  That person is one who is more likely to listen to my suggestions and feedback anyway than the writer who has the attitude of, “eh, take it or leave it.”


Your turn: what have you learned from your adventures in pitchland?