They say public speaking is people’s most common fear, even more than dying. So I suppose it’s not surprising that most writers fear pitching to agents and editors more than any other aspect of the writing and publishing process.
Oh. And then there’s the bit where a disproportionate number of writers are shy introverts. That certainly doesn’t help.
But don’t despair! You can learn how to give a killer pitch and make the best possible impression on agents and editors. You can learn how to communicate naturally and professionally, even when you’re shaking in your shoes.
Where to start?
- Know your story. Nobody knows your story better than you. But it’s amazing how many writers cannot answer basic questions about their book like plot, theme, or message. Take a lesson from Einstein and remember: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
- Remember they don’t know your story. You may have spent the last 20 years getting to know your characters and developing their world and backstory. The agent or editor you’re pitching to has had the last two minutes. Avoid using terminology that will be unfamiliar, and stick to short and sweet explanations. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.
- Get to the point. Most editors and agents have waded through a frankly astonishing number of pitches or queries to get to yours. Don’t be boring. Don’t waste their time. Don’t give them a reason to look away or zone out. They’re people too, so make it easy for them to stay engaged.
- Be professional. If you’re pitching in-person or via video, adhere to the conference dress code (when in doubt, go business casual). Organize your materials neatly. Be on time or early. Avoid asking the editor personal questions or getting sidetracked on a hot-button topic. An agent or editor is looking for an author they want to work with for the next five to ten years, if not more. Would you want to work with you that long? Be honest in your evaluation.
- Do your research. One of the most common reasons for rejection is because a manuscript either does not fit what the agent or publisher is looking for, or is not presented in accordance to the guidelines set out by the agent/publisher. Most agents/publishers have clear guidelines on their websites. There is no excuse. Don’t waste both of your time pitchin a story that doesn’t fit or is poorly presented.
- Listen to their feedback and apply it. If a busy agent/editor takes the time to give you feedback on your book and presentation, thank them, and go home and apply it. Then bring your story back next year and show them how much you learned!
- Resist the urge to be memorable. This may seem counter-intuitive, but too many authors resort to gimmicks or inflammatory statements attempting to be memorable. Agents/editors might remember you, but it won’t be favorably! Let your professional demeanor and your story speak for you. It’s the best way to stand out from the crowd.
- Present your best product. Use beta readers and critique groups. Hire a professional editor. Polish your first chapter until it gleams. Proofread obsessively for typos and grammar errors. Make sure your one-sheet and synopsis are clean, clear, and visually appealing.
- Present your platform. This is a word that gets tossed around a lot, but really it’s the industry’s way of defining influence and connections. Agents/editors want to know if you have a blog following, if you’re on social media, if you have a website. Never underestimate the power of influence and a pre-made audience.
- Remember you share a common love. You both love books. You both love amazing stories. You both want you to succeed. It’s easy to villainize an editor who turns down your book baby, but remember they want you to succeed. Treat them kindly and respectfully, and they will do the same.
If you found these tips helpful, keep an eye on my blog and social media sites. I’m releasing an exciting new resource for writers in June! My pitch toolkit will include one-sheet and synopsis templates and tips, more practical suggestions on impressing editors from my experience as an editor with Crosshair Press, and an option for a phone or video call to practice your pitch.
You can pitch with confidence. You can make an agent or editor fall in love with your story.