Editorial Etiquette by JB: Pitching Your Book To Someone You’ve Never Met Before

The “Pitch Session” where writers submit their book ideas to editors is the original speed dating game. If you’re a writer or an editor, you know what an editorial pitch session is and what speed dating is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_dating. And you have surely noticed the similarities between the writer-author pitch session, typically held at writing conferences and the speed dating sessions typically held in bars and restaurants across the country.

Essentially, two virtual strangers sit down across from each other at a small table, a timer is set for the previously agreed upon amount of time, and one of the people starts talking about themselves (or their manuscript) as quickly as possible all the while hoping the person on the other side of the table will ask them out on a date (or request the full manuscript) after just about three minutes of hearing about them (the book.) Whew!

Apparently there is a formalized urban legend about the origins of the speed dating phenomenon. The practice supposedly has a known year of establishment of 1998. If you’ve been a writer or an editor for even a few years, you know that pitch sessions have been around far longer than that. They have been a staple in Hollywood for decades. But no matter who is involved, writer, editor, date seekers, or Hollywood producers, the process is incredibly nerve racking!

Almost everybody is uneasy meeting new people. It’s difficult to “read” someone quickly enough to feel comfortable around them in a short period of time. But large writing conferences will often schedule 100 or more writers in pitch sessions with about 20 or less editors, and time is a precious commodity. There isn’t time to get to know someone in the typical three to five minutes a writer is given to explain a novel that is 130,000 words long and took seven years to write. So how does a writer get over the many hurdles and feel comfortable in pitch sessions? The best plan is to be really comfortable with your pitch and yourself. Think SYSTEMATIC DESENSITIZATION.

Systematic desensitization technique is a practice described by Joseph Wolpe to help people overcome their fears. It essentially relies on breaking down a fear into small, manageable, and sequential steps thereby helping someone gradually reduce their anxieties. For instance, someone afraid of elevators would get on an elevator with someone they trust and go up one floor then get off the elevator and walk down the steps back to the first floor. They then would get back on the elevator and go up to the second floor, get out, and walk back down to the first floor. They would repeat these steps until they had reached the top floor of the building walking down the steps at each level. Lastly, the person will take the elevator all the way to the top in one session. At each level, the person with the fear of elevators tells themselves that nothing happened on the elevator. This way they build a new emotional relationship with the anxiety and can usually reduce or completely do away with their fear. Fear of the editorial pitch session can be handled the same way. Practice in baby steps in advance.

Step One: write a powerful sentence from your novel on an index card then write an explanation on the card about why this statement is meaningful to the story. It may not get used in your pitch, but this is the first step to knowing what the most important message is that you want to leave with the editor. Keep this index card with you at all times. Yes, sleep with it.

Step Two: Make a list of the ten to twelve steps involved in preparing for, presenting, and following up on the pitch session. Study the list twice a day or more visualizing each step. For instance:

                *Write a great book

                *Come up with the meaningful statement from the book

                *Write out an imaginary script for the pitch session

                *Study the books of this particular editor

                *Choose clothing, shoes, and make-up

                *Go to the conference


Step Three: Practice your pitch a) in the bathroom by yourself, b) in front of a trusted person, c) then with someone who is not a writer. Ask them if they would buy your book based on the three minutes you’ve had to describe it. Why or why not?

Step Four: Complete the pitch session at the conference. Do this as many times as you can at as many conferences as you can afford, but do not repeat the pitch to the same editor over and over at different conferences!

Step Five: Follow up with a thank-you note to the editor after the session EVEN IF SHE DID NOT REQUEST YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Every little bit of good manners counts. 

You can pitch your completed manuscript to me this spring at the following conferences:

April 28, Dogwood Writers Conference, Ashland, Kentucky

June 1, Lori Foster’s Reader and Author Get Together, Cincinnati, Ohio

June 9, West Virginia Writers, Inc., Ripley, West Virginia

Contact me for details. jbgeorge@ymail.com

Good luck.


JB George


“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” ~Lillian Hellman, author



About Joy Held's Writer Wellness Blog

Writer, yogini, mom, wife, and teacher. I teach English composition and hatha yoga in a small private college in Ohio. I'm also working on my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA.

Posted on April 4, 2012, in Editorial Etiquette and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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