Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pitching Advice Part V

So you're at a writing conference. You've scrimped and saved to get there, you've been dreaming of this chance to hobnob with agents and editors. You've signed up to meet with said agents and editors but then you learn that you didn't get an appointment after all. Or maybe you're in the envious position of having the appointments you've signed up for, but there are other agents and editors you wanted to meet with. What's a writer to do?

Time to see if you can get what I like to call a "God appointment."

Simply (and somewhat crassly) put, at writing conferences, it's acceptable to stalk editors and agents. Well, within limits, of course (more on that in a bit). But should you run into an editor or agent in the hall, in a coffee shop, or even on the cliched elevator, it's okay to try to pitch to them.

So how do you do that? First, ask if it's okay to pitch at that moment. Your target, whoever it may be, could be heading to a meeting, or running late to a class, or possibly even heading toward the bathroom. Needless to say, if that's the case, they probably won't take kindly to an enthusiastic and/or nervous author trying to pitch them a book. Show your professionalism and your respect for their time, and ask, "May I pitch to you?" If they say "No," thank them and walk away.

But if they say yes, treat it like a high-powered pitch session. Tell them the book's title, the genre, and your hook (you have been practicing your hook, right?). And then wait for feedback. If the editor or agent prompts you for more information, keep talking.

The key to these kinds of pitch meetings is to let the agent or editor steer things. So long as they keep asking questions, you're golden. But if they thank you, time to let it (and them) go. And if they're eying potential avenues of escape, then it's definitely time to stop talking.

This is a great way to get your work in front of industry insiders, but it's important to keep the three "Bs" in mind, namely, "Breakfast," "Bathroom," and "Bedroom." Simply put, if your target enters one of these three, they're off limits.

I don't think I have to elaborate too much on these points. I mean, I'm not a morning person. It's best to let people have their coffee and donuts in peace. If you find yourself at a table with an editor or agent, make small talk, but don't talk business unless they bring it up first.

And really? Pitching to someone in the bathroom? It seems odd that people would have to be told this, but apparently, not everyone understands. In his book The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell tells of an editor (or maybe an agent) who used to have proposals slid under the stall door while he was in the restroom. This individual would take off the cover sheet, and then write on the second page, "This has met my needs at this time," and then slide it back out again.

Don't let that happen to you.

I would think the bedroom one is obvious too. If they're heading for their room, don't follow them in.

Does this work? You'd better believe it does. I've been to four ACFW Conferences and I've seen it happen. At one, I was chatting with a friend when an agent walked up to us. He dismissed me pretty quickly (due to my genre of choice) but my friend launched into a very concise and passionate pitch. They exchanged information and my friend signed with the agent shortly thereafter.

And it worked for me twice as well. At the last ACFW Conference, I ran into Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press before the festivities started. He invited me to chat with him while he ate lunch. I told him about Failstate. He asked for a full manuscript. And sometime next year, that manuscript will be published.

At the same conference, my friend, Jill Williamson, introduced me to her agent, Amanda Luedeke. In a bizarre twist, Jill actually pitched Failstate to Amanda for me. That began a conversation with Amanda that ended with me signing with her.

God appointments, times when He intertwines your path with the right people, do happen. You just have to be ready for them.

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