Few things strike terror into the hearts of conference goers more than the dreaded editor or agent appointment, and yet few opportunities at a writing conference are more valuable. Here, then, are a few tips to make the experience less terrifying and more valuable.
- SIGN UP. Just do it. Yes, I know, those people are from New York. They have breakfast with Dan Brown and lunch with Nora Roberts. They have the power to reject your book. Might I remind you, they also have the power to buy your book. So sign up. If this is your first appointment, or you don’t have a completed manuscript, then I would recommend a group appointment over an individual one. These are not only less intimidating, but it’s surprisingly helpful to hear other authors pitch their work. There’s no quicker way to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t than to sit in a room with an editor or agent and hear other people’s pitches.
- EDITOR OR AGENT’ Try to schedule an appointment with each. If you can only have one, and you’re unpublished, I would choose the editor. The person who will eventually buy your book will be an editor. Get to know these people, ask questions, find out what they like, who they are, what they are looking for. Do a little research ahead of time and find out who and what they publish so you don’t end up pitching your erotic vampire book to a Christian publisher.
- THEY AREN’T GOING TO BUY YOUR BOOK TODAY. I find this enormously reassuring. What you hope to walk away with is nothing more than an invitation to submit your book to this person. It will be a long time before anyone gets close to buying it, but you’ve jumped yourself over the slush pile by being invited personally by an editor or agent to send your manuscript. That is your goal. For a couple of minutes, you have the opportunity to tell an acquiring editor (or agent) about this project you love so much you’ve spent months or years working on it. You, for a couple of minutes, have the same attention that Dan Brown gets over breakfast. Use it well.
- WHAT TO SAY’ A pitch is a sales call. You want to present your product in the best light. Is the book finished’ Great. Say so. If you’re a brain surgeon, and so is your heroine, say so. Of course you’re nervous. That’s okay. Editors and agents are used to it. Write your pitch. It’s fine. If you end up reading it aloud that’s fine, too. An index card is great for this. It’s far better to read your pitch than to panic because your mind has gone blank. Hopefully, you’ll have memorized the pitch, or a few brief points, and you can look the editor in the face and tell her about your book. But it’s nice to know you’ve got a written cheat sheet. In brief, here’s how I pitch my books (and yes, even after twenty five sales, I still have to pitch). The easiest way I know to design a pitch is to use the Goal, Motivation and Conflict model set out in Debra Dixon’s book of the same name. What does the heroine want’ Why does she want it’ Why can’t she have it’ You can do the same with the hero, though in romance, of course, often the hero is the very guy standing in her way, which makes pitching even easier.
- AN EXAMPLE OF A PITCH. Kit Prestcott (heroine) PR director of the new erotic boutique hotel, Hush, in Manhattan is determined that her Fantasy Weekend promotion will put the hotel on the map. (goal) In 200 words or less, contestants must describe their hottest fantasy, one they’d like to fulfill at the hotel and the prize is an indulgent weekend at the luxurious hotel. Everything is going well until Kit discovers her first winner is Peter Garson, the man who broke her heart when he forgot to show up at their wedding three years ago (conflict).
You could stop here, or you could add the hero’s GMC. Peter (hero) knows he screwed up. All he wants is a chance to put things right with the woman he hurt so badly (goal)’ until he sees Kit again, then he knows that he wants her back. But how can he make her trust him’ (conflict) He’s got one weekend to win back the woman he lost. This is the kind of thing that ends up as a back cover blurb, so it’s very helpful to practice these pitches with all your books. This (successful) pitch was for Private Relations (Blaze, Oct. 05)
Best of luck. And remember, editors and agents don’t take appointments merely to terrify authors. They are actively looking for books to publish. Why shouldn’t one of them be yours’