by Ramona Richards
Sue Brower had some terrific advice last week about preparing for a writers conference, especially ACFW. One piece of advice she gave made me want to give her a cheer:
• DON’T go to editor and agent appointments unprepared.
Now…that may sound like common sense for most of you, but I thought I’d share a bit of the EDITOR’S POV from a pitch session.
Like Sue, I was at the Blue Ridge conference. I had 18 pitch slots open. Please note that my title is Senior Acquisitions Editor – Fiction. Seven of the folks who signed up had non-fiction books to pitch. Color me confused. All of them thought I took pitches for non-fiction because of something in my bio or because Abingdon does publish non-fiction. I gave them info on our non-fiction editor, and sent them away. This took about 3-5 minutes, leaving me 10 minutes to do something else with. Sometimes I was able to work in a wandering author without an appointment.
So before you sit down, PLEASE know what your editor or agent is interested in.
Trust that we understand you’re going to be nervous. That’s fine, expected even, but we’re not thrilled with shaking dozens of sweaty hands. If you’re palm is wet, just hand us a card or a one-sheet and sit. Greet us, and give us a chance to “settle” before launching into your pitch. Many times, I’m still sitting down and shifting papers when the first 30 words burst from an author. It doesn’t help your nervousness if I have to ask you to repeat them.
Slow down. The pitch session is longer than you think.
Nerves will keep you hyper. Many authors launch into their pitch and won’t slow down even for a breath for the next five minutes. I wind up having to stop people. While this is a “pitch,” it’s also a conversation. Present your tagline and premise, then pause. Take a deep breath. This will help you calm down, and it’ll also allow the editor or agent to ask questions. Really good pitch sessions have an ebb and flow about them, a give-and-take between you and the agent/editor. Don’t barrage us with info.
Don’t feel like you have to drive the presentation. We WANT to ask you questions.
Many times, I’ll have questions that pop in my mind before the tagline is done. Many times, an author will overwhelm me with a book’s message, theme, and character arc. That’s fine, but don’t be surprised if I ask, “What’s the story?” I’m not interested in a theme. I’m looking for a really good STORY. If your story is lame, I couldn’t care less about your theme.
Be prepared to tell the STORY. Linearly, if possible. Concisely.
If I interrupt you, don’t let it throw you off. This doesn’t mean I’m bored. It means I’m interested. I may ask questions like “What drives the protagonist to struggle against the antagonist?” Be prepared to answer.
And remember, if editors and agents didn’t WANT to hear your pitch, we wouldn’t be there. This is voluntary for us. We come to conferences and meet with authors because we want to find great stories and professional authors to work with. So take a deep breath and share your gift.
Ramona Richards, an award-winning writer, editor, and speaker, is the Senior Acquisitions Editor – Fiction for Abingdon Press. She’s also the author of 9 books and frequent contributor to devotional collections. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves her adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.