Perfecting Your Author Pitch

For the author, an editor pitch means bypassing the dreaded slush pile, elevating their unsolicited query letter and synopsis to a ‘requested material’ manuscript in 10 minutes. For the editor, it’s the possibility of acquiring gold – a new author for their list.

A pitch isn’t you reading out your synopsis word-for-word: think ‘overview’ of the story and characters – their goals, motivations, conflict. Sum up your story in a couple of catchy sentences. For example, “‘Is There Love on Mars?’ is an alternate-historical fantasy set in the year 3100, and targeted at Berkley’s Brava imprint. At approximately 100,000 words, it’s a sensual, save-the-world story involving Kane, a geeky time traveler hero and Juno, queen of Mars, who captures him as her sex slave.” This is known as the ‘TV Guide grab’. Back-cover blurbs are perfect for this.

In the above example we’ve incorporated the marketing and story hooks because the editor will want to know where she can place the novel on the shelves. If your ms incorporates a popular storyline or hot premise, use it – marriage of convenience, secret baby, amnesia, in love with the boss, sex for hire, school reunion, bad boy meets good girl. For example, “I have a big-city, second-chance-at-love-story aimed at Harlequin Desire.”

Make a comparison with films, TV shows or popular themes – this will give the editor a clearer picture of your book i.e. Survivor in the Antarctic, Lara Croft meets GI Joe, The Walking Dead set on Venus. If your story doesn’t encompass anything on the screen, use other analogies – “in the tradition of Georgette Heyer”, “a modern-day Wuthering Heights set in New York city”, “Beauty lifting a 100 year old curse from the beast” or “Cinderfella meets Miss Universe.”

Before your pitch:

  • Prepare your notes on cards – it’s not an exam, so don’t struggle with a mental blank!
  • Research your editor and her publisher. Find out what she’s acquiring, what themes, plots or stories hold her interest. Try a search on Google, check out the RT Book Reviews magazine, back copies of your chapter newsletter, eHarlequin boards and by asking questions of other authors and writers;
  • Jot down a brief list of your writing achievements;
  • Practice your pitch in front of the mirror, with a family member or critique partner. Polish your pitch until you can get the gist of your story across with as little verbiage as possible.

At the pitch

Generally, pitches run in this order:

  • Introduction and exchange of pleasantries;
  • Launch into pitch – intro hero/heroine, their basic traits and their inciting incident (how they come together);
  • Answer any questions about the novel that the editor may have;
  • Talk about your other work, contest successes, other publishing credits and your background;
  • Ask any questions of the editor (“what is your line focusing on now?” “How do you feel about related books in a series?”);
  • Exchange of business cards and goodbyes.

Important things to remember:

  • Be punctual – lateness doesn’t look good and also cuts into your pitch time;
  • Wear business clothes to project professionalism – business pants/skirt, shirt and jacket. You can always take the jacket off later;
  • Smile and shake the editor’s hand when you introduce yourself;
  • If applicable, briefly mention meeting her at another conference or online boards, e.g. “I’ve really been enjoying your ‘Editor No-Nos” column at the Ivy authors website.”
  • Be prepared to answer questions about other details of your story but resist the urge to keep talking about the plot and over-explaining the details;
  • Be modest. Editors are extremely skeptical when writers gush about how fabulous their writing is or claim to be the next Nora Roberts. Let your writing achievements, knowledge of your story and publisher’s requirements be proof of your skill;
  • Have any other ideas ready if that manuscript isn’t what she is looking for. e.g. “I’m also working on a cops-turned-lovers story, aimed at Harlequin Intrigue.”
  • Be honest. Editor pitches are for complete full manuscripts only but if she wants to see something else, make sure you tell her if it’s complete or not e.g. “The partial on this book is ready to go. Could I send that to you?”
  • If there’s time, ask her about what she’s acquiring – any themes she doesn’t want to see, anything she loves;
  • Address all requested material to that editor and mark the envelope “REQUESTED MATERIAL”. Also, in your covering letter, mention when and where you met (editors won’t remember every pitch of every book by every writer!)

Some important don’ts:

  • Don’t pitch an incomplete novel (editors will only buy full manuscripts from first time authors), or one which is inappropriate to the publisher/line (otherwise you’re wasting both your time and hers);
  • Don’t give the editor ANYTHING other than your business card, which should have your ms title and ‘TV Guide teaser’ on the back. If she wants to see your work, she will request you mail it;
  • Don’t corner the editor in the toilet/hallway/elevator later and grill her on why she didn’t request your manuscript;
  • Don’t be nervous! Editors are people too, so be yourself and know your story. Enjoy this time to discuss your work because it might just be what the editor is looking for!