Sock-Puppets and Pitching

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A year or so back my fabulous agent posted a tweet on April fools saying something to the extent that she was only looking for books about pigeons (or something equally zany and april’s fool-ish). I replied with an appropriately silly book idea and mentioned that I had sock-puppets for the in person pitch. Obviously a joke, right? Anyone, no matter how green about publishing,  knows that pulling out sock-puppets during a pitch is a crazy idea. And yet,  new writers often do things that send up the red flag/crazy-sign that makes agents and editors want to back away slowly.

This past weekend I attended the SC Book Festival and had a marvelous time. I hung out with other writers, chatted with fellow readers, heard some great stories, and met a ton of amazing people. I also spent a chunk of the weekend hanging out with an editor who was trying very hard to remain incognito because they didn’t want to get swarmed. A few eager writers did discover my friend’s connection to publishing, and some of the conversations I overheard were almost as damning as pulling out a sock-puppet. Unfortunately, these mistakes are so prevalent in new writer’s pitches that my editor friend’s smile never slipped. So I cringed for both my friend and for the oblivious writers shooting themselves in the foot. By end of the weekend, I had my topic for this week’s post: In person pitching– a do and don’t list. (And if you like, you can imagine this list being delivered by a sock-puppet)

DON’T

  • Tell the agent/editor they will have to sign a confidentiality statement before you can tell them your idea/show them pages.
  • Hand the agent/editor your card and tell them to go to your website to see what you write.
  • Brag about how your self-pubbed book has already sold 100 copies so you know it will be a bestseller if the editor publishes the book.
  • Walk up to every publishing professional at the event and pitch your book without finding out if the agent reps/ editor acquires your genre. (You spent all that time writing the book–spend the time to find it the right home.)
  • Start talking money/covers/what countries you want to see the book in before the agent/editor so much as requests pages.
  • Push printed copies of the manuscript at agents/editors. If they are interested, they will ask you to mail or email them pages. Most publishing professionals travel to attend events and they can’t lug manuscripts back with them, so leave the printout at home.

DO:

  • Prepare a pitch before you approach the agent or editor. You should be able to deliver an enticing description of your book in just a line or two. You should also have a slightly longer pitch prepared for if they are interested, but don’t ramble on for twenty minutes describing everything that happens in your book. Think of this more like a blurb on the back of a book.
  • Practice your pitch ahead of time and have it memorized. You’re going to be nervous when you talk to the agent/editor and you don’t want to just stand there and blink dumbly if they say “Okay, tell me about the book” or “Let’s hear your pitch.” A good back up plan is to have your pitch written on a note card in nice bold print so that if you blank-out you can glance down at what you’ve prepared.
  • If you are unpublished and pitching fiction, make sure you have a completed and polished manuscript ready for when you receive a request.
  • Use basic manners. Editors and Agents are people first and publishing professionals second. If run across them them in the bar or happen to sit down at the same table with them at dinner, ask if you can join them, offer to buy them drinks, engage them in conversation, but don’t just wedge into their private time and start pitching your book unsolicited.
  • Remember to breathe–Again, Editors and Agents are people, just people. They won’t eat you and they are probably really nice. ^_^

Okay, those are my tips based on what I saw (and didn’t see) this weekend. If you have do’s and don’ts of your own, I’d love to hear them! Until next week, this writer (and her imaginary sock-puppet) signing out.
-kalayna

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24 comments to Sock-Puppets and Pitching

  • How about this: Don’t invite yourself to sit down and join an lunch that’s already in progress. Don’t try to hand editors a manuscript on the hotel elevator while they’re checking in to their room and still toting all of their luggage.

    Do: Talk about things other than writing/books (goes back to Kalayna’s point about agents and editors being people first. If you can connect with them on a personal level, they’re more likely to open up to the possibility of connecting on a professional level).

  • Push printed copies of the manuscript at agents/editors.

    I did this one. To Betsy Mitchell, at a party during a weekend workshop. In my defense, it was only the first three chapters…okay, no, that’s no defense at all. *laughs*

    Tell the agent/editor they will have to sign a confidentiality statement before you can tell them your idea/show them pages.

    I love to share the story of a woman I met at a writing event some years back. The attending agents had offered personal critique sessions, for which you had to send in your synopsis and first thirty pages ahead of time. Several of us were sitting around on the first night, talking about how excited we were to hear what the agents would say, and one woman started talking about how dangerous it was to just hand over your work like that. “The agents steal your idea,” she insisted. But she’d managed to safeguard herself – she’d sent in thirty random, nonconsecutive pages from her novel and no synopsis at all.

    I’ve wished ever since that I could have been a fly on the wall during her critique session. 😀

  • Oh, Ed, I can just see an editor juggling bags and a writer walking up with a doorstop of a manuscript–I’d run! I’ve heard horror stories about places agents and editors have been approached. The classic being a manuscript being slid under the bathroom stall (which apparently really happened at an RWA conference)

    Misty, we all start out green once and make mistakes we cringe about later. I showed up at a five page MS critique by an agent two months after writing “THE END” for the very first time. I had no idea that agents did these primarily to scout clients–I just wanted feedback on if my writing was up to snuff or just a pipe dream.
    I agree–I totally wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that woman’s session! Wow. That’s special. If I were the reader, I probably wouldn’t have read more than a page or two. Waste of time.

  • Well, mine was going to be “Don’t follow agents into a bathroom to do your pitch,” which does happen, but which you sort of covered with that under-the-stall story. Unbelievable. I would say “Know when to say goodbye.” I’ve seen so many people at cons monopolize an editor or agent or author’s time, usually to their own detriment. Be polite, be engaging, be charming, and then be smart enough to know when it’s time to say “Thanks so much for your time; I’ve enjoyed speaking with you” and move on.

    Thanks for this Kalayna. Nice post.

  • Good one David! Tactful and timely exits can be tricky. (Hence the awkward end to many of my conversations. LOL)

  • I was with Kalayna at the con. Kalayna, I had a great time and was happy we got to know each other much better — which is what cons are for, in addition to meeting and making new fans.

    Because we spent so much time together, I, too, was there when the writer (who looked like a deer in the headlights) told the editor he would have to sign a confidentiality statement before she would tell him the idea/show him pages. I was also present for number two >> Hand the agent/editor your card and tell them to go to your website to see what you write.

    Can’t decide whether to giggle or cry. It was both laughable and sad.

    To the list, I’d add: You may be a spy or a lawyer, but not while approaching an editor/agent. Do your research and learn how to act like a professional writer, not like a spy or a lawyer (which only makes you look like an idiot).

  • Okay, so I was trying to decide how a spy would act and my first thought was stealthy and secretive. The image those words brought up was a guy in trench coat swaddling up behind an editor to whisper “Hey. sssp. Want to buy a manuscript?” as he opened his coat and flashed pages tucked into the lining. ^_^

    Faith, I couldn’t agree more. I had so much fun! (And because of the stories from you and from Mario, I will never look at potatoes or spatulas the same–shocked I didn’t bruise my ribs laughing so much.)

  • I’m glad I missed the would-be authors misbehaving with the editor (Do I know said editor? I’m thinking he might have been at the table with ya.)! Anyway, I’m still shuddering over the creepy visitor we had. I guess you guys have to deal with that a lot at your signings and cons, too.

    I also hate that I missed Mario! We need to get him to ConCarolinas!

  • Hmm… So you’re saying that when Agents and Editors run “critique” sessions at cons, what they’re really doing is scouting for talent?

    Is that really the case? If so, that’s news to me – and potentially valuable news, at that. I, naive not-as-young-as-I-used-to-be writer that I am would’ve taken the label of “critique session” at face value and assumed that’s exactly what it was. Not that I’ve ever been to one at a con run by an agent or editor…

    On the other hand, don’t they get enough unsolicitied manuscripts in their day-to-day that they don’t really need to scout for talent?

  • Do buy them drink after drink until they get to that “I love you, man. No…I really do” while you’re holding their hair as they lose their drinks into the toilet?

    I always laugh about people who are so intent on getting confidentiality agreements. When I buy a book, I buy the inch thick thing worth 1000 hours of blood, sweat and tears. I don’t buy the little blurb on the back. That should be free (marketing). Seriously, do I need an NDA before telling you “hey, so there’s this vampire who lives in forks who goes to high school and falls for this high school student. Oh, and a werewolf is also in love with her.” If you stole that idea and wrote it into a book, it’d be a totally different book.

  • Stephen, it’s both. The agent is there to offer professional-level criticism for the pages you submit, and yes, he sees a lot of manuscripts every day, but if he reads something he thinks he can sell, he’s going to take advantage of the opportunity to rep it.

  • The image those words brought up was a guy in trench coat swaddling up behind an editor to whisper “Hey. sssp. Want to buy a manuscript?” as he opened his coat and flashed pages tucked into the lining.

    Kalayna, if I was an editor, I don’t know if I’d necessarily buy the guy’s book, but that approach would certainly make me laugh. 😀

  • Young_Writer

    I have a quick question, do you have to be a certain age to get into a critique session? Thank you in advance.

  • Razziecat

    You can’t emphasize “be prepared” enough. I once attended a WorldCon which included a workshop with David Gerrold and Ashley Grayson. Afterward, I stopped to ask Mr. Grayson a question (don’t even remember the question). I walked with him back to the main part of the hotel and if I’d had a mss. with me, I think he would have taken a look at it. He was so incredibly gracious, pleasant and helpful to a very star-struck, young would-be writer. My writing wasn’t anywhere near ready for publication, but it still feels like I missed a chance there (David Gerrold was awesome too! :)

  • Christina: I also hate that I missed Mario! We need to get him to ConCarolinas!

    We get to go this year!!! 😀 Long drive, but should be fun!

  • Another for the story collection: Several years back, at a WFC, a young lady carried her manuscript with her Everywhere. Okay, that’s not too bad or unusual. She showed it to everyone. Purple 14pt script on pale pink paper. A few people gently suggested she might want to reformat her ms into standard format before submitting it. “But the Presentation is SO Important to the Story!”

    Ouch!

  • Kalayna> Great post. I don’t think I’ve done any of these–but I haven’t met many agents or editors. And I’m a bit freaked out talking to them anyway. :)

    Daniel> Yay for coming to ConCarolinas! It will be fun!

  • Daniel: We get to go this year!!! Long drive, but should be fun!

    OMG!!!! You MUST pre-register and play Rogue Mage. I look forward to finally meeting you in person after all these years.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    What is really sad about the ridiculous stories is that you know that horrible effort–even sticking a manuscript under a bathroom stall–probably took incredible courage and effort upon the part of the person who did it. Many writers are not good at interacting with people (that’s why they sit home and write) and they are probably terrified when they do these–to us–riduculous things. If only they knew better, they could use the same effort for something that would work.

    When I started, I read books and I got an internship at a publishing company, so I started out a bit ahead of the curve. Not everyone is so lucky.

  • OMG!!!! You MUST pre-register and play Rogue Mage.

    I’ll see. My two favorite ladies are coming too and the one that’s almost 5 may not want to sit still long enough for it. Actually wanted to get her a sitter for the weekend, but life likes to toss curve balls from time to time. :\

  • Young Writer, no, there’s not really any age limit on such things. Most cons require that people under 18 register with a parent or guardian, but that’s to protect the young person and the con from any liability. Some writing workshops even offer special scholarships for high-school-age writers, so I’d keep my eyes open for those.

  • Stephen, I’ve only attended a few critiques by agents. One was a small round-table event (my very first one) and the other two were panels where before the conference attendees were allowed to submit two pages and the reading of those pages was done anonymously and aloud in a ballroom. The general structure I’ve observed is that the agents and editors comment as the piece is read and after a few paragraphs let the audience know why they would have stopped reading. Occasionally, one of the agents or editors will say “I’m actually really interested in this. Send me the first three chapters.” I happened to be one of those, when I totally and completely wasn’t ready. So, yes, they really are critiques to help you improve, but be aware that sometimes requests can come from them.

    Roxanne your words to new writer’s ears. I couldn’t agree more: no two writers will write the same book even with the same idea behind it.

    Razziecat, it’s awesome how approachable most publishing professionals are. Great story. While you might have missed your chance then, it was probably smarter not to send off work that wasn’t ready. You’ll get another chance.

  • Young Writer, Misty pretty much covered this, but you’d just have to check with the individual critique session. Most I’ve attended have been part of one or another writer’s conference, so if you could attend the conference, you would most likely be able to submit pages just like everyone else, though I’d check to make sure you don’t need a parent or guardian’s permission.

    Oh Lyn, eeks! I feel for her. And purple on pink? My eyes hurt just thinking about it.

    Thanks Pea_Faerie!

    Lamplighter, that’s a good point. I’m sure it does take a lot of courage, and when you’re first starting out, you don’t always know where to look for the information you might not even know you need.

  • Young_Writer

    Misty, thank you! I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open and do a little research.
    Kalayna, thank you as well if I attend one i will check the submission guidelines. :)
    (PS, I started reading Mad Kestrel, I’m at the part where they are going into town. Such an amazing book!)