Friday, June 29, 2012


by Jane McBride Choate

We've all heard of the 30 second "elevator pitch," where we give a thumbnail sketch of our book to an editor. How do we take that to the next level, where we are invited to sit down with the same editor and present a more fully drawn description of our book? And, if we're invited to do so, how do we develop rapport with that editor?

The elevator pitch or, as some refer to it, the commercial for our book, is by nature short, a teaser to arouse the editor’s interest. If you are so fortunate to be invited for a fifteen minute chance to talk about your book, make the most of your—and the editor’s—time.

How do you do that?

Let’s consider a scenario: You’re at a writers’ conference and you run in to the editor of your dreams. Perhaps you’re in an elevator or maybe you’re in a coffee shop taking a break. You make your pitch and she graciously invites you to meet with her for an appointment. (It doesn’t hurt to offer to buy her a cup of coffee or a cinnamon roll.)

What can you do to make the most of this all-important appointment? You’re familiar with the word rapport: relation, connection, especially a sympathetic or harmonious relation. Spending the time and effort to develop rapport with this editor will go a long way in helping sell your book. Of course, no amount of rapport will sell a poorly written book, but a lack of personal rapport can sway an editor from making an offer on a book.

- If you can, find out something about the editor. Chances are you have your laptop with you at the conference. Google her and discover what is important to her. Publishers’ websites frequently feature information about their editors. Was she born in a foreign country? What does the website say she is looking for in particular? Editors of the same publishing house have specialties. You can also gain insights by asking questions and then listening. Listening is a lost art these days. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Leave enough time that you can learn about her!

- Be respectful of her time and energy. Editors’ time is especially limited at conferences. They are frequently lined up with appointments for hours at a time. Be on time for your appointment. Don’t go over the specified time. Listen for and be sensitive to her mood. If you sense that she is overwhelmed and needs a break, offer to forego your appointment and tell her, “I can see you’re exhausted. Why don’t we just relax for a few minutes. I’ll tell you about my book at a later time.” Your consideration of her will be remembered … and appreciated. She will likely invite you to send her a partial of your manuscript or even the entire manuscript.

- Be prepared with notes but don’t bury your head in them. Jot down a few key points about your book, the main characters, the plot points, the theme. Review them, then look up, meet the editor’s eyes, and speak confidently.

- It goes without saying, or it should, that you know what kind of books this editor and her publishing house publish. It does you and your reputation as a professional no good if you pitch a paranormal book and the publisher doesn’t publish paranormals or this editor doesn’t buy paranormals for her line. If this editor thinks of you again, she will likely remember you as the author who presented something completely unsuitable for her house or imprint.

- Follow up your appointment when you return home with a card or note thanking the editor for her time. Good manners are never out-of-date.

- Then follow up by sending the requested manuscript. Pay attention to what the editor requested. Did she ask to see a synopsis and the first three chapters, commonly called a partial? Send that and only that. Did she ask you to send the entire manuscript? Congratulations. Polish it, make it the best you can, then send it. Be sure to follow the publisher’s submission guidelines.

There you have it. Take your pitch from the elevator to a sit-down chat with an editor. Be interested and interesting. Follow through by sending what she requests.


Sydell Voeller said...

Excellent advice, Jane! I'm not new to the publishing industry, but I still learned some new tips from having read your blog. Thank you!

Sydell Voeller

Gina/Katherine said...

Excellent advice! I've volunteered at conference pitch sessions for years and I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Relax, breathe. No one's ever died at a pitch session. The worst an editor/agent can say is that it doesn't fit their needs.
I'd also add, open with conversation rather than going straight into your pitch. Smile. Say hello. Ask the editor/agent how (s)he's enjoying the conference so far. And don't forget to thank him/her for the time you spent together!

Sandy Cody said...

Yes - to both Jane and Gina! As writers, it's easy to forget that editors are simply human beings and, as such, needful of a human connection

Carolyn Brown said...

Great post right here at RWA time, Jane. Good luck to everyone who is working on a pitch!