For the last three years, the American Society of Journalists and Authors has included Personal Pitch Sessions in their member day. This first sentence may be confusing so I need to break it down for you. Each year the highest visibility event for the ASJA is our annual east coast conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City (conveniently located right next to Grand Central Station). It is always held on a Saturday and Sunday. Right before the public event, the ASJA includes a members only event which is part of Thursday and all day Friday. Traditionally the member event has been much smaller and is a terrific way to get acquainted with your fellow writers. I’ve probably mentioned it before but a key value to membership with the ASJA is that you have to qualify and prove you are a professional writer. It’s different than almost any other writing group. There was a great rush of people trying to join right before the annual conference and some of it had to do with this Personal Pitch Session.
Each year Personal Pitch Sessions have improved and grown in participation from members—as well as book editors, magazine editors and literary agents. Like most of the ASJA, volunteers organized and ran these sessions. Besides these sessions, there are workshops and other events including a member luncheon where various awards are presented. There is a lot of activity going on and personal pitch was added to these activities.
The editors and agents sign up for as much time as they can commit to the day. Some people give the entire day while others can come for a few hours. Since many of these publishing professionals work in New York City, it is fairly painless for them to come for several hours and interact with professional writers. For the editor or agent, the benefit is the quality of professional writer. Each of these writers have qualified for membership so whatever they are pitching can likely be produced with quality. For the writers, it’s a way to meet literary agents, book editors and magazine editors face to face and form an initial relationship.
Why is it fever pitching? The sessions are for ten minutes. Now at some conferences, they have fifteen minute sessions but ten minutes is even more compact and these sessions are rigidly enforced. The editor sits and at one minute they issue a warning, then at ten minutes you are saying good-bye and getting out of the chair. Why would you enter such an intense environment? Here’s some of the magazine editors to give you an idea: Parents, Family Circle, Parade, Woman’s Day along with several airline publications. Each of these publications are paying high dollars for their articles and reach large audiences. A number of the literary agents are some of the best in the business. It’s the same quality with the book editors—who rarely get away from their desks to a writer’s conference.
With the rapid fire nature of the pitches, the writers are expected to come prepared with ideas. You meet the editor, exchange business cards (your means to follow-up), then start pitching or asking questions. Ten minutes passes in almost the blink of an eye. Editors and agents try to be honest about the type of material they want or excites them. Some times I’ve pitched and received an instant no thank you. Even the rejection has incredible value because you learn they have another article in the works with that topic or they aren’t interested in that topic or whatever reason.
Each year these sessions have grown in popularity and this year provided the largest turnout of our membership with 300 ASJA members crowding the halls and outside the rooms for these pitch sessions. There are 1200 ASJA members so to gather 300 members in one place was quite the occasion. The editors and agents sign up for specific times ahead of time. At specific times ahead of the conference, members signed up for their choices. The committee has a complex way to handle these matters and provide the appointments. It’s not easy and no one receives all of their selections. I met with one magazine editor, one book editor and two literary agents and had great interaction with each person.
Now the key to making something happen in terms of actual writing assignments will be the follow-up work. Personal pitch has provided the open door and an initial relationship. As one high-profile author friend, who is not currently an ASJA member, told me, “It’s a reason that I might apply for membership.”