Sunday, November 07, 2010

Wind Up Your Pitch to the Editor

Conference season is in full bloom. Writers are gathering and signing up for 15 minute sessions with editors. How do you make effective use of these sessions?

During recent years, I’ve been listening to person after person to pitch their magazine or book idea. You do not have much time.

Some writers want you to read a portion of your material which uses some of your precious time. In my view, it is an ineffective way to use that brief time with the editor. There is only silence as the editor tries to carefully read your material and on the fly come up with something profound to say to the writer.

Instead of bringing a piece of writing to the session, the writer can make much more effective use of the time through a practiced pitch. I recommend you write this elevator pitch into a concise, fascinating presentation which holds the editor’s attention, hits all the high points then allows for solid interaction and suggestions with the editor.

An effective elevator pitch is not easy but takes careful thought and consideration. First, the lead sentence is important. Begin with an interesting question or an unusual statistic or a story. Hold the editor’s attention, then what is the substance of your book or your article. Is it a how-to or a memoir or a novel? Why is it unique? What makes it stand out from the sea of other books and ideas? It is your responsibility as the author to show your passion and creativity in this process.

I suggest you write this pitch, then rewrite it and refine it until it shines. Then to make it not looked canned but totally passionate—rehearse your elevator speech several times. Do it in front of a mirror so you can see your own facial expressions. Are you smiling and looking enthused as you present the material? If you speak to the editor in a monotone—it will reflect your lack of passion for the project—and writers do this sort of boring presentation. I’ve been in their presence repeatedly and have to look fascinated—even when I am not.

Your polished pitch will pay off in the long-run because you will show your professionalism and your enthusiasm for the topic. This passion can be contagious and spread to the editor. When you pitch an article or a book idea at a conference, you are seeking to bond and form a relationship with that editor. You need this in-house champion for your work. Often that editor will have to return to their publishing house and convince others about the merit of your concept.

In the case of books, it has to translate into sales. Yes the idea is important and the writing is critical but at the end of the day. Who will purchase this book? Is there a large enough market for your book? Is the publisher equipped to reach this particular audience (some of them are and some of them are not).

Even with a practiced elevator pitch some of them will work and some of them will fall completely flat. After years in the business, it’s OK in my view if it falls flat. At the end of the day you are looking for a match and passion for your idea from the publisher. If it is not there, then move on to someone who cares. Believe in yourself. That place is out there. You may have to search hard for it but I believe you can find it.

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