At Pitch Slam, dreams can come true and in three minutes you can, literally, pun intended, change your life. Writers meet one-on-one with as many preferred agents and editors as possible in the 1-hour time slot with each pitch lasting three minutes—a 90-second pitch and a 90-second response from the agent/editor with feedback.
But giving the perfect elevator pitch for your novel to someone you just met is a daunting proposition. For some valuable inside info for those going to the upcoming Writer’s Digest Annual Conference we interviewed agent Joy Tutela, and editor Diana Pho of Toro, who will actually be on hand at Pitch Slam. (To further help you prepare, there will be a practice Pitch Perfect session on Friday.)
Editor Diana M. Pho is a Hugo-nominated editor at Tor Books and Tor.com Publishing and has worked in the publishing industry for the past decade. Books she has edited have gone on to win the Thriller Award, the Ditmar Award and finalists for the Nebula, Lambda Literary Award, Shirley Jackson Award, and Andre Norton Award for Young Adult.
Agent Joy Tutela has been with the David Black Literary Agency since 1998, representing various genres of books, including the New York Times bestselling Atkins series as well as New York Times bestselling Intellectual Devotional series by David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim and the New York Times bestseller Catification.
Writer’s Digest (WD): Writers will be given three minutes to introduce themselves and pitch their book. What ratio of the pitch should be solely about the book as opposed to selling yourself and expounding on your credentials?
Editor, Diana M. Pho, Tor Books: First and foremost, I want to be intrigued by your manuscript! When thinking about your pitch, I appreciate getting the stats, of course (title, genre, word count, comp titles), and then pull me in with some plot description–not too much, but the same length you'd find on published books (a.k.a. the flap copy). Personal information isn't as important to me, unless it directly relates to your project or your writing career (for example, it is an #ownvoices story, or you are an award-winning author).
WD: What is something said that would pique your interest?
Agent Joy Tutela, David Black, Inc.: When I hear that material is grounded in original research or primary materials that have been little reported on, I'm immediately interested, especially when related to science, business, or history.
Editor, DP: I'm always interested in innovative ideas or hooks that make your story stand out. I also love playing the "X meets Y" game when describing your book, to be honest. But only use this technique if you have strong comps that clarify what your book is about and show that you've done your research into the market, and not comps that are too popular ("The next Harry Potter meets A Game of Thrones!").
WD: What is a red flag a writer should avoid during their pitch?
Agent, JT: It is important to be well-versed in the literature of the subject area you are writing in or about. If the writer doesn't know the "canon of the category" or is not familiar with recently published books (and even the publicity campaigns for those books which can be gleaned by reviewing authors' websites), I'm concerned they might not understand the market for their book
Editor, DP: Don't introduce too many characters in your pitch–juggling around a lot of names I'm unfamiliar with only bogs down the heart of the story. At most, I advise writers to mention three characters if it's necessary: typically, the protagonist, an antagonist, and a useful plot-related third person (like love interest, best friend, or rival).
WD: What trends and changes do you see that every writer should be aware of?
Agent, JT: We hear from publishers that their sales forces can be swayed by large social media numbers, especially Instagram. The WSJ just reported on the number of podcasts that are turning out books. None of this is that new, but I'm still surprised when writers of nonfiction are surprised by this need to demonstrate an audience that is already following you.
Editor, DP: I hesitate to answer trend questions when it comes to fiction pitches (this may be different for nonfiction), because books I acquire will publish two years after the contract is signed. So what may be "trending" right now, may be irrelevant by the time the book comes out.
WD: What should a writer’s expectations be in this type of format?
Agent, JT: During a pitch session, a writer should expect that an editor or agent is standing in for a dozen or so other people who will ultimately be judging their book in an editorial board meeting. It's the editor's or agent's job to anticipate all of the reasons why any one person in that meeting (which often includes representatives from the sales, marketing and publicity team) might have a reservation on why the publisher can't sell 15K-25K copies of a book in its first year on the shelf (for nonfiction). We'd like to say yes when we meet a new person we like or hear a fun idea, but as editors and agents our job is to say no much of the time.
Editor, DP: Relax! Breathe. And have fun. Remember, editors and agents are people too, and I certainly don't want to have authors worried sick over the results of three minutes speaking to me. Consider pitching your book an opportunity to express how much you love it, and why–your enthusiasm is what will carry your pitch through in the end.
Writer's Digest Annual Conference | July 28-31 | New York City