3. Do some research about who you'll be pitching to. I remember one disaster pitch where the agent asked why I'd decided to meet with her and I said I liked her name! Which I did! But that was beside the point. I should have known what authors she represented and what publishers she'd been successful with. This was in the 1980s. A lot of that information can be gotten on line but I could have done better homework. It's great if you can name an author they handle that you think you write like or a book they may have published that you particularly resonated with. You can even say "Here's how my story is a little different" so they can see the uniqueness of what you're pitching. In many ways, you are asking them to take you on and that means not taking someone else on so helping them see the value in your story or your ability to promote your story can be what puts you over the top.
4. Have a one sentence tag line for your story - novel, memoir etc. It's the elevator sentence where you have one floor to answer the question "What's your book about?" before the person gets off the elevator or their eyes glaze over.
5. Be enthusiastic but not so enthusiastic they want to suggest a valium before you continue. Passion for that story is so important which is why face to face contact means so much. You may well have a life-long or career long relationship with these people so getting a good feel for them and if they can share your passion for the story will mean a great deal. My agent and I have been together longer than my first marriage!
6. Don't expect the editor or agent to take home your one sheet or even sample chapters. They'd have a stack to fly back with. Rather, a good goal is to get them to give you their card and say "I'm interested. Send me your first three chapters" or "I'd like to see the manuscript. Put my name on it when you send it."
7. If they give you their card (and you can leave yours) and they ask you to send a MS or whatever, then do that! Within two weeks! If you're not willing to do that then you're not ready to pitch. I had a young friend who pitched. The editor said "Send it to me." It was a children's book. The editor gave my friend her card but my friend NEVER sent it to her! Why? She told me she didn't think the editor was really interested and she had a few more things she wanted to do before sending it etc. etc. etc. Well, next time she complained to me about how only celebrities are getting children's books published I told her to go to her local children's section of a bookstore and take a look. One of those authors could have been her and the only difference is that they took the risk and sent it in. As the song goes, "You can't walk on water unless you're willing to drown."
8. If you don't get an offer to send a MS or you don't have a good feel for the match, don't think of your pitch as poorly done or that it was a waste of time. I pitched a number of editors and agents before someone took notice and at each one I learned something both about the industry and about my ability to synthesize my pitch and about my story. One editor I met with wasn't interested in my story but at breakfast the next morning she asked me to sit with her and helped me identify a number of "tensions" in the novel that I'd failed to consider. It was better than a critique and I'll always be grateful to her. (That book won a Wrangler!)
9. It's also fine to share with them previous work you may have gotten published, blog followers, how you might help promote, what your "story" in promoting might be. Some people call it their platform but I like story. They might say "western fiction really isn't selling these days" and you can say things like "Craig Johnson's Longmire series has been very successful" or Sandra Dallas has been writing historical and western fiction throughout her career and she's a NY Times bestseller. And you can even explore what the themes are in western writing that you think readers will resonate with like family unity, belonging, discovering wisdom in landscape, coming of age. The more we make universal the themes set in the West the greater will be our options for publishers.
10. Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer prize winner who wrote of and in the West once said "It is not an unusual life curve for Westerners - to live in and be shaped by the bigness, sparseness, space, clarity and hopefulness of the West...." Personally, I think a story that reflects that understanding is what readers everywhere are seeking. And your story may be just the work to bring that wisdom well beyond the West.
And PS Have fun!!! You'll see these people throughout the conference and remember they're hoping to find the next best Sandra Dallas or Tony Hillerman too. And they likely don't know anyone at the conference so being a colleague can make their stay better for them and who knows, they might remember you for a project later and give you a call...it's said that publishers publish people they know. So get to know one! A conference is a great place to do that.
Jane Kirkpatrick, Author and Speaker
Sign up for Jane's newsletter, Story Sparks, at www.jkbooks.com