Monday, February 05, 2018

Pitching editors at conferences

An author queried me and included a list of the editors from a recent conference who had requested the manuscript she was querying me for.

I could feel her excitement through the page; real editors wanted to see her stuff!!

And she helpfully included their names, their positions and where they worked.

My heart sank.  Even though the project wasn't a good fit for me, I knew that the agents for whom it might have been a better fit would look at that list and also be inclined to pass.

What? What? you say. Wait! Editors WANT HER BOOK!

Pitching a book is NOT finding an editor who wants to read the book; it's finding the RIGHT editor to acquire and champion the book.

An author's chance of finding that editor at a conference are close to zero.

The value I bring to the table is knowing which editor is a good match for you, how to reach them, how to pitch them.

Often those editors haven't been to a conference in years.

This query writer had pitched three of the five major houses at the conference. That's a lot of closed doors for me.

My advice is never pitch to an editor from the major publishers at a conference. Use any time you may have with them to ask about what kind of books they're looking for, things they like to read, books they wish they'd acquired, ways to be a good author partner with them etc.



Meeting an editor can provide valuable information to you but it can stymie kind of strategic submission strategy for your work. If you want to sell to the majors, pitch agents, not editors.

21 comments:

CynthiaMc said...

Great advice.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do pitch at conferences but only to agents. Never to editors. Because long term, I need an agent. Also, requests from pitches seem less likely to draw representation than a well-crafted query and stellar 1st pages. I pitch well but that does not mean anything at all in terms of my writing. I get way more excited when my actual writing draws interest. Which is why I am unnerved by my query.

Also, the flu this season is the worst.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I find it interesting that editors from a major publisher attending a conference would requests a MS from a non-agented writer. I thought the five (is it still 5?) big publishers only worked through agents.

EM: I've heard this year's flu can really knock people out. Take care of yourself.

Joseph Snoe said...

Two editors (assistant editors) from a major publisher will hear pitches at a conference coming to Atlanta soon. It looked awfully tempting.

Dena Pawling said...


>>This query writer had pitched three of the five major houses at the conference. That's a lot of closed doors for me.

My questions:

1. Why is it not just THREE closed doors? Or do you consider 3/5 as "a lot"?

2. Why are you not able to pitch the "right editor" at those three houses? Are you obligated to only pitch the editors who have already requested?

3. As mentioned above, why would an editor who presumably doesn't look at unagented work be requesting directly from an author? Is it just because of the conference? And if said editor wanted to acquire the work, would the editor ask the author to get an agent? Recommend an agent? How would that work, if it happens at all?

Kregger said...

Ah yes.

Counter,counter-intuition is the grease we use to silence the squeal of our hamster wheels. I buy it by the barrel only because the truck will not deliver in obscurity.
Where's...that editorial...dousing rod...

Lennon Faris said...

"never pitch to an editor from the major publishers at a conference"

--I'm assuming that is only true for a writer who does want an agent. If they don't (OK, I can't imagine not having an agent, but there are unagented writers out there!), they can pitch away, right?

Also, I would think that if the writer found an agent who did offer rep, s/he could decline to send material to the editors who requested, and the doors would be opened again. (Or do they keep a list?) I do have a feeling I'm missing something here.

Amy Schaefer said...

Dena and Lennon, I'm guessing that the querier had already sent her material to the requesting editors. Would any red-blooded writer sit on a request like that? But, whether the material was sent or not, I'm guessing that once a project has been pitched to Publisher X, you have burned that bridge. You can't send it to anyone else there... and a different editor may have been a better fit.

Karen McCoy said...

Thank you for confirming something I've long suspected. I've often wondered why editors go to these conferences--is it to bond with agents? Something else?

In my experience, these editors will often offer "deals" at a conference -- mailing stickers, or a written offer in the conference program to, "Send me three chapters within the next three months after this conference--no agent necessary, include the conference name in the email subject to avoid the slush pile..." or some such verbiage. (This is often true regardless of whether or not an editor is pitched in person.) To the untrained eye, it seems like a sweet deal, and a hard thing for Woodland creatures to pass up--unless they follow Le Shark, of course.

Karen McCoy said...

Also, I suspect Amy is correct. Alas, I did fall prey to this, many, many eons ago, with the first novel I ever wrote. The verbiage in my rejection letter (from a major publisher, le sigh), said, "The original materials are enclosed so you can keep trying with other *houses*. Keep trying, and best of luck in all your endeavors!"

That leaking sound you hear? Knowing that anything related to this book is likely now dead at this publisher, unless there's some statute of limitations I'm unaware of (this book would have to undergo a *major* makeover to be publishable anyway).

K White said...

"An author's chance of finding that editor at a conference are close to zero."

Interestingly, out of my small circle of friends who are traditionally published (seven writers), two of them secured their debut book deal pitching to editors at conferences (one with Tor, the other with St. Martin's Press). Even stranger, both did not obtain agent representation until after book three was published.

morganhazelwood.com said...

Re: Why Do Editors Attend Conferences.

I like to listen to Editors at conferences talk about things they like and dislike to see in novels. And find out who they recommend for this and that.

I can easily see it being a great chance for them to meet up with and network with the agents they have relationships with and the writers they're already publishing.

I've never had the nerve to pitch an editor (then again, I haven't been to conventions with many pitches sessions, especially not a Big 5), but I don't think it's a bad thing to ask an intelligent question, introduce myself, and have some facial/name recognition attached to myself.

As long as I'm not shoving my foot in my mouth.

Kathy Joyce said...

Publishing is unforgiving.

Julie Weathers said...

I pitched Far Rider to two editors at a conference. One was from Tor and another from Dell. I had taken a workshop with the Dell editor and she'd already read the first ten pages. She was interested before the pitch, thankfully, because it was horrible. The Tor editor went much better because he liked the premise immediately and read a couple of pages, then we talked about Celtic burial mounds with female warriors and mythology that was the basis for one of my cultures.

The Dell editor retired before I submitted to her.

Then, then, I read on here Miss Janet's exhortation not to pitch to editors because they may be the wrong ones for the work. So, I didn't submit to Tor.

I still shoot the bull with editors at conferences, but I don't pitch.

John Davis Frain said...

The other place you can inadvertently pitch editors is on Twitter during a pitch war or pitch mad. I've had a couple editors respond to my tweets, but in both cases I opted not to send any material. I suspect it would yield the same results as what Janet refers to here about pitching at a conference.

Good luck navigating, fellow writers! Murky waters out there sometimes.

Barbara Parker said...

Thanks for the advice

MA Hudson said...

In Australia, writers often pitch straight to editors. Conferences have 'speed dating' segments set up especially. But the thing is, there really aren't many agents in Australia. There are 5 agents on the whole continent, (FIVE!) that represent Middle Grade fiction, and 2 of those are closed to submissions. So, once you've burned through the agents, there's no choice but to submit direct to publishers. Of course, we can submit to US and UK agents but if your book is firmly set in Australia, with Australian spelling, slang, and scenery, then its probably not going to have much initial appeal overseas.

Colin Smith said...

Of course no-one (especially those of us who are as yet unagented) want to cast aspersions on the character of the editor, but, broadly speaking, the editor represents the publisher's interest. So if you deal directly with an editor, you are dealing with someone who's not necessarily going to fight to get you the best slice of the publishing pie. Not to say she'll try to rip you off, or you're not going to get a good deal. Just maybe not the best. That's what agents do. Agents work for the author. So there's that to bear in mind.

Also, Janet alluded to the fact that agents and editors develop working relationships over time. Editors come to trust agents and look to them to send good stuff to publish. Otherwise, publishers would be inundated with everything from December-First-NaNoWriMo novels to the next John Updyke, and it would take them years to sift through to find all the good and publishable stuff. The big 5 trust the system: agents find great writers writing great novels, so the agents only pass along the best work for their consideration.

I know a lot of you know that, and it probably doesn't answer all the questions, but that's why I would be cautious about working directly with editors--especially from the Big 5.

Janet: As usual, flay me alive with wet bamboo if I'm wrong... :)

Sam Hawke said...

@MA Hudson, I feel your pain! Guess how many (open) agents there are in Aus for fantasy writers? But at least for secondary world fantasy there's no real need to sell it locally. I did have to change a lot of Australian spellings and expressions though when I sold it to a US house. Americans are missing a lot of great words, is all I'm saying. ;)

But yeah, I think it's something like 60% of Aus traditionally published writers don't have agents, and I imagine that's wildly different to the US.

MA Hudson said...

Sam - wow, 60% without agents! I’ve even heard some Aussie authors say that an agent can hinder your career in the beginning! You’ve gotta wonder what sort of deals they ended up with. I really don’t ever want to deal directly with a publisher - I’d be too paranoid about signing away all future rights in the fine print.

Did anyone see the headline about Margaret Atwood not getting any money from the Netflix series of Handmaids Tale? Could a good agent have possibly foreseen that issue?

Catherine Devries said...

It really depends on what type of book you are pitching. How many agents for children's publishing are out there? I miss agent Lee Hough greatly. When I attend conferences, it's a ministry opportunity to encourage and inspire, to offer ways to refine the pitch and the sample content. I do it because I love publishing. For those of us who have been in this industry for awhile, it's not uncommon to switch companies. Editors need to stay on the pulse of what writers are passionate about. We need each other.