Monday, July 05, 2021

Rant: of all the ways to shoot yourself in the foot

 I saw this on Twitter a while back. It was a promo for a workshop on honing your elevator pitch:

For starters, it's PenguinRandom House but that's just me being churlish.

And PRH ONLY accepts work through an agent. Even stuff they like.

There are lots of reasons to have a killer elevator pitch, but this is NOT one of them.

Think about it this way: when you're juggling your bag, your conference folder, and you need some coffee, what do you want to hear?

1. Hey Big Shot, my book is about

2. Hey, let me get your coffee while you get organized.


Who do you want hearing about your work?

1. Jet lagged, exhausted editor who hopes the kids haven't burned the house down?


2. Agent who is sitting down, pen in hand, coffee in her favorite mug, looking for something she loves?

This kind of "take advantage of opportunities when they arise" misses the point that someone should be OFFERING you an opportunity. You should not be pouring it over their head.

If we're talking in the coffee line, and I say "hey, what's your book about" THAT is when you need a killer elevator pitch.

In other words, do NOT pitch people who haven't asked you about your book.

This is one step up from the manuscript in the bathroom story, but ONLY one. 


Pitching is selling, yourself and your book.

If you are so tone deaf as to pitch me like this, it makes me wonder if you'll be one sending out blurb requests like this.

 

Happy 5th of July!

16 comments:

Colin Smith said...

I would take "Random Penguin" as a humorous play on PenguinRandom House, but aside from that, this is golden advice, not just for pitching but for life. Looking for opportunities to promote your work (or yourself) is not always (or really ever) about forcing an opportunity, especially where it would be unwelcome (as in the situations Janet described). It's about looking for an organic opening or being attentive to where you could steer a conversation in a direction favorable to talking about your work.

I'm not an agent (as you all know by now because I've said it so often), but I've heard similar advice so often from agents and editors it has to be true. Be authentic. Have authentic conversations. Helping that frazzled editor in the elevator with her stuff may not be pitching your novel. But they may remember you later when they are relaxed at the bar. They might call you over, buy you a "thank you" drink, and ask about what you're writing. THAT'S when you need your "elevator" pitch.

Just my coupla cents!

Happy Day-After-Colony-Rebellion_Day! 😉

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks for the post, Janet. Good information, and I really like that it's a reminder to simply be considerate of other people.

Plus! The word "churlish." An old friend I haven't visited for years. I shall find a way to use it today. And then, just a click away, the Queen's use of "frisson," which is an instant new friend. Can hardly wait to use it. Today is going to be so fun!

And belated Happy Independence Day wishes to you, Colin. :) You cracked me up.

Brigid said...

So very glad to see familiar names and crisp reality checks. I’ve missed you all, QOTKU especially.

nightsmusic said...

Happy Belated 4th!

This tweet reminds me of why people who are recognizable hate going out in public. There's always that one, so don't be That One.

Hope all are well and happy. There's always something to be happy about. See a Stephan Pastis Pearls Before Swine comic...

Matt Adams said...

Except for this -- it doesn't matter.

The editor isn't going to remember, period. But if the editor did remember and liked the pitch, then they'd want to talk about the book. As opposed to the alternative: 100 or so queries; 99 rejects. Then an agent spends a while, comes up with a submission list, maybe pitches that editor, maybe doesn't. No doors were closed, no consequences served. The editor isn't blacklisting anyone who pitched them in a coffee line if they are intrigued, and frankly the odds of a book actually getting pitched to an editor through conventional means are infinitesimal. Take the shot you got.

And as fo Janet's "would you rather" for 99 percent of the things that cross agent desks, the form reject remains the same.

The agent community's insistence on decorum when they show none to writers is not surprising. That's a raison d'etre, and has been for a while. Janet's nice enough to at least hit writers with a form reject. Most don't even bother with that, yet heaven forbid you say something to a stranger, who craves animosity so much that they've got a few thousand Twitter and Instagram posts.

AJ Blythe said...

In Oz, when Penguin and Random House merged, in writing circles they became known as Randy Penguin *grin*.

KMK said...

This is the part of the equation that lesser folk miss, and our Queen does not: you aren't just selling your work, but yourself as a potential colleague. So this hits on the great importance of being a good pro. Thank you for the reminder!

Unknown said...

Several years ago we were on a cruise to the Bahamas and I was writing on deck early in the morning. A very nice older gentleman asked me what I was working on. I gave him a quick synopsis and he said "If I weren't retired I'd buy that." Turns out he was at one time an executive at NBC. I sat spellbound as he told stories of his time there.

It's good to have something ready if you're asked.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

We in the business (from this end of it) often joke that they missed an opportunity by not going with "Random Penguin" ;)

I ,in general, can imagine few things that I would like less in my deliberate activities as a writer than ambushing an editor in the coffee line with my elevator pitch. Pitching in general, really (my groupchats are well familiar with me coming in first thing in the morning and going "it's another friggin' pitch day!"

That said, have I signed with an agent yet? Nope. Am I still looking? Yup! But there's no benefit to giving an editor a negative memory of me before my manuscript even hits their inbox, right?

(also, hello reef, sorry for my absence! I've read periodically, but often comments already made points that I would have, so I left well enough alone! Just finished writing Run With the Hunted 4 and just had a new short story out this past Sunday)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I remember the post from 2015. It actually makes me sad that writers ever think that a blurb like the one from the 2015 post is ever ok. As far as conferences, I kind of like the virtual format as I am so super awkward in person, I never know what to say to people, agents, editors, or bartenders and generally just start babbling uncontrollably when I should say nothing at all and just listen. Ugh. Thanks for this post.

Mister Furkles said...

The penguins all gather at the pole on their summer solstice--December 21st for them--and draw from a pack of many decks of cards. Those who draw an ace of spades are the random penguins. They don't need to do any housework for the next year and the others must pick up their share. Which would be a terrific benefit if penguins had houses, which they don't.

KariV said...

Thanks for the reminder, Janet! I think it's easy for authors to get so caught up in "not missing their *one* big chance" that they can forget that agents and editors are people too. While being confident and willing to put yourself out there is a good thing, being inconsiderate and making it all about you is never a good look.

As always, I enjoy reading and learning from your posts.


Hope you enjoyed your 4th and got some reading time in. I read 2 books over the long weekend after a hiatus for a self-imposed editing deadline. Back to my edit cave I go this week (but maybe I will sneak in a book).

Beth Carpenter said...


I'm one of those people who live in terror of inserting myself in a conversation where I'm not wanted, so it's always nice when my instincts turn out to be correct. If I were writing this situation in a book, I'd have the shy writer behind the agent offer to carry her coffee and then slip away while writer number one, oblivious, is still pitching. Then shy writer runs into agent the next day, just after a discouraging pitch session. Agent offers to look at the proposal, hates it but is intrigued with the possibilities, and it all ends with a million dollar movie deal.

P.S. Mister Furkles, I'm laughing out loud at the image of penguins drawing cards.

Leslie said...

Beth Carpenter, the fact that you worry about being *that* person almost guarantees that you are not and will not be.

As both a veteran of one of the biggest conferences and a sometime browser of Twitter, it seems to me that some people just lose their minds when it comes to trying to get their book published.

At conferences, some people do not realize that just because an agent (or editor) is in the room, it doesn't mean they are there to hear your pitch. The basic etiquette at these gatherings is: unless you're in a pitching event, let the agent ask to hear about your book.

On Twitter, I've seen one woman in particular who takes form rejections personally and rails against agents who respond to her queries by saying that they don't have the passion for her book, as them being too lazy to do their jobs and other insults. She is a "blue check" on Twitter and is often retweeted - along with hashtags pleading for someone to sign her - so I assume that at least a few agents have seen her ignorant rants

The tl;dr take is that agents are human and deserve the same respect as anyone with whom we wish to do business

Donnaeve said...

I truly hate self-promo, and usually fumble about when asked, "what's your book about?" Brain freeze happens - and it seems to be getting worse!

Bottom line, I hardly ever talk about my work unless someone says, "so, what do you do?" But, it's still difficult, no matter the circumstances.

Karen McCoy said...

Now I desperately want a "Random Penguin" meme.