One on One Pitch Sessions (Meet the Editor in Person – Now why would I want to do that??)

21 May

Disclaimer: Inspired by a meeting, but in no way reflects how the meeting went.

First off, let’s get specific – this is for a meeting with someone working as an editor, not another reader giving feedback. I’m gearing this towards one-on-one feedback, though I have heard of meetings where it’s possible to have a panel give feedback, (I’ve been to all of one). These are different then writer’s groups where everyone is throwing in their two cents – which can be helpful, though I find the conversation in writer’s groups usually go this way:

Person 1: I loved the dialogue!
Person 2: I hated it.
Person 3: Your genre SUCKS and I DON’T UNDERSTAND. (Starts rambling about another book in a similar genre, and you have to be nice because FEELINGS – totally not an INTJ trigger at all)
Person 4: Know what sucks? This last weekend, my boyfriend and I were supposed to go camping, when…

This, for me, is all about being assertive and confident dealing with people. This is something I had to work to get good at, and while some people can really own being a more dominant personality, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s better interest to pick fights during short meetings. It’s supposed to be about your book, right?

I hate one on ones. We’re supposed to judge the work by its quality – unless this is an open pitch to someone submissions for their publisher – then they have every right to be very specific in their submissions. The truth is, even if we try to be rational first, there’s more to reading and judging a manuscript than being in a pleasant mood and being objective. There’s rough nights sleep, maybe they had a bad cup of coffee, and maybe the last person was rude to them. Maybe they have a thing against your subgenre. Point is, you want the way you present yourself not to hold you back in any way. Sure – you could have the charm and personality to get away with anything – but for the rest of us, I think it’s about calm, assertive energy that shows confidence in your work. The writing has to be there – people for whatever reason, love to point out stuff in my mind as minor – so make it as clean and polished as you can. Don’t sweat it if you suck – keep doing your best, you’ll get there with time.

Now, as for the meeting, I like going in with a strategy. Let’s assume you have your book(s). It’s usually a good idea to match the editor with their preferred subgenre – if you can, try and have the editor’s background established. Not to say that a hard sci-fi writer won’t know a good opening line to your historical fantasy, but you want the expert if you can. (And it’s totally fun bringing in something obviously sci-fi to the CanLit people – oh, most of them hate it. And now, that I am confident, it’s fun watching them squirm). The guy who is great at short stories can give you better insight than the guy who writes door stoppers if a short is what you’re wanting feedback on. We all have different strengths and weaknesses – and it’s hard to get much feedback in a 15 minute panel or whatever, especially if the reader is reading it live. Know your 1-sentence pitch flat, and be able to answer easy questions (who is your main character? When and where are we? Is this line here intentional? Where did you get your purse? Sorry – this keeps happening to me). Try to be to the point, the more you ramble, the less time you have to work with the editor.

The next part of mindset is know that you’re going in for honest feedback – not to be told only the rosy side of you wrote a novel all by yourself (golly gee). I remind myself that when I review, I can dwell on the negative rather than the positive because it’s something to talk about. If I liked a character, how many times can I say I like them? If I hated a scene – well, it’s something to talk about.

I don’t think I need to really go into etiquette mode here – be polite. Thank people for their time. Don’t argue – people have their hang ups, and quite frankly, not everything is for everyone (besides first-aid manuals) and it’s okay to disagree – but don’t waste time in your pitch session arguing. You’ll go over one topic, rather than them going over maybe two or three things. If the editor is saying the exact same thing your betas have been, maybe it’s a good idea to reconsider. I always consider that if we’re thinking of story like a movie, think about reframing your story board. Where are we focused? How close? Establishing shot or an idea? This is not necessarily changing the cast and story – just potential reframing. Always remember that the feedback isn’t personal – at least it shouldn’t be. (Are you a well known author trolling?) Make notes, and use or disregard at your own discretion. Answer questions succinctly – and if you’re anything like me, apologize if you delay or make a mistake.

People like to be acknowledged, and generally speaking, in my mind it’s easy to be respectful. It’s fun in debates to mess with people, get them angry, which, by the way, gets them dumb, then start manipulating them into the position you want. This is never a smart tactic unless you just want to yell at a person. I’m assuming you’re reading this because you want to not come across as crazy.

Face your body towards whoever is talking with you, unless you know them and you have some repertoire, and then you can lean back and play with your slinky. Keep eye contact, unless this is a major faux pas in your culture. I usually have resting bitch-face – I always get told to ‘smile!’ more, and I hate it – but if you’re working a table or a panel, you want to be approachable. This is when you can be friendly and smile and it doesn’t matter how smart people think you are. Resting bitch-face, when dealing with people, you have to own and it’s too much effort 90% of the time, because like I said above, people have their hang ups.

Editors want professionals – for me, small smiles work. Serious, but approachable. If you happen to be in a commanding profession, such as say, a drill sargeant, cop, or something to that effect, you know how to change your tone. There’s no place for that voice in the editorial meeting, unless you’re like, both former cops, but try to focus on the manuscript, not trading war stories.

Appearance is a hard thing to talk about, because we all know we’re not supposed to judge it. It’s human nature to place some authority in uniforms. Even if you don’t like cops, you know they’re cops and have some authority, even if there’s no situation necessarily needing a cop. Nurses never stop being nurses – I know off-duty and retired nurses, but guess who is always looked to in an emergency?

My big thing here is try to look professional. If you’re Cosplaying, fine – just hope that other people pitching are also in your type of outfit, so that you won’t be written off prematurely. Is this fair? Hardly – but if you want to tell me how life is fair, I’m gonna go behind my new blueberry bush and start laughing.
Professional means clean clothing that looks decent on you, hair groomed, and looking decent. Don’t worry about being too old or young – okay, most people will blow you off if you look young – but that’s their hang-up, not yours. Who cares if you’re the only person of your gender, or color, or anything else as you all wait patiently to pitch? Own it – your book should speak for itself, and if the submissions editor won’t take it based on you, you’re probably better off not having them accept it anyway.

Energy – This could be summed up as “Don’t be crazy”.

I like to argue and debate. It has its place – being able to communicate, in my opinion is a vastly underrated skill. Like listening, we assume because we can do it, we’re always effective at it. In my job, I’ve gotten really good at boiling down what people mean. It’s not to your advantage to have everything you say be misconstrued or translated. Be to the point.

You can look fantastic, do everything right in terms of handshake, posture, etc., but be so excited you trip over your words. You can be too vulgar. You can give the wrong impression. Thing is, the hard part about energy, is I think it’s a constant exchange – I for one, try to read in to other people, and assume that same level of energy so I’m not being intimidating. It can be very hard, letting someone tear apart your work. Like with communication, someone may have great insight into how readers and editors think and react, but they can come across crass or unintentionally insult you while you’re sitting there. It’s easy to go, “Well, what do you know?!” because you corrected them once on an obscure thing you happen to be an expert on. A little negative energy can bring you down – but don’t sweat it. Obviously if the editor is saying things that are unfounded and making personal attacks, this is not acceptable – I don’t care who they are – but for the most part the editor is at the event to promote themselves and their works. Generally speaking, most of them are supposed to be smart enough to not do this.

Truth is, the editor may not be an expert in the area you’re writing about, but odds are, they know about the industry. Slush editors go through the pile quick. If they can point out something you can tweak that gets your manuscript read by someone who might be interested in your subgenre, it’s worth it.

So with energy – try to be calm. Know your stuff. Don’t let anyone put words in your mouth. Give kind smiles, be to the point when they ask questions. Don’t get flustered if anyone talks down to you. Leave them with an impression thinking, “That person might have something.” You might have to deal with this person in the future, and if your future book ever needs a review, forming a good opinion with the person might not get you a better review, but it probably won’t hurt.

Remember, that people have their hang ups – we all do. And you don’t have to sacrifice your personality to do this – you can be fun, bold, quiet, domineering – but these meetings are short, and while the book might reflect your worldview, it’s important that you’re not overshadowing your book. If the editor wants to work with you, it’s best that they get to know the real you, with all your quirks, eventually. Believe me, I work 12+ hour days with people in cramped spaces dealing with people, sometimes on the worst day of their life. Those sparkling personalities come out, but we can all fake professionalism, even when we really don’t feel like it. You can do the same thing with an editor.

If you can’t remember any of this, just remember to be polite and thank them for their time. If we all try to be respectful – even when the other person doesn’t deserve it – it says more about us than them.

Till next time~

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