Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How to Pitch to an Agent or Editor

The Wyoming Writers Inc. conference, coming up in June, offers the opportunity to pitch your work to agents and editors. We invited Tiffany Schofield, who will attend the conference virtually via Skype, to offer a few tips.

Guest post by Tiffany Schofield
Senior Editor, Five Star Publishing (Cengage)

To pitch, or not to pitch…that should never be the question! Always embrace the opportunity to pitch to an editor!

As Senior Editor of Five Star Publishing, I’ve attended various conferences over the past five years. The highlight at each conference has undoubtedly been the pitch sessions between authors and editors. The format for these sessions have varied depending on the conference. Some conferences offer round table discussions with an editor/agent, some offer a 15 minute one-on-one pitch session, and others might offer a short, five minute session, sometimes referred to as speed-dating for authors and editors. Also, with today’s technology, video conference sessions are also an effective presentation opportunity.

No matter the session style, I hope these topics below will help prepare you for a home run in your pitch session. Batters up!

Know your sub-genre and word count.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have sat with an author for a pitch session and they were not completely sure of their story’s genre or its length by word count. 

Most great fiction stories contain several genre themes such as mystery, romance, suspense, and others. However, you should carefully consider your story and narrow down your genre elements to the strongest theme. Is your story dependent upon a crime or mystery that needs to be solved? Then, it’s probably a mystery. Does your story have a few mysteries along the way, but focuses mainly on the budding or struggling romance and how the characters handle that relationship? Then your story is probably a romance. Perhaps your story is equal parts mystery and romance and therefore would be considered a romantic suspense. 

Word counts are important to most editors because they have specific publishing spots to fill with predetermined expectations for novel length to fit their publishing needs. Page numbers aren’t as helpful because page counts easily change depending on the font size you select. Be sure you have examined your project closely for its genre and word count before going into a pitch session so you’ll be ready to hit a homerun.

Have your elevator pitch ready.
Think of your pitch session much like a television or internet advertisement. If those ads don’t catch the attention of a viewer in the first 15 seconds, they’ll be eagerly reaching for that "skip ad" button. This will happen to you in a pitch session as well, if you try to present a book report instead of a catchy hook for your project. Plan ahead to create a gripping and concise explanation for your story that can be presented in 30 seconds or less. Include what makes your story stand out above others, perhaps a real person or event from history that your story is based on. 

Above all else, be sure to include what type of reader would be interested in your story with recognizable industry names (for example, “my story is great for fans of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove or Mary Doria Russell’s Doc). This gives the editor an immediate feel for your story’s genre style and/or possibilities within their own publishing program and shows them that you have a firm understanding of other writers in your genre style. After you have established your elevator pitch, then you can delve into some of the particular points/themes of your story.

Carpe diem, (or instead, Carpe conjicio)! Seize the pitch!
No matter the style or length of the session that you’ll be participating in, it’s always a good idea to have your own list of questions to ask an editor. At some sessions, your pitch may be completed before your allotted time is up, or perhaps you’ll find that the editor isn’t actually looking for a project in your specific genre style or story length. You can still make the most of your time! Take advantage of this excellent opportunity to ask an editor specific questions about their publishing programs, publishing industry trends, do they think there are certain genres that are format-sensitive in the market, tips for working on your pitch, or what they do to support their writers with promotional endeavors during the publishing process.

What might an editor ask you during a pitch session?
Some common questions editors might ask you during a pitch session—
  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • Are you working on any other projects?
  • What was your inspiration for this story? 
  • Do you belong to any writing organizations (local or national)?
  • What kind of writer are you?
Now, this last question is not a trick question to lead you into answering "a bestselling writer," but instead, offers a broad perspective on you and your stories. Are your stories character-driven? What kinds of themes do you like to explore in your stories? At what speed do you complete stories? Do you write multiple stories in different genres, or do you like to write mainly in one genre style and take your time meticulously researching items for your story while writing.

Mode of delivery
Lastly, it is always important to ask for clarity on how an editor likes to receive a submission. Most editors prefer electronic submissions, but others may still prefer hard copy submissions. Some might want a full manuscript, others only a partial submission. The best thing to remember is to ask each editor their specific requirements for submission. With busy schedules, editors can easily lose track of submissions if they are not received in the required format and process.

I hope this information has been useful and has you gearing up for the perfect pitch at the Wyoming Writers Conference. I hope you’ll be able to knock it out of the park!

Tiffany Schofield, Senior Editor, joined Five Star Publishing (Cengage) in 1999. Five Star has published many Spur finalists and winners, was the Lariat Award winner in 2013 and named Best Western History Book Publisher (2015) by True West Magazine in 2015. Five Star is looking for various subgenres of frontier fiction stories that are set in the pre-1920s American West. For submission guidelines, email FiveStar@cengage.com.

The Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference will be held this year in Riverton at the Wind River Hotel and Casino from June 3-5. Tiffany will be accepting pitches at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference via Skype. Agent Elizabeth Wales and publisher Louella Turner will be there in person. Learn more about them at www.wyowriters.org/conference-faculty. If you are signed up for the conference, you may email vicepresident@wyowriters.org to schedule a pitch session with one of them.


  1. I have a question for Tiffany. I have a book of poetry that I've sent around to several book contests and wondered whether poetry books get pitched to editors. I don't think so, but would like to know. I'll be at WWI and would do it, if it's worth the time.

    1. Great question, Art. Someone emailed me asking a similar question. I've emailed Tiffany to let her know you've asked.

    2. Good question, Art. Five Star doesn't have a publishing list for poetry but I'm sure there are other publishing houses currently looking for poetry projects. I'd be happy to chat with you regarding any publishing industry questions you might have, resources that might be of interest, and/or anything else you might have questions on.

  2. This was a very helpful post! (Thanks, Tiffany!) Everyone planning to pitch should read it! I don't have anything to pitch yet, but when I do I will use these tips for sure.


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