Last week I attended a CUNY Graduate Center seminar entitled The Art of the Pitch. Five well-respected panelist from newspapers, magazines and publishing, presented their views on “pitching” and took questions.
André Aciman, Director of The Writers’ Institute and Chair of The Graduate Center’s the doctoral program in Comparative Literature moderated the seminar.
The panelists included:
Christopher Cox, senior editor at The Paris Review, working with fiction, interviews, and reportage. Previous to the Review, he worked at Artforum, German National Radio, and NPR.
Priscilla Gilman, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. Formerly a professor of English literature at both Yale University and Vassar College, her own book, The Anti-Romantic Child, will be published by HarperCollins in early 2011.
Hugo Lindgren, editorial director of New York magazine will soon be moving to Business Week as executive editor. He edits all genres and stories and writes about business, music and sports. He has also worked as an editor at Metropolis, George, & The New York Times Magazine.
David Propson, deputy editor of The Week magazine, where he oversees its arts and leisure coverage. Previously he was culture and books editor at The New York Sun. He also writes about books and the arts for The Wall Street Journal and other publications.
Been Shapiro, started in journalism as a contract writer for The New York Times. He left in 1994 to join The Wall Street Journal. Leaving briefly, he returned to the WSJ in 2000 to help launch the Personal Journal section. He edits the Journal’s Weekend sections, which focus on culture and entertainment.
While the focus was mostly on pitches for non-fiction articles for both newspapers and magazines, the one book agent present, Pricilla Gilman, offered her views on querying for novels and non-fiction work. There were commonalities, which applied to pitching both areas, as well as specific information for each.
I’ve tried to organize this information so that it makes sense for those who are interested in pitching and writing articles and for those who are writing books and for what is common ground for both types of pitches.
In general the panelists agreed on the following for both media and book pitches:
- Be clear and succinct
- Don’t make your pitch/query too cute or too clever.
- Avoid over-zealous adjectives such as ‘ground-breaking”, ”best-seller” and “sure-fire winner.”
- Don’t call the person you’re pitching. Write or email instead
- Don’t ask for a meeting
- Be honest with your bio and background
- State if you’ve been published and if so, where
- Personal connections are helpful but if you mention someone, or quote them, make sure they will back you up
For pitching to newspapers, special interest, news or non-fiction publications:
- Your first few paragraphs are crucial. They should be the best demonstration of your writing ability without any claims such as, “your readers will be interested in … ”
- Make sure you know the publication you are pitching and understand the content that has appeared in it
- Let the editor you’re pitching know if you’ve written a certain type of story before and if you have sources. It will help position you as the best person for the assignment
- It’s very important that the editor you are pitching gets the sense that you know and understand what the publication does, who its readers are and what is applicable to them
- Editors are always looking for the new person/new voice. It could be you
- If an editor likes your tone of voice, but what you submit isn’t right at that moment, he or she may ask you to send something else
- Find out who the right editor is for the story you are pitching before you send it
- Don’t send the same pitch to more than one editor at a publication
- It’s okay to include one or two clips with your pitch
For querying an agent:
- Only send one book idea at a time. Sending several may indicate a lack of commitment on your part
- Get to the heart of the story right away
- Don’t make promises regarding how the reader will feel, i.e. “be blown away”
- For fiction, make sure your manuscript is complete
- Don’t send an your full manuscript unless it is requested
- Only query one agent at time per agency. They share information
Image from ChristArt.com