Friday, September 2, 2011

The Mystery of the Perfect Pitch

I’m puzzled over querying and pitching to agents and editors. There's no way to get it absolutely right. I’ve taken a number of online classes teaching the how-to of the perfect pitch/query but every teacher has a different take on it. One agent says don't open your query with what you think is a provocative question; another says she likes the so-called provocative question opening. For sure, it's akin to sending out resumes with cover letters; we have to tailor each query to that specific person or house. And we have to make sure we spell the editor/agent's name correctly. It's the kiss of death of we don't. If we don't know if it's Jody or Jodie, we'd better spend time finding out. If we don't know if Jody/Jodie is a guy or a gal, we'd better spend time researching to find out. Believe me when I say, Google is our friend.

I sort of expected agents and editors to be united in what they want to see in queries, pitches, synopses. At Killer Nashville, what one liked the other hated. There was quite a heated discussion on likes and dislikes. One thing for certain: they do NOT want queries that read like text messages. Yes, they're actually receiving them. Here's a question for you: what's your definition of common sense? :)

Agents Jill Marr, Jeff Kleinman and Kathleen Ortiz joined editor Deni Dietz and publisher Martin Shepard on a panel that discussed pitching. Jeff hates the word pitch. I came away with the impression that he wants a ‘visit’ – just sit and talk about the book in a casual manner and that we should talk about ourselves too. Of course, the women leaned more toward structure (don't we always?) though they all encouraged us to relax and not be fearful. Easier said than done. I hate pitching. If I could be an anonymous writer living in my attic with no FB, no tweeting and no getting out in public, I'd probably be okay with that.
Here’s something I’ve never heard before so I guess I learned something new at Killer Nashville. Martin Shepard, The Permanent Press publisher, hates synopses! Can you believe it? Don’t you want to yell, hey- join-the-club-we-writers-hate-them-too? Martin likes to start reading a manuscript with no notion of the ending. He likes to watch the story evolve. I’ve always thought this was the better way to read and judge a book, but then I’ve been under the impression that editors actually read manuscripts. I’m not so sure anymore. Martin isn't greatly concerned about word count either. If he likes the manuscript and it falls a little short, he'll just use a larger font when publishing it. Sounds like a writer's dream, doesn't he? Add to the dream--this publisher is very picky about his likes.

This weekend, browse the websites and blogs of the following editors and agents. Educate yourself. If you're looking for an agent, Jill, Jeff and Kathleen are good choices. As for publishers: The Permanent Press is a small press that publishes mysteries. They deal in hard copies only. Their books hardly ever go out of print. Deni  Dietz is with Five Star, an imprint of Gale (not to be confused with the self-publishing Five Star Press. Five Star-Gale publishes hardback and they are distributed to libraries only--but you can purchase them online. Many first time mystery authors get their start at Five Star-Gale. They have specific submissions guidelines. Check them out.

The following links can help you educate yourself.
Kathleen Ortiz

Martin Shepard and The Permanent Press


Kay C Burns said...

I totally agree with your comments about pitch perfect pitches. I am so glad I got the chance to meet at the conference.
Also,take a look at my conference comments at my website:

LD Masterson said...

Ah, great minds were thinking alike today.. Excellent post. I'm glad many of us are sharing what we learned at Killer Nashville.

Jess said...

Hey you two, thanks for visiting. LD, I love the pic you posted of Kay/Cindy on your blog. It's great. She looks like a real PI.

Carole said...

Great information Jess. Thanks.

Charles Gramlich said...

That's the way I'd be if I were an editor. But most editors don't seem to like that from what I understand.

Anonymous said...

First, please forgive "Anonymous." For some reason, it's the only way I can post.

Jess said: >Agents Jill Marr, Jeff Kleinman and Kathleen Ortiz joined editor Deni Deitz

Actually, it's spelled Dietz (DIET with a Z). Not to worry, Jess. It happens all the time :)

Also, another correction. You said Five Star books are distributed to libraries only. While Five Star's focus is library sales, their books are available on-line and in book stores. For example, if you go to Amazon and type in "Mary Ellen Dennis," you'll see a Five Star book called THE LANDLORD'S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER. It was chosen as one of Booklist's Top 5 books of the year and came out last month - in paperback - from Sourcebooks).

That said, I enjoyed meeting Jess very much. an author I hated what I called "the dreaded synopsis," so I ask for "Blurbs." Just tell me, in one page or less, what the book is about :)

All best,
Deni Dietz, who writes a mystery series starring a diet club leader, making my last name a lot easier to remember, LOL

Jess said...

Thanks for popping in, Deni and I've corrected the spelling of your name. SO SORRY! I hate my carelessness. Thanks for the added info.

Jess said...

And hopefully it isn't 'the kiss of death.'

Anonymous said...

Of course it isn't the kiss of death. It wasn't even the kiss of death for a query that began: Dear Mr. Tekno-Books,