Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Make the Most of Pitching at RWA

by Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager,
Sourcebooks Casablanca

At the upcoming RWA National Conference in Anaheim, I’ll have the privilege of being among the agents and editors who will be holding sessions to hear book pitches from authors. I’m incredibly excited to talk to authors about their books, so know going in that:

          a) I’m really receptive and excited to hear from you
          b) I don’t expect you to be a great pitcher—I’m hoping you’re a great writer
          c) Being nervous won’t take away from your pitch—I’m going to be listening for your book to meet my editorial criteria, not to see if you can deliver a good pitch to me under intense circumstances

Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your pitch session:
  • Research the editor, agent and house ahead of time and make sure your book is a good fit. (For example, I acquire single title romance and women’s fiction. I’m interested in all sub-genres and currently have a keen interest in contemporary romance. You can see my specific criteria here If you discover too late that the publisher/agent doesn’t publish/represent the kind of book you’ve written, acknowledge that, and ask to practice your pitch and for them to make suggestions or referrals. Don’t NOT show up, because that editor or agent might be able to refer you to the perfect person.
  • Know what subgenre your book is and tell the editor/agent right away. Be very clear about where your book would sit in the bookstore and how it fits into the category—be clear about the subgenre or mix of subgenres (Regency paranormal romance, Scottish Highland time travel romance, etc.). I’ve seen pitches get derailed because I can’t tell whether the book is a mystery (which we don't publish) or romantic suspense (which we do), or whether it's sci-fi/fantasy (which we don't publish) or fantasy romance (which we do).
  • Present a strong hook. The hook is a 2-3 sentence selling tool that positions your book as something unique and desirable and will get a buyer excited about stocking your book and a reader excited to read it. Think of it as your ‘elevator moment’.
  • A quick and concise introduction to the hero and heroine and major conflicts. Don’t aim for a plot summary, but please do hit the high points of the hero/heroine/story arc so I know that it’s a love story.
  • Are you a published author already? If you are previously published, I am going to ask you about your sales history (how many books published, and how many sold to readers, and when was the last one?) What do you see as your career arc? If you’re changing subgenres, let’s talk about it.
  • Be enrolling! Your passion about your own book is the most enrolling thing. And, your passion for working with Sourcebooks shows that you know who we are, what we do, and you’re eager to be part of our team. That’s music to our ears!
  • Try not to push back. I’m trying to help you, no matter what. Think of me as Simon Cowell, except I’m never deliberately mean. Simon gives the best coaching. If you try to explain away my comments or push back immediately, it will appear that you’re not coachable and not interested. I don’t believe that I know everything, but I’ll share with you everything I know.
I’m looking forward to talking to you about your book!

I’m looking for:
  • Single title romance: paranormal, contemporary, historical, romantic suspense, erotic romance
  • 90,000 words
  • A heroine the reader can relate to
  • A hero she can fall in love with
  • A world gets created
  • A hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences
  • The author has a career arc—if the first book works in the marketplace, what are we giving readers next and next and next…


  1. All I can add is that Deb is the first person I one on one pitched, in a bar, off the cuff, when I couldn't keep my heroines straight and could not make eye contact. Deb bought the book and it the NYT and the USAT. Pitch her, friends. Good things can follow... but you have to push, pull, or drag yourself to make that pitch.

  2. I sent a mss to Deb and she loved it, so no pitch in the beginning. *whew* Wiping brow. But then later after I'd sold several books to Sourcebooks, she asked me to pitch a new series to her at a conference over a private dinner. It was the first time I'd actually met Deb in person.

    Thankfully, I was kind of prepared and pitched the idea of a Highland wolf pack! Later, she asked me to come up with something new and that was the start of the jaguar shifter series.

    Pitching is totally nerve-wracking for me. Sweaty palms, dry throat, barely can remember my own name, let alone my characters' story. :)

    Editors and agents know that my advice is relax, view it as a window of opportunity, take a deep breath, and have fun!

    Thanks to Deb for making it easier on us!

  3. The thing I found most nerve-wracking about pitching was not having a clear idea of what I was supposed to be doing. I searched the internet and asked other authors for advice, but all I heard was to relax. That wasn't helpful.

    If I'd had these tips a few years ago, I would have felt more confident going into my one on one pitches. Still, everything worked out in the end, thanks to online pitching. No one could see me sweating and my hand trembling when I pushed the publish comment button. ;-)

  4. I can't say enough good about pitching to Deb. She's a good listener and a wonderful coach...and Sourcebooks is great!

  5. Deb is an outstanding editor and an exceptional person! She's a dream to pitch to and to work with. My advice is to listen to Deb's feedback and run with it. The woman knows her stuff.

  6. I am horrible at pitching. Horrible! Thank God I have an agent who does it for me. But Deb has talked me into pitching to her (just a little sneak peek), and even though she agrees I'm horrible at pitching, she listens (and usually buys the book).

  7. These are good tips for everyone, Deb. I love it that you are so approachable and open to ideas. See you soon!

  8. I pitched to Deb at the 2011 WRW Retreat. She was a great listener, but even better than that, asked to talk to me some more later during the conference and had terrific advice. Deb is a must-see as far as I'm concerned.