The Art of the Pitch: June’s YPG BBL on Pitching and Positioning

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On Wednesday, June 11th, 2014, roughly 60 YPG members from over 12 AAP member publishing houses gathered at the Random House offices for a panel discussion called The Art of the Pitch. The panelists were four top editors: Executive Editorial Director Alvina Ling from Little, Brown for Young Readers; SVP Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Hershey from Ballantine Bantam Dell; Senior Editor Jordan Brown from Balzer + Bray/Walden Pond Press; and Executive Editor Jill Schwartzman from Dutton.

Moderators Alex Arnold (HarperCollins) and Stephanie Hitchcock (Dutton) took turns asking the panel various questions about the process of pitching. In turn, the panelists provided tips and suggestions that any junior editor can apply to their work.

YPG June BBL Art of the Pitch

Positioning Yourself

According to the panelists, the first step is to identify your passion, meaning the books or genres you absolutely love. It can be helpful to provide examples or know what you are specifically looking for before meeting with agents. And of course, make a good first impression.

As a junior editor, you’re positioning yourself not only to agents and authors, but also in-house. Panelists recommended identifying the holes in your imprint’s list and establishing areas of expertise, which can help make you a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Once you’ve carved out a niche, noted panelists Jennifer Hershey and Jordan Brown, it may seem tough to get submissions that are outside that genre—so you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and communicate that you’re also interested in other types of projects.

The panelists went on to describe some qualities they look for in junior editors: hard-working, well read, able to establish their own tastes, passionate, enthusiastic, and proactive in their work.

Doing Your Homework

The next step in preparing a pitch is the dreaded homework, which includes doing research, comparing competitive titles, knowing your audience, looking at sales, etc. If pitching a title after you have acquired it (for example, at launch), be sure to listen to, and be prepared to address, any feedback you received during the acquisitions process.

Once the research is over, it’s time to write up the pitch and practice… and then practice some more. The panelists suggested pitching to friends and colleagues, or even as Alvina Ling recommended, in front of the mirror.

Much like a manuscript, a pitch isn’t done on the first draft. For one thing, said Jordan Brown, it’s most likely too long. Panelists stressed brevity, especially when presenting during a long meeting, and recommended speaking from prepared bullet points rather than reading word for word.

YPG June BBL Art of the Pitch panel

Delivering the Pitch

The last step is to deliver the pitch. The panelists emphasized showing your passion for that project. It’s important to convince the editorial board (as well as the author and agent) that you are the right person for that project.  In order to feel confident, draw up several pitches, create one-liners that have a hook, and make sure you can answer any question in regards to the project. Show that you are excited and willing to go that extra mile.

Jennifer Hershey provided one tip she wished she’d known when starting out: there isn’t only one right way to say things. What matters most is being genuine and passionate. It’s also important to be specific, said Jill Schwartzman. Not every book you love really makes you miss your subway stop or stay up all night reading, and it’s worth the effort to find new ways to say you love a project.

And as a last tip, Jordan Brown noted that not everyone will love your project as much as you do. We all know no one book is right for 100% of readers; you only need to show that there is an audience, and you are confident you can reach it. As an editor, it is your job to be able to defend a project, to know how to defend it, and to provide evidence for your defense.


This article was written by YPG contributor Mandy Earles. Read more about Mandy on our Contributing Writers page.

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