Every pitch session is set up slightly differently, so not all of this will apply in every setting.
Some of what’s in this post is going to sound silly, but trust me, it can make a difference. Some of this will save you time, which gives you more time to use for your pitch. Some of it will make the experience more pleasant for the person you’re pitching, which may make them more inclined to look favorably on you (and maybe your idea). Some of it’s just etiquette that you may not be aware of.
I’m not sure why, but many agents and editors seem to be sensitive to perfume/cologne/smells in general. So if you’re pitching, it’s a nice idea to use as little scent as possible that day, and don’t smoke right before your session (even if you’re nervous). (I know this sounds really weird, but I have literally had to move away from people on the subway when they are wearing a lot of scent. If I don’t, I cough and sneeze and get a headache.)
Try not to bring a lot of baggage with you. I know that at a convention or conference, it’s common to carry a tote bag (and a purse, if you’re inclined). But I see a lot of people come in to pitch with a tote bag, a purse, a bag of stuff purchased in the dealer’s room or bookstore, a shoulder bag, a briefcase, etc. The more stuff you’re carrying, the more time you need to set it down and arrange it. The more time you need to gather it up at the end of your session. The more bags you have to sort through to find your materials (if you have any). Given that you may have as little as 5 minutes for your pitch, you don’t want to spend too much time on your gear.
Don’t create barriers between you and the person you’re pitching. I’ve had people put their briefcases or big shoulder bags on the table between us, open the bag and take out pitch materials, and then leave the bag sitting on the table between us. This creates a psychological wall between you and the person you’re pitching.
Have a business card. It should be standard business-card sized. It should be easy to read. Even if you put a picture of your novel’s cover or some other image on one side, there should be blank space somewhere on the card. Many editors and agents make notes on the business cards of writers whose books we ask to see. (Related: business cards should be light-colored, so standard black or blue ink can be used to write on them.)
Don’t bring anything else to the pitch to give to the editor or agent (unless you’ve made arrangements in advance). Most of the time, if we’ve traveled by plane to get to the conference/convention/event, we’ve brought only a small suitcase. We don’t want to carry anything extra home with us, including copies of your books, proposal packets, synopses, one-sheets, flash drives, CDs, DVDs, cover flats, CVs, whatever.
Also, please, no gifts of any kind. It’s rare that I’m offered anything at pitch other than coffee (which I don’t drink), and believe me, I appreciate the thought, but it’s too easy for such things to be interpreted as bribes. No joke–if a writer gives me chocolate and I say yes to their pitch, and the next writer doesn’t give me chocolate and I say no, someone will say that it was the chocolate that made me say yes.
Remember: No means No
While your goal is to get a Yes out of a pitch, unfortunately that won’t always happen.
If the editor or agent says No, that’s it.
Don’t try to change the No to a Yes; there’s really no way to do that that doesn’t come across as argumentative or as questioning the agent or editor’s judgement. That does not endear you to the editor or agent.
Don’t ask why someone said no; we may not always have a reason we can easily explain.
If you get a No, it might be the pitch, it might be the project, it might be a mismatch between project and editor or agent. If you pitch to several people at the same event and get a No from all of them, I suggest reconsidering how you’re pitching your book…and taking a hard look at the book as well.
Even if there’s still time in your session, don’t pitch something else if the editor or agent says no…unless they specifically ask you to.
If you get a Yes, you’ll likely be given an editor’s or agent’s business card so that you can send the manuscript.
If you get more than one Yes, it’s up to you to decide what to do next. Submit to an agent first, if you really want an agent? Submit to the editor/publisher of your dreams, if that editor said yes? Please don’t submit to more than one editor at a time; while we expect agents to do multiple submissions, we don’t expect it (or like it) from writers we’ve met at a pitch session.
Best of luck!