Pitch Conferences: My Opinion
A personal message from JEAN JENKINS, SCWC co-founder and freelance editor
I've always been of the mind that classes and conferences are valuable because you bring away SOMETHING. I would never discourage a writer from daring to stretch and grow.
That said, I can't say I support pitch conferences wholeheartedly. I understand pitch meetings in the Hollywood context, you sit across from a guy who holds the keys to the bank, toss ideas his way — and then wind up leaving behind a written synopsis anyway. I can buy the H-wood pitch meeting because that industry feeds on dictated changes and the collaborative process. But publishing is a traditional industry. That means editors READ what writers WRITE to determine whether it will work for them. They're looking at style and storytelling ability which doesn't always translate from spoken word to written word.
A pitch written short and spoken smoothly doesn't tell anyone whether that story will lie like satin on the page or whether the written words will be as hard to navigate as piles of rocks.
I'm not sure how valuable pitch conferences are for the writer. Let's say you get 10 minutes of face time with an agent or acquisitions editor. You give a rehearsed pitch, they ask a question or two, then you move on. They haven't read your work. They have no idea whether you can write, whether you can bring the story off the page, or whether you can bring a good story home. Those decisions come from reading. And if you meet an editor you'd like to work with — think you can work with — who's to say from a hurried pitch that they could buy your story? An editor can like a project and support it to the nth degree, but the only way it gets bought is if it clears committee. That committee is made up of other editors and sales and marketing staff, and sales has the deciding vote. It isn't a matter of whether your story is good; it's a matter of is this a good story that we can market?
Although a pitch conference can introduce you to some agents and editors, good contacts for the future, it can also be an output of lots of dollars for very little return.
Formulating a pitch about your story does have value. You always want to have a short three-sentence pitch ready in case someone—agent, editor or writer—asks what your story is about. Some writers write a pitch and synopsis before they even type a word in order to help them focus the points of their story.
Several writers who've attended pitch conferences pronounced them the best thing they've ever done – not because they sold their book or even raised interest in their project, but because listening to hour after hour of pitches and questions helped them focus their own story, realize where the holes were, and look at troublesome scenes with the same critical eye an editor would use. But any of us can do that same thing in a workshop of working writers.
I'm really still on the fence. I think you learn, whatever conference you attend. But as a professional who knows a fair number of agents/editors, I tend to see these pitch conferences more as moneymakers (for staff) than practical tools. If it were me, I'd much rather have an editor read what I've written, then be able to discuss it however briefly.
Just my opinion.