Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pitchy Behavior

By Kelli Collins

There's tons of info on the Net regarding pitch protocol. I’ll let you find that. You don’t really want me to regurgitate all the stuff you can find with a simple Google search, do you? Of course you don’t. Not when personal pitch stories are so much more interesting. The following are based on past experiences, both mine and other EC editors. If you want the short-short version of this post, the overarching theme is: Don’t pitch in inappropriate places. If you want to know why, specifically…keep reading.

Food for Thought: So there I was, innocently standing in a buffet line at a conference, salad dressing ladle in hand, when I hear a polite “excuse me” to my right. I glance over to see a woman smiling broadly, who introduces herself as an author—and proceeds to pitch her book. I’ll admit it took me a full three minutes before I realized she was actually pitching me while I had a plate in one hand, a ladle full of now-dripping salad dressing in the other. The loud throat-clearing behind me helped. That person really wanted their salad.

I’m normally a champ at dissuading conversation. And I tried all the usual lines to clue the author in, up to and including, “I’d love to hear about it later,” and telling her my prescheduled time for pitch sessions. I even continued shuffling down the line, gingerly trying to make dinner selections via my peripheral vision (hey, I was starving. But also raised to look at someone when they’re talking to me). The author just shuffled along with me, talking all the while.

I finally broke away from the line and stepped to the side, listening for another fifteen minutes, half-full plate hovering between us. By the time she was done, my food was ice cold. I was so annoyed, she could have written the erotic version of War and Peace and I probably would have passed.

Stall Tactics: There’s really no easy lead-in on this one. So I’ll just say it: Don’t pitch to an editor when she’s in a bathroom stall. No, I’m not kidding. This happened to one of our editors during an RWA conference a few years back. I’ll let her explain:

“It was a male/female team. She was very petite; he was maybe 6’4” with a huge padlock on a choker around his neck, the size you’d see on a shed or storage unit. They’d pitched to me, I’d very politely declined, had given them my card. He had been very aggressive during the pitch, using his body language to loom over me at the table. It was a wee bit disconcerting but my Spidey senses were only tingling a little.

“The pitch session finished and I went to lunch. Afterward, I took a brief bathroom break. As I was in the stall, the outer door of the restroom thudded open. Next thing I knew, the woman was crouching under the stall, though I could only see her red hair trailing on the ground. The man’s hands were on the top of the stall door and it appeared he was trying to chin himself up. They kept saying things like ‘you have to accept this right now’, and ‘you don’t understand how good this book is’. They kept at it maybe a minute or two while I was trying to figure out an escape route. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the guts and unprofessionalism.

“Someone else came in the bathroom and was shocked that a man was in there, and the couple fled. For the rest of the conference the couple shot daggers at me and trailed after me like I was the Pied Editor playing their tune.”

Over your shock yet? I think I would have killed them. Plain and simple. If there’s more inappropriate pitch behavior, I’ve never witnessed. If your desperation has reached this height, seek help. Immediately.

The Electronic Advantage: I had taken a pitch at a conference, liked what the author had to say, and invited her to send the full manuscript directly to me for review. This is already more than most authors get. The author emailed me just a few weeks later, claiming to have lost the book in a computer crash, but would I like to see a slightly older book she’d had on another computer? She’d updated it and included a short synopsis and all the particulars with her query. This second story also sounded great, the query and synopsis were flawless, so I agreed. (This, despite the fact I was stunned she hadn’t somehow backed up her work on the other computer.) The author was thrilled, and sent the full manuscript.

Four days later, she sent another. You know, since I was “so kind to look at her work personally.”

Less than a week later, she sent three more.

The following day, I emailed the author to explain that the original offer was for book X, and because she viewed my willingness to review a replacement book as an open invitation to take advantage of my generosity, I was hereby rescinding my offer to review any of her work.

Sound harsh? Possibly. And given the first two books sounded good, I might have passed up some potentially good sellers. But look at it from my point of view: I couldn’t review the book I’d really wanted to review. The willingness to read a replacement submission is a pretty big deal already. And I’m super busy. I have more than a dozen submissions and active edits on my desk at any given time, above and beyond the daily work that comes with my position. It takes me roughly three to four weeks to read a submission, so the woman had just added about five months of unsolicited work to my plate. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hundreds of authors aren’t even lucky enough to get an invitation to submit. Get one book accepted first, then worry about the rest.

By the way, this has happened to several of our editors. Authors taking excessive advantage of a contact is extremely common.

Just Plane Crazy: This time I hadn’t even reached the conference before the fun began. I was winging my way from Tampa to St. Louis and happened to end up on a plane chockablock with romance authors. Including the woman sitting next to me. When she found out I was an editor, she immediately began to pitch her latest work. Okay, no surprise. And we’re on a plane, so what else is there to do, really? I politely listened, offered some advice and agreed to let her pitch in a more official capacity at the conference.

The author excused herself and left her seat. I didn’t give it a second thought. Until the woman who reclaimed said seat was someone else entirely. She said her author friend (my former travel companion) said I was an editor and I was nice enough to take her pitch, and I might be willing to hear another.

She had pointed out her friend and I looked up the aisle. There was my old seat mate, waving and smiling back at me encouragingly from farther up the aisle.

From there it was airplane hopscotch as authors continually swapped seats for a chance to sit next to the editor who was taking pitches at 30,000 feet. Worse, I was stuck in a window seat and the authors were swapping places so quickly, I couldn’t even escape to the bathroom for a moment of cramped peace. At one point, the line to sit next to me had to be dispersed by the flight attendant—who gave me a dirty look. The nerve.

Personal Touch: I was in a hotel coffee shop when I met an author who had missed her chance to pitch during normal sessions. I had time to spare, so I invited her to join me and pitch while I finished my coffee, because that’s the kind of nice person I am. (What? I am! Who told you otherwise? I want names and social security numbers.)

The woman was excitedly grateful and, after getting a coffee, sat and pitched her book. The first part went well. She told me the title, word count and a short, pitch-worthy blurb. I wasn’t certain of the genre—it could have been a couple different ones—so I asked, “It sounds like BDSM. Is it for our Taboo Line?”

“Oh yes,” she said, pausing to rummage in her large purse, “it’s a subject I’m intimately familiar with.” She punctuated this last by cracking her palm with the riding crop she’d taken from her bag. Loudly.

I was equal parts amused and mortified. I remember feeling the blush spreading up my neck to my face. (Note: Making an erotica editor blush? No small feat.) I looked around; the place was pretty busy. It was a hotel coffee shop, after all. And yes, I immediately confirmed the crack of the crop had caught the attention of several patrons. The men looked amused/interested. The women looked amused/shocked. The one woman with a toddler in tow looked disgusted before hauling her precious cargo the hell out of there. The author didn’t notice any of the attention (or my blush, presumably), and just smoothly transitioned from her pitch to particular details about her personal life, and why they made her an "authentic" BDSM author.

This is another thing that happens all the time during pitches—over-sharing. I’m gonna go out on a limb and declare it’s probably worse for erotica editors. But yes, non-erotic romance authors over-share too, it’s just that their personal details tend to be less blush-worthy.

Is there a difference between pitching an erotic and non-erotic romance (for instance, something for EC’s Blush Line, versus all the others)? No. Not at all. This is a business meeting, not a gabfest with your girlfriends. I expect authors to stick to the details during pitches, regardless of genre, and when/if I have questions about erotic content, I expect the answers to be equally professional. Leave the props (and crops) at home, pretty please.

This post originally appeared on

You can find Kelli on Twitter and Facebook, and pitch your erotic and non-erotic romances to her in person at RT (April; Los Angeles), Cleveland Rocks Romance (May; Strongsville, OH), RWA National (June; New York City) and RomantiCon (September; Akron). Just don’t get between her and her food or bathroom breaks.


Cori said...

Those are some of the most horrifying examples I've heard! Though I have to admit the 6'4" man with the collar sounded promising...right up until he stalked the editor into the bathroom. I personally think that behavior merits handcuffs. And not the bedroom variety.

lynneconnolly said...

I think I remember the Padlock Man couple. If it's the pair I'm thinking about, and it's hard to believe there are two of them, they pinned me down in reception.
I was there downloading emails on the only free wireless connection the hotel offered. And I was a brand new EC author. Author.
If this is the same couple, they pitched to me. Why? My editor wasn't even at the conference that year, and I wouldn't have told them if she were. They showed an alarming desire to come to my room, and I had to virtually run away.

The rest of the stories - rly? My God, you're a brave woman!

Cora Zane said...

OMG! The bathroom stalkers pitch sounds terrifying. And afterward they glared at her throughout the conference? They're lucky she didn't have the hotel call the police! *_*

Delphine Dryden said...

ROFL with extra ROFLsauce! Now I'm totally chagrined, though, that I did once send you a second ms (you said it was okay!) while I was still working on my very first r&r. Mah bad. Now I know better, of course. But you rock for buying both books and starting me on my illustrious career of smut-writing!

I think your examples just provide even more proof of how many flat-out crazy folks are walking around out there. And of how very generous your own nature is, to put up with being importuned all the time.

On the other hand, you also made Twitter fun of my best pitch ever, Kelli. Which you will regret someday because honestly, who would NOT want to read Steampunk Zombie Space Smut? It's gonna be huge, I tell you. Huge!

Katie Reus said...

Omg! That bathroom pitch actually sounds scary!

Shoshanna Evers said...

Wow. This is just... *shakes head*

Kaily Hart said...

I'm still laughing. I'll probably think about these for the rest of the day! I always thought the 'pitching to an editor in the bathroom' was an urban myth LOL. Guess not. It's not dull though, right?

Regina Carlysle said...

Oh Wow. The life of an Erotic romance editor! I never knew you guys lead such exciting lives. snicker snicker snort. What hair-raising tales. Honestly, I didn't pull anything even close to that as a newbie pitching stuff. Hmm. I think it's a matter of manners. Some people were obviously raised in barns.

Ciana / Syneca said...

Ah the life of an EC editor. Never a dull moment - maybe hungry, uncomfortable,annoyed or alarmed - but never dull!!

Anonymous said...

Del, getting an okay to send another sub is one thing. Sending every document on your computer without permission is another. ;) I've never regretted buying yours (though Steampunk Zombie Space Porn might make me change my mind. Lol).

And Regina, I also personally think it comes down to manners (lack of professionalism is a given). You don't have to be a published rocket scientist to figure out what kind of behavior is acceptable in public.

But frankly, I laugh (and scoff) at these sorts of things now. It's hard to shock anyone who's been in this line of work for any length of time. :)

Cat Grant said...

Wow! Guess I should be glad you invited me to submit. Otherwise I would've been forced to... hide under your hotel bed or something. ;)

Barbara Elsborg said...

So when I sat on you and made you listen to my proposal about the aliens with four penises who could take four women at one go, you really meant it when you told me to get off, and buzz off and something else off? I thought you were joking.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Why didn't someone report the padlock guy in the bathroom to security? Persistence is one thing, and most men that size will look intimidating even if they aren't intending to "loom" just because they're so big, but when someone physically tries to hold a door closed and prevent escape... that's a whole other dimension of bad behavior.

As for the person on the plane, I think after the 3rd "hopscotch" pitch, I'd have told the person to return to their seat and inform the original author that due to her over-sharing of someone else's time your offer had been rescinded.

I definitely would have said the same to the buffet line lady. "I'm sorry, this isn't a business dinner. Making me have to eat cold food won't help you. Pitch during the allotted times. Thank you." then walk off and pretend she's mute.

Marie Harte said...

Wow. Just... wow. It's funny but amazing folks can't figure out what constitutes bad behavior on their own. I'd heard the bathroom pitch story before, but hadn't realized a man had joined the fun. And the airplane? Seriously? And people wonder why romance authors get a bad name. Desperation breeds idiots, I guess. But you have to hand it to the woman with the riding crop. Creative, to say the least. *grin*

Marie :)

Cara Carnes said...

OMG! These are so horrifying I can't help but LOL. The bathroom stall must've been terrifying but the coffee shop had me in tears.

Shouldn't we all have a "Bring a Toy for Editor Day" at conference? *snickers*

Sheila Norton said...

Yikes. The pair in the washroom should've been arrested for harrassment. How on earth do some people get to have such a distorted view of how special they are?!

Rufus Coppertop said...

I'll definitely be keeping it short, professional and to the point when I'm ready to make a pitch.

Stephanie Campbell said...

That is absolutely terrible. Those poor editors!

Anonymous said...

I want to attend Romanticon and pitch a story--I'll get there somehow--and I'll stay in my plane seat, avoid editors who are eating; I'll cancel my room-share with the padlock couple ...*I'm kidding!*-except staying in my seat and not bothering EC editors while they are eating, toileting...OMG I can't believe someone did that! EC editors are celebrities..hmm I think that gives you the right to slushy someone?