Critiques and Pitches Day 2: What you should include (and avoid)

In the first part of this three-part blog, I offered advice on why writers need critiques and pitches. Now, let’s look at suggestions on what to include in your critique package and pitch preparation, and what to avoid in your critique package and pitch preparation. These suggestions are based on what I saw while I was a publisher and what I’ve seen in the past three years that I’ve been a publishing consultant.

First, here’s my advice on what you should include in your critique pages:

1. A synopsis. While this is optional for you to include for an SCWW conference critique, I encourage writers have one in their materials.
2. Formatted manuscript pages. When you register for your critique, you know you’ll only be turning in 10 pages or 30 pages. You want to make the most of those pages. Don’t fall for the temptation of taking out paragraphing. Don’t change it to single spaced paragraphs. Don’t delete the page breaks between chapters. Keep it formatted as a manuscript – double spaced, correct paragraphs, 12-point type, single-sided printing.
3. Your best, edited version. You’ve gone to all the trouble of registering for a conference and a critique. Make sure yours are not the only set of eyes that have looked at the pages. It’s impossible to edit yourself. Your eyes will fill in words you haven’t typed and will automatically correct errors. Whether you ask a friend to look at your package or you hire an editor, make sure you aren’t the only one who has seen your submission.

Here are a few things to include in your pitch prep:

1. Know your genre and make sure you state it. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’ve run into many proposals that start with “My novel is a thriller, with a touch of women’s issues and a sub-genre of fantasy.” The problem is, if you don’t know what you’re trying to sell, how will a marketing guru at a publishing house pitch it to book buyers?
2. Time your pitch. With the SCWW conference, an attendee will have five minutes to make a pitch. Then, the faculty member will provide five minutes of feedback. An agent or editor might even ask to see your work, based on the pitch. Use a stop watch. Force yourself to weigh each word. Be sure you’re speaking at your normal, conversational speed. An agent probably won’t ask for a submission from someone who speaks faster than a chipmunk or slower than a turtle (though, in all honesty, they likely won’t ask for a submission from any talking animal).
3. Watch yourself prepare in a mirror. It might sound silly, but this is a good way to make sure you’re going to make eye contact. You’ll also notice if you’re smiling, if you’re excited about the project, if your body language shows how confident you are about your manuscript.

Now, a list of things to avoid in your preparation for critiques and pitches:

1. Don’t break the rules. If you’re supposed to submit 10 pages, don’t submit 12 pages. If you’re set to submit 30 pages, don’t submit 35 pages. If you’re preparing a pitch, don’t prepare a 15-minute pitch.
2. Don’t send or pitch work that isn’t ready. If you don’t feel confident about your submission, switch to one of your manuscripts you feel is ready. Your lack of confidence in a work will show. If you aren’t excited, why should anyone else be excited? Also, if agents or editors say they’d like to see the entire manuscript, will you be able to provide it within 30 days?
3. For a critique, don’t miss the deadline for submitting materials.

Remember, all critique materials must be received by September 1, 2009. Mail your critique materials to:
Lateia Sandifer
SCWW Board
PO Box 503
Bamberg, SC 29003

In part three, I’m going to offer my advice on how to prepare for your one-on-one time during your critique or pitch.

Still have questions about pitches and critiques? Feel free to ask via a comment on the blog (you can be anonymous) or send an e-mail to

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