Critiques and Pitches: Why you need these, what you should include (and avoid) and how to prepare for it all! Part 1 of 3

Recently, a handful of writers have asked me if they should add a critique or pitch to their registration, which is better, what they need to do before their meeting at the conference, and how to format their critique. Luckily, most attendees don’t ask all those questions at once – what a mouthful! But you get the idea. Since I have a publishing background and have sat on the “other side” of the critique table several times, I have a different perspective that some of the other conference volunteers. I’m going to split my suggestions into three days and three posts – Day 1: Why you need critiques and pitches; Day 2: What you should include or avoid; and Day 3: How to prepare for your one-on-one time.

Here’s my advice on why writers need critiques and pitches:

1. If you crave input, feedback and suggestions, you should add a critique. Some writers are content writing for the pure joy of putting words on paper. However, most writers want to know what they’re doing right, what they need to improve and what they can do to make their work more competitive in the market.

2. If you’re ready to shop your manuscript around to agents, editors and publishers, a critique would really help, but definitely add a pitch. While you should be sending out query letters and manuscripts (while strictly following the submission guidelines of each professional you query), critiques and pitches at the conference afford you face time and reading time you can’t guarantee with a query. In 2008, about fifty manuscripts were requested by faculty members. At least one of those requests has already resulted in a published book. Several attendees from last year have shared news that even if their manuscript wasn’t a match for the faculty member who critiqued it, they got suggestions of agencies and houses to query. Some attendees even got introductions to these agents and editors.

3. If you’re tweaking your query and synopsis and need feedback on how you describe your story, a pitch session would help. Have you ever had someone ask what your book is about and it takes 30 minutes to explain? Do you dread putting together a two-page synopsis? Do you feel like you’re living in a vacuum and need to bounce your query approach off someone? That’s what you’ll be doing in a pitch session. You’ll have five minutes to describe your project. Then, the faculty member will have five minutes to ask questions and provide feedback. The faculty members won’t have any prior knowledge of your work. An agent or editor might ask for more of your work if you grab his/her attention during the pitch. In fact, publisher Karen Syed says most of her requests are based on one-on-one interactions with writers.

Next time, I’ll provide suggestions on what to include in your critique package and pitch preparation, and what to avoid in your critique package and pitch preparation.

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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