Day 3 of the I-Wish-I-Was-at-Bouchercon-Party
It’s late in the day since I had to unexpectedly go into work early, but our virtual con must go on. To start off the evening, I put a happy hour toast and some other environmental conference notes at The Absolute Write Mystery Room’s Party Thread. And now to our very special editor interview. Imagine that you have scheduled a “pitch session” with Mari. You walk up to the table and she kindly shakes your hand as you introduce yourself.
Mari Farthing, Senior Editor at Buzz Books USA
Mari, the folks at our party want to be pitching editors or agents today. Can you give us an idea of what makes you sit up and take notice of an author in the midst of a conference? Clothes? Manners? Confidence? Style? What else?
Definitely confidence and demeanor make the biggest impact for me. A friendly nature, a sense of humor is a must—not that a person must come up and try to crack jokes or make me laugh, but a positive attitude and an openness to this strange transaction of the pitch. Most importantly, be yourself. There is an ease about someone who isn’t trying to be anything other than what they are, and that ease, that accessibility and genuineness speaks to your writing as well.
I don’t judge based on style or clothing beyond good hygiene, which I guess that’s just part of me being a mom.
What should an author aim to include in the pitch? In how few words? When do you start tuning out? Are there certain phrases that make you think, “He/she is so not ready for this.”
I want to relate to the people that pitch to me, I need to feel the emotion behind your work, the purpose and the reason they are sitting across from me.
I need to know the reason behind your pitch. This needn’t be a discrete statement, but it needs to be hiding somewhere there in what you’re selling me. You should be able to give me a 10-second summary of what your work includes. That summary should make me want to ask questions (not because I’m confused), and lead to more information that gets me excited. Be prepared and arrive with a full outline of your work and your first three chapters.
I don’t think there’s anyone not ready for this process—it’s always a good time to meet people in your industry, or the industry that you want to be a part of. Especially at a conference, it’s a great time for a new writer to get face-time with an editor or agent, and a great time to glean information. Never leave that table without asking what you can improve on—and then act on it.
After the initial pitch, should the author go straight into their plot or pause or what?
Maybe. If you are feeling push back from the other side of the table, ask if there are any concerns about your idea. But remember that this is your three (or five or ten) minutes to sell yourself, so it’s in your best interest to keep talking! It’s not always easy to read what that editor or agent is thinking, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask if they have any questions for you.
What are the main attributes you are looking for in an author?
A good attitude. As an editor, I know that I will have a close working relationship with an author, and our relationship demands that I will have to be critical of something that is very important to them. I need someone who is willing to be open to edits or discussing changes and why choices might need to be made.
I also want a writer who is passionate about their subject and will go to bat for what’s important to them. That passion bleeds into the words. It gives them life.
How do you feel about being stopped in the elevator, the bathroom, or interrupted at dinner by authors wanting to pitch?
I don’t mind being approached with pitches at any time—especially if I have a personal relationship with someone, I don’t mind if it’s brought up in a casual manner. I think it’s always best to be careful approaching people you don’t know just because nobody likes to work all the time. It might be a better idea to approach an editor or agent at an appropriate moment (when that person is not in midst-bite, the adjoining stall or otherwise occupied) and introduce yourself as an author who has/will pitch an idea. A respectful “hello, I admire/appreciate/respect/know who you are” will go a lot further than a pushy pitch.
How often do you ask for a partial or full? If you do, what is your expectation on author follow through? Does it impress you to receive the manuscript quickly?
For the initial submission, we ask for a synopsis in the email, the full outline and the first three chapters. If I find that first chapter grabs me hard enough, it will make me ask for more.
What are you looking for in the first chapter of the manuscript?
The first chapter needs to be informative, entertaining and engaging. It needs to have that little something that makes you go “ooh,” and makes you want to keep reading. The best books are the ones where you tell yourself you’re going to stop reading at the end of the next chapter … and then continue on for another four or five because you just can’t stop.
You were the first industry person to ever ask me for an outline. What are you looking for in that document and how is it different from the synopsis?
The synopsis is a short paragraph summarizing the story. The outline, by contrast, goes chapter by chapter and gives points of action, kind of like stage direction. I also like a proper noun outline, detailing where each person, place and certain things are introduced in the narrative. I find these are handy for the writer to have as well as the editor, especially if there are a lot of structural changes to the story/
After an author has pitched you, do you mind/expect to be greeted by them later in the conference–whether or not you requested a manuscript? Should they talk book or just make social conversation? If you didn’t ask for a manuscript, should they still follow up with a thank you note?
I would hope that any author who has pitched to me would be comfortable enough to say hello and talk to me later. I’m a people person—I like to talk. I would welcome talking books or whatever else comes up.
A thank you note—that’s such a lovely touch. Publishing is a relatively small industry, and I think that good manners always matter, and always make a person stand out. If you feel that you’ve gained something from a pitch session, even if your manuscript wasn’t accepted, I think it would be a lovely touch to send a thank you. Those types of social graces are often underused but never overlooked.
Also an author, Mari shared a short story, “Midnight Troll” in the Something Wicked compilation released October 1st.
Trolls? Really? Are you demented?
Well, clearly in some small corner of my brain? One of my voices is. In my defense, I didn’t write from the perspective or in defense of the trolls. I just had to think of something that hadn’t already been done.
I know you love Stephen King and scary movies. Like King’s stories, “Midnight Troll” has a deeper story beneath the terror. What inspired you to write that tale?
That’s a good question. The story came to me in bits and pieces and didn’t become fully formed until I had a few other trusted people read it first. They pointed out questions that they had and then I realized another aspect to the story that needed to be told. It was so fun when it all came together—gave me goosebumps!
This is the first story of this style I’ve ever written, though I’ve read my fair share. And I’ve found that even if you don’t write with your own phobias clearly in mind, somehow they worm their way into the narrative.
Are you looking for suspense manuscripts currently? How do you feel about queries? –unsolicited manuscripts? What catches your eye in a slush pile?
Yes, we are looking for suspense manuscripts! As you know, Lucie, the Buzz Books Swarm line focuses on suspense and mystery. The Buzz Books website has a page with open queries on it, and there are several genres open at this time.
Ultimately, we’re looking to share awesome stories. So if you have an awesome story? Send me your pitch!
Thanks so much to Mari for sharing some insight from a small press editor. I found a load of agents and a few Big 6 editors interviewed online, but didn’t find editors for small publishers. I think her insights into their acquisitions and author etiquette are unique.
I met Mari Farthing last April at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation conference. She is also the editor for Metro Family magazine and I pitched a travel article to her. In about a second she explained that Metro Family only really published Oklahoma-area travel articles, not ones from halfway across the planet. Then she asked what else I wrote. I explained that I wrote crime novels, not in the list of genres the con had supplied for her–and I prepared to thank her and run away with my tail between my legs. Instead, Mari kindly explained that they were about to add a suspense/mystery imprint and, well, the rest of our session was a dream come true for me. May you find the right publisher for your book soon.