How to Pitch an Agent in Person

time stockvaultI’m back from two wonderful writers conferences: Missouri Writers’ Guild (in St. Louis) and Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc (in Oklahoma City). After whirlwind back-to-back weekends of pitch sessions I share some of my top tips for pitching agents in person:

  • You are the best advocate for your own work. So pitch me looking me in the eye and use your language to show how excited you are about this project. If you aren’t excited, it’s hard for me to get excited.
  • Know how much time you have (i.e. how long the pitch sessions are) and focus on making the most of it. This is your opportunity. Use it!
  • Start with your hook, word count and genre (just like a query letter) and then get into the juicy details of the plot. But keep it brief, I do not want a full synopsis read to me for 10 minutes.
  • We are going to ask questions, so take a deep breath and answer them to the best of your ability and focus on framing it in a way we want to hear (i.e. focus on the hook, main characters, and drama).
  • Don’t get down if one pitch doesn’t go well. There are other agents at pitch sessions, who have other varied opinions, so pick yourself back up and keep going.
  • Use this wonderful opportunity to actively connect with an agent. Tell them you follow them on Twitter, or read their blogs and magazine articles. Tell them you admire client X and have read all their books. You only get a handful of agents in your hometown once a year, so be unforgettable.
  • Know what makes your project unique. Know what else is out there on the bookstore shelves and how your book stands out.
  • Read the agent’s bio BEFORE you pitch them. Make sure you’re pitching books they want to hear about.
  • If we don’t want to see pages you won’t be able to argue your way into changing our minds. Accept our opinion and ask if there is any feedback for your pitch itself.
  • As said before by agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg: “Don’t go into your pitch session thinking you’re going to walk away with an offer of representation in hand.” If an agent gave you a business card and told you to send pages you’ve accomplished everything you needed to in those 5, 7 or 10 minutes.
  • 99% of agents DO NOT want to take any material with them. We will usually not accept bookmarks or query letters. Please always follow up via email.
  • And, more importantly, don’t be nervous–we are normal people looking for great writers who pitch terrific projects. It could be you.

Q: What have you learned from pitching agents in person?

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14 thoughts on “How to Pitch an Agent in Person

  1. I really enjoy reading your posts. Great advice and palatable! By sometime later this year, I should need to put some of your advice into practice! I’m in my last year of an MFA in fiction and should have a full collection soon. I’ve also got a few nonfiction book proposals I’m excited about. Thank you! Karen Chronister http://www.thewordshopblog.com

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  2. I was at OWFI this weekend, and after my first disastrous pitch, I learned to slow down, wait for questions, and not try to pack the entire story into those fleeting ten minutes! I talked to three out of four agents that are looking for my type of book (tried for you, Ms. Watters, but you were just too popular and I couldn’t get a turn.) I also learned that pitching can even be a little fun, if you just relax. :)

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  3. Oh, I wish you’d written this last year! I was SO nervous when I pitched for the first time at Willamette Writers in Portland Oregon. But, you’re right, the agents were normal and pleasant and WANTED to be won over. It was a great experience even though I thought I’d die from nervousness. I’ll be reviewing your tips before I pitch again!

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  4. First, I have to reluctantly admit that I was unaware pitiching in person was even an option today considering most correspondance, submissions, and queries are done via snail mail and/or email. However, after reading this article, I’ve come to the realization that while pitching in person my be more intimidating, it’s more effective; it is an opportunity for one to really sell themselves. Moreover,pitching in person affords both the agent and potential client a chance to get a genuine feel for one another. As someone who is in the beginning stages of shoppping for an agent, doing so is very overwhelming and scary because you want to make sure you have the best representation. It’s is comforting to know that I have the option of being able to show firsthand who I am as writer, in person, rather than trying to convey who I am through just words..

    Thanks!

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  5. Relax a bit more, don’t talk too fast, and always have some idea of your word count (for a non-fiction book).

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  6. I’m not a good speaker. I’ve got an accent and I feel extremely self-conscious. I’m truly excited about my MS, but I find that when I try to explain what it’s all about, it sounds lame–but it’s not. I know that when pitching, I should be succinct and focus on the main characters and plot. The problem is that the main plot sounds–like most plots nowadays–cliche. I think the strength of my MS lies on my style, my characters and how I weave the subplots into the main plot line.

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  7. Carly, I was just wondering your opinion on something.
    Last September, I had the awesome privilege of showing my first chapter to a literary agent here in Australia. After reading my pages, she gave me her business card and said she would love to read my manuscript once I was ready to submit.
    I am now ready to submit but am unsure whether I should just submit to her via email, as per the submission requirements of her firm, or whether it would be all right for me to call her and let her know I am emailing her my manuscript (or maybe even send her a message on Twitter).
    I have read many places that calling an agent is frowned upon and I do not want to do anything that might jeopardise a potential business relationship, but I also don’t want to miss an opportunity to have my work noticed by an agent.
    Thanks in advance for any advice you may send my way.

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    • Calling is a big ‘no.’ Calling an agent is for their clients only.

      Emailing with the subject heading that you’ve met and a nice email that shows some personalization would be the best way to go. Interacting on Twitter with agents is okay, but I would refrain from saying flat out ‘Hi there, I’ve sent you my book’ and instead follow them on Twitter, interact with them via retweeting interesting and important things etc.

      Hope that helps.

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