Which pitch has the most potential? Slush pile, in-person or online contest?

I get asked this question often. Writers want to make the most of their time and talent. Querying is a part in your writing career that is fraught with stress, expectation, and worry–oh wait, this sounds like the entire length of a writing career! Jokes aside, the decisions you make to start your career have a huge influence on the trajectory of it.

So what’s the best way to pitch an industry professional? In person at a conference? In the slush pile? Or in an online contest? 

All of these have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go over them.

Pitching At A Conference In Person

Advantage: We get to know a slice of your personality (even if it’s only for 10 minutes) and whether we could see ourselves working together. Establishing a personal connection is beneficial for both parties.

Disadvantage: We haven’t seen your material yet! It all depends on the writing. So even if we get along well there is absolutely no guarantee anything will come of it. And if you’re nervous in those 10 minutes we might not get to see the best version of your presentation.

Slush Pile Pitching

Advantage: You can passionately explain why you think an agent is the right fit. You can get lots of advice on how to write the perfect query letter. This targeting is one of the most effective ways of hooking an agent who is right for you. I find more clients in the slush pile than anywhere else. I’d say it’s a 10:1 ratio. For every 10 clients I sign up 10 are from the slush, 1 is from elsewhere.

Disadvantage: Agents get hundreds to thousands of emails a month and you only get one chance to impress them.

Blog Contest Pitching

Advantage: You know you have 3-10 agents actively looking at your material, depending on the contest. There are many success stories floating around from these selective types of events.

Disadvantage: There might be a few agents interested, but often the speed of which the interested agent offers puts off the other agents because we don’t always have time to drop everything and read. Sometimes this speed works out in people’s favor and sometimes it doesn’t. Competition is definitely healthy, but writers have to make a tough decision without the hoopla getting in the way.

Twitter Contest Pitching

Advantage: It happens a few times a year and agents looking to build their list are actively observing it. Plus it makes you practice how to pitch and write a hook in one sentence.

Disadvantage: Agents want to work with authors who select agents for a reason. Writers pitch blindly on Twitter and sometimes the agent that wants to offer rep isn’t on that author’s “top agents” list and there can be bad blood and also a waste of time for everyone when querying would have been a must more beneficial use of time for both parties.

Q: Do you have a success story from one of these methods? (Or, more unfortunately, a horror story?)

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

29 thoughts on “Which pitch has the most potential? Slush pile, in-person or online contest?

  1. I think I’ve tried all of these except for pitching something in person. No success stories––I’ve had a few agents request material, but no offers of representation. But fortunately I don’t have any horror stories, either! I think I’ll just keep trying a mix of all these, and hopefully something will work out someday. :)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Haven’t encountered blog contest pitching, but I agree with all your pros and cons. Fascinating business. I will stick with writing a query letter and sending it out. But the bottom line: my work has to be ready when I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a horror story. I was at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference. Agent Erin Murphy had just finished giving a great presentation. I stopped her afterwards to ask a question, but my mind went blank. I felt so stupid and embarrassed. If I ever decide to do that again, I will first write down what I want to say. It’s good to hear that slush pile pitching can be successful, which is my preference. Like Brigid, I’ve had a few requests for additional material, but no success stories yet. Thanks, Carly, for this practical information!


  4. I have queried/pitched in person, via the slush pile, Twitter and blog contests. The one that worked for me was the slush pile, but my query wouldn’t have been as polished if I hadn’t entered a blog contest, tweeted, etc. To me the most important thing is not to get too anxious and start querying before everything is ready.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I tried all of these methods for years. Ultimately, I ended up with my fabulous agent through a good old fashioned query, however, the process was pushed along by a revise and resubmit from another agent during a Twitter contest.
    I learned so much from trying all different methods. When it comes down to it, you have to find the right person who happens to love your writing and your story. It’s long and frustrating and totally worth it. You never know how you’ll get there!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. These things are good to know. I’m not overly optimistic after reading all of the disadvantages vs the advantages of each method. Either way, thanks for sharing the realistic advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a great rundown! I thought of a fourth, which is kind of a hybrid between in-person and blog contest pitching: on-stage pitching at a conference, à la The Voice. The London Book Fair and also SCBWI national conference in the British Isles did that last year. I took part and it was incredible! – the panel of agents read 600 words in advance, and then the writer had 5 min. to pitch in front of everybody. (I don’t want to be one of those people who Posts a Link to Their Blog but I did do a write up how that all went – it was incredible. spacekidsbooks.com/pitching-a-story-is-a-life-skill-for-writers/). I’ve taken part in Twitter pitches, blog pitches, in-person pitches and also now this weird on-stage thing and I really liked the on-stage pitching, despite the terror. It creates a bit of the “blood in the water” excitement if one agent sees that another is interested, but also it forces the writer to think a bit more about being a storyteller engaging the listener rather than being a writer selling a book. Would love to know if anyone else has experienced this kind of thing. (In the end, incidentally, I got my agent via the slushpile, but winning that on-stage pitch contest really bolstered my confidence when submitting).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey Carly,
    Some great thoughts here all around, so thanks for this. I’ll be graduating this June with my MFA and my first novel is coming along, so I see pitching in my near future, maybe even you (haha).
    I’ve been following you and totally appreciate your posts on this stuff.
    thanks much,

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve had a lot of positive response from conference pitches. Unfortunately, the ultimate result has been a ‘no’ so far. Querying has also been rejectiony, but I’m just starting out.
    I haven’t done either a Twitter or blog pitch yet.
    You never know, though.


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