What To Do When You Sit Down To Pitch Your Novel In-Person

After attending conferences around North America for the past 6 years I’ve seen an array of pitching techniques. Some good. Some…not so good. I get it. It’s not easy to pitch your book (your creative project that’s been on your mind for months if not years) to someone sitting in front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.

Agents can sense the determination and fear in the room during pitch sessions. It’s honestly palpable and we can feel your energy.

I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizing at the same time. Having a new project pitched to me every 7-10 minutes is a lot to wrap my head around and sometimes they bleed into one another. And depending on how conference organizers set things up I could be sitting there for up to 2 hours at a time.

When you sit down:

Relax. Then tell me why you’re sitting across from me at this moment. I need to know why you selected me from the 3-20 other agents at this conference. Why do you think we’re a good fit? (No need to flatter us, just be honest.)

Take a deep breath. Then get right to the story. We only have 7-10 minutes so use them wisely! We’re here to help you publish your book not talk about the weather/city.

Read my social cues. Am I engaged in your story? Do I look like I want to cut in to ask a question?

Don’t plan to speak for the entire allotted time. Make sure we have time to have a conversation and let me ask questions. If you’ve memorized enough to fill that entire space it makes me feel awkward because I can’t get a word in.

Questions I ask throughout and afterwards:

  • What made you write about this?
  • How long did it take you to write?
  • What are you working on next?
  • Tell me about the crisis moment/climax/when multi POVs come together. (Writers like to tell me all about the themes and I don’t care about those at this point. In 10 minutes I need to know what the book is ABOUT and what we’re working towards.)
  • What did you write before? Do you have a publishing history?
  • Do you have a critique partner?

What agents are asking themselves:

  • Can I sell this book?
  • Can I work with this person for a long time?
  • Does it seem like they have a handle on the industry?
  • Do they understand what I do and how I work?

What happens at the end?

Agents will offer you an opportunity to send your work OR they’ll tell you it’s not for them. The point of in-person pitching isn’t to get representation on the spot! The point is to pique their interest, much like a query letter, and follow up by sending your work. I’ll usually thank you for pitching me and stand up as you walk away. Then you can relax!

Usually agents will ask to see your work unless they’re very clear it’s not for them. Unlike a query letter, an in-person pitch doesn’t come with a sample. It also depends on where an agent is at in their career. More established agents request less material because their client list is bigger.

However, make sure, if you got an open invitation to send your manuscript, that you ACTUALLY send it. So many times writers don’t send it and I don’t know why. Maybe they want to do edits and then they think too much time has passed or they think the agent didn’t really mean it–believe me, if we say send it then SEND IT!

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18 thoughts on “What To Do When You Sit Down To Pitch Your Novel In-Person

  1. Another great post here Carly.

    I especially like that you say ” Tell me about the crisis moment/climax/when multi POVs come together. (Writers like to tell me all about the themes and I don’t care about those at this point. In 10 minutes I need to know what the book is ABOUT and what we’re working towards.)…
    I get it. U want the perfect “elevator pitch”

    Question:
    Do u not take on authors without a publishing history?? And what about “Emerging voices” or authors who have only maybe had a short story or two published?
    I’m an intern for a literary agent now, and do see the obvious benefits to the agency when an author has an established base, yet, they still are willing to take on first-time authors too.

    How might this differ from Agent to Agent, and what particular advice can you offer to “emerging authors” to overcome this particular hurdle??

    Thanks again for a great post!

    Like

  2. There is no hurdle! It’s not a problem! I ask because I want to know if you have a publishing history. If you don’t you just tell me it’s your first book. It’s that simple. We assume that most people pitching us are not published.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The part that stood out to me is that comment, “So many times writers don’t send it any I don’t know why. Maybe they want to do edits and then they think too much time has passed or they think the agent didn’t really mean it–believe me, if we say send it then SEND IT!”

    *blink*

    Why go through the process of gaining an agent and then not follow up? The agent wants to see your work, so send the work. Self-sabotage? Fear of criticism? Fah! You write a book in order for other people to read it, and sure, there’s going to be criticism. Maybe the agent doesn’t like your writing after you did all the work pitching it… but go down swinging.

    The question about “I need to know why you selected me from the 3-20 other agents at this conference,” is that specifically because you’re looking to see if the writer has done their homework, or that you want to make sure you’re not wasting your time, or both? Do you ever cut the interview short, sort of like a stage audition: “Thankyou, next!”

    Anyway, thanks for the view from the other side of the table.

    Like

  4. “Can I work with this person for a long time?” This is a question writers need to ask themselves *before* pitching. The “Why do you think we’re a good fit?” is crucial. Writer/Agent duo is not a marriage but among the closest things to a marriage in literary terms.

    Besides, how could anyone pitch to someone they’re not ‘attracted’ to? ;)

    Like

  5. Thank you for another useful post, Carly.

    I attended a writer’s workshop last week and pitched two agents, both of whom asked for my proposal and sample pages. ((happy dance)) One of the agents asked for the first 50 pages right away, and the proposal when I finished. However, I started to question my memory after I read her business card, which said to send first 50 pages and proposal at same time.

    Do you think it would be in bad taste to send her a message and ask for clarification?

    Like

    1. It’s not in bad taste. We definitely understand the nerves. Or you could just send what you have now and say you might have forgotten so just let you know what else they need. Always lean on the side of sharing more if you have it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Just Can't Help Writing and commented:
    Good practical (and empathetic) advice on pitching from agent Carly Watters! I’ve had good luck recently from listing about eight plot points to keep me on track. No one seems to mind if I use a page of notes. What about you? What techniques do you use to make your pitch sessions work?

    Like

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