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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“How To Get An Agent”

…as you all know…it’s not that simple.

So, that’s why I’m teaching my webinar again! HOW TO GET AN AGENT will run August 11 at 1pm EST, but don’t despair–if you can’t attend live and you’re still interested sign up anyway to get the live webinar emailed to you right after.

It’s full of great information and a QUERY CRITIQUE by yours truly.

Sign up here. See you in a few short weeks.

Many writers think getting a literary agent is the hardest thing they’ll have to do as a writer. They think agents are looking to turn away writers, when actually many agents are actively looking to sign new talent. How do you find these agents that have open doors?

Literary Agent Carly Watters works with many debut writers she’s signed from the slush pile who have become successful multi-published authors. She’ll share the industry expectations of debut writers, how to find agents that are actively looking for new writers, and what questions to ask to make sure you find the right agent for you.

Learn what agents are being told by the industry and how that shapes the debut projects they sign, why you need an agent, and where to find agents that represent what you write. Do you want know how to hook an agent? Carly will make sure you’re fishing in the right pond.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • What an author/agent relationship looks like
  • How to find an agent that’s right for you
  • How to show agents you’re a ‘career author’
  • How to stand out among other querying writers
  • What the state of the industry looks like for new authors
  • How agents approach the slush pile and writers conferences
  • The important steps to writing a successful query letter
  • Why you must query an agent with what they ask for

Sign up today to secure your spot!

 

Things I Wish I Knew: Kurestin Armada’s First Year of Agenting

photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173Being an agent is a tough job in general. Your first year of being an agent is one of the toughest of your career if not your life! Not only are you learning as you go, you’re also acquiring clients and building your career from the ground up. I likened my first year or two of agenting to a startup. We have to pitch ourselves to prospective clients, start a brand from scratch, network all the time in person and online, work around the clock (often while having other jobs) and keep up with all kinds of reading and events while our brain expands with new industry knowledge. Not to mention we have other people’s careers in our hands! We take that very seriously.

Today, we have P.S. Literary Associate Agent Kurestin Armada with 3 “Things I Wish I Knew” about being an agent. She just finished her first year at PSLA and we’re so glad to have her. Follow her on Twitter for more. Here, she reflects on her year:

Network with Your Peers

I knew going into this that I would need to constantly be looking for ways to network with authors and editors, the two groups I’m looking to more or less “get something from” to make connections and deals. But I didn’t realize until further into things how important networking with fellow agents would be! Google hangouts, happy hours, snatching meals at a conference, and of course Twitter, all of these are ways I can touch base with other agents. We let off steam, we laugh, and I get to hear so many stories about how other agents tackle things.

Agents have many different methods and viewpoints, and we’re a remarkably open group when it comes to helping each other. I always leave these hangouts feel refreshed and energized, and maybe with an extra tool tucked into my belt for the next time. It’s easy to think of networking as always trying to get an “in” somewhere, but really, it’s also about building a support system of other people who have been in the exact same place.

Trust Yourself

Initially building my list was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience. I knew that the things I brought on had to have two qualities: 1. I really enjoyed the book and could read it five times and not be tired of it, 2. I could see its place in the market. But when it came time to go through the first wave of submissions, I kept wondering… will I know it when I see it? Will it feel that noticeably different when I encounter a manuscript I want to offer on?

The answer is of course, yes, it does feel that noticeably different. As I’ve encountered the feeling a few times now, I’ve begun to sense earlier on in a manuscript when I’m probably going to offer on it. There’s the feeling of excitement that hits, when I start to think “Oh please, let the second half of this book be just as good!” If I get to a certain point and haven’t felt that flare of excitement, and I feel like I could put the book down and never care what happens next? I know then that it’s not going to work out long term. FOMO (fear of missing out) is always a ghost over your shoulder, but at some point you just need to trust the taste, experience, and skills you’re bringing to the table.

Protect Your Time, and Don’t Feel Bad About It

This is one I’m still working on, admittedly. Working on creative pursuits, or working from a home office, or having a flexible schedule can all lead to people thinking you’re eternally free and available. It can be difficult to enforce the boundaries around your work time gently but firmly, but it’s also incredibly important. Just because you’re in the next room, doesn’t mean you can help solve every family dispute!

I also need to protect my time from myself, oddly enough. Since I work from home, it’s very easy to get drawn into doing just one more hour of work, until suddenly it’s 12pm and I need to go to bed. For a while I was doing nothing outside of work, literally no other activities besides eating and sleeping, and that was really bad for me. Now I make sure I spend a certain number of hours in a week reading “for fun” (which is really necessary market research!), and I stop working a couple of hours before bed so I can knit or watch TV. I try not to feel too guilty about these times, because I know I’m overall in a better state of mind (and thus more productive in my work hours) when I make time for relaxing. Sometimes I even take a whole day off on the weekend!

Kurestin Armada began her publishing career as an intern with Workman Publishing, and spent time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency before joining P.S. Literary. She holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, as well as a publishing certificate from Columbia University. Kurestin is based in New York City, and spends most of her time in the city’s thriving indie bookstores. She reads widely across genres, and has a particular affection for science fiction and fantasy, especially books with a fresh spin on a familiar trope. Query her at query(at)psliterary(dot)com.

15 Things I’ve Learned in 5 Years: Celebrating my 5 Year ‘Agent-versary’

pages-freestockphotosLast year I wrote a post about my “four year agent-versary.” And focused on what I was grateful for.

Last week my friend, and super agent, Katie Shea Boutiller wrote about her 4 years as an agent. Including some great tips about why agents have to be strong editors.

This year I’m celebrating 5 years as an agent! So I’m going to share 15 things I’ve learned over the last 5 years and what I think makes a good agent. It’s a long list. Enjoy!

1. You can’t teach taste. It’s inherent within an agent to know their taste. It’s also our job to know what we’re good at selling and that requires constant reflection and adaptation to the market. Good agents read all the trade news, bestseller lists, and talk to editors about what they’re buying an what’s working. But we know what we think we can sell, that’s our taste.

2. You can learn how to edit. I’m not a trained editor. But I edit my clients’ books. I know you’ve all read about how competitive it is out there for debuts and it’s absolutely true. I am an editorial agent, but I edit from the reader’s perspective. What do they need to know to make it an enjoyable and entertaining experience? Agents put more of their touch on a manuscript than ever before.

3. Sometimes the market will surprise you. Sometimes we think something will sell and it doesn’t. And sometimes we’re not sure if something will sell and it does. It’s a big learning curve that no one will ever figure out. But a good agent is right a few times (or more) a year.

4. Doing right by your client is about more than just the manuscript. Being a good agent is more than executing a sale. It’s being there for the failed drafts, marketing dilemmas, cover design consultations, foreign rights and film agent pitches. Support and a successful book depend on all those other factors. We’re there for all those conversations too.

5. Like parenting, your time is the most valuable thing an agent can give. Clients need attention. They need our dedication. As an agent time is the only thing we can give. Good agents can balance their clients in a way that means all needs are met. There is a limit to the therapy sessions (and reading of draft 7+) that we can do. But we’re present when it counts. (However, make sure you have conversations with your agent about what your needs are!)

6. Professional development (a.k.a. reading published books) will keep you connected to the industry. Reading published books is what keeps our taste in check and reminds us of the quality needed to make it all the way.

7. A successful author is more than the words on the page. Attitude, sense of marketing/publicity, perseverance, willingness to grow–these are the things that need to come with a talented writer. There are many talented writers out there; the ones that set themselves apart are the ones that learn the big picture of this business, adapt, and never give up.

8. An agent goes where they’re needed…and sometimes that’s not at all. We learn when to step back and let an author write, or let them work directly with their editor. We are the scaffolding that’s there to lean on or come back to when it’s time to rebuild.

9. A success story isn’t selling a book, it’s career building and helping our writers find their core audiences for books to come. A long career as an agent (and a writer) is about more than just one book. It’s about the career plan and building a readership, one book at a time. That readership starts with the publishing house and grows from there. It’s an agent’s job to convey that excitement from day 1.

10. Lunches are work. Agents try to be available to our clients all the time, but when we’re out to lunch with an author or editor–that’s work too. Creativity doesn’t happen in a box. Creation happens over interesting conversations and willingness to explore, ask questions and bounce ideas around. I’ve originated a deal for a client based on a conversation with an editor about a gap in their non fiction list.

11. There is not “one way” or a “right way” to do this job. Everyone has different taste, strategy and success stories. There are no guidelines for what “a literary agent” is, really. We all abide by a general code of conduct that was built by what we’ve been doing in this role since the 70s. It’s a relatively new career in the grand scheme of publishing as a business. The AAR has guidelines that most agents follow, but many agents don’t subscribe to them all and that’s okay. But we all need to have our clients’ best interests in mind with each decision.

12. This business is small. (Not surprising!) Yes, authors leave agents and we’ve all heard stories about clients being poached or courting a new agent while they still have their former agent. Reputations get around fast, good or bad. Agents who are respected are known for submitting top quality work to editors they’ve connected with, and negotiating tough but fair.

13. It’s not our job to be friends with editors, but it is our job to be friendly. Remaining professional with editors is an important part of the job. Sometimes we’re in really tough auction situations or an editor loses out on a book. You don’t want the personal to interfere with the professional because there are always more books to come.

14. We care about our client’s books almost as much as they do. We didn’t write them, but we sure get invested in them. We field the rejections and the offers. We see you go through emotional ups and downs. We go through emotional highs and lows too. It’s impossible to be passionate about something but also keep your distance–so what agents do is not keep distance but keep perspective. It gets a bit easier the longer I’m doing this. But the nerves about sending a new project on submission never go away.

15. To get quality projects writers have to know who we are as agents. The reason I started this blog was to give a voice to my taste and expertise. It’s why I go to conferences and teach webinars. I want to see everyone’s great books. I want to be on the top of writers’ submission lists. Here’s my current wishlist, pitch me! Follow me on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter to see what I’m reading.