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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THE STONE THROWER and The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD) – May 6-8

I can’t tell you how proud I am of the founder of The FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity). A client and friend, she’s a huge writing talent and activist in the publishing community. She has big news! Jael Richardson has launched a new book today:

The African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. Against all odds, he became an incredible quarterback. But despite his unbeaten record in high school and university, he would never play professional football in the United States.

Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community that was divided from the rest of town by a set of train tracks, but his mother assured him that he wouldn’t stay in Portsmouth forever. Education was the way out, and a football scholarship was the way to pay for that education. So despite the racist taunts he faced at all the games he played in high school, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. And when discrimination followed him to university and beyond, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.

Groundwood Logos Spine

…And she is launching a festival this weekend. The Festival of Literary Diversity is one of a kind celebrating diverse authors and creators in Brampton, Ontario. If you are in the greater Toronto area please join us this weekend. I’ll be on a panel Saturday. Hope to see you there!

Why the chances of you meeting your future agent at a conference are slim–but you should try anyway

researchAs you know agents get hundreds of queries per month, thousands per year and out of those thousands we maybe sign a couple.

Now drill down to things at a conference level and think about the sample size: agents perhaps get 30 pitches at a busy weekend conference and do we sign many writers? Unfortunately, no. Even though we’re at a conference and open to building our client list the numbers don’t change. It’s a wonderful chance for writers to pitch in person. And I rather like meeting people in person I might work with in the future. However, agents don’t sign someone at every conference.

This is why you should relax and pitch anyway:

  • You might be that rare case where we do sign someone! Never say never. It’s a subjective business and you never know where things will lead.
  • If the pitch is longer than 5 minutes, use that extra time to pick our brains. I love it when people bring questions. It can brighten up an often repetitive afternoon and shows true interest.
  • If you’re relaxed you can see our reaction in real time. I know it’s nerve wracking, but if you take a deep breath and look at our faces while you pitch you’ll see how intrigued we are. When you send queries you don’t get that opportunity for immediate feedback. I recommend welcoming it. Continue reading Why the chances of you meeting your future agent at a conference are slim–but you should try anyway

2014 Writers’ Conferences: Join me!

nancy-pearlHere’s where I’ll be next spring:

Las Vegas Writers’ Conference, April 2014

Ontario Writers’ Conference, May 2014

SCBWI San Francisco Bay, May 2014

CanWrite in Orillia, June 2014

I’ll be doing intensive, 3-hour workshops at Las Vegas, SCBWI San Francisco Bay and CanWrite. Join me!