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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Why agents take on less than 1% of all queries

You’ve heard ‘agents are extremely selective’ and all the other catch-phrases we use to express why we cannot take on you as an author. We mean what we say. But, even if your work is good, great even, we have to pass and here’s why:

  • The industry is competitive so new authors have be able to break out of the pack.
  • The industry is saturated in many markets like YA and women’s fiction so new authors have to be very unique with fresh concepts and fabulous writing that can hook readers.
  • We have a client working on something similar so we can’t take on a new work in that space as it’s not fair to our first priorities: our clients.
  • We like it very much, but we don’t love it. This is a very fine line, admittedly. It’s hard for writers to hear that an agent likes it very much but cannot offer representation. But in the long run you’ll want an agent that is head over heels for it.
  • Your submission requires more work than time we can give. Agents have limited time available to work on major editorial tasks. The time we do have for that goes to our clients first.
  • We aren’t the best agent for it. Some agents are more specialized in nonfiction, YA, or commercial fiction–for three examples–and those agents can be better for you. Don’t get tied to the idea of working with an agent you follow on Twitter or an agent that you think might be the best fit. Find the best representation for your work and whose agency has a track record that can support your books. Continue reading Why agents take on less than 1% of all queries