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?)


Workshop: Literary and Upmarket Commercial Fiction

Backspace is hosting great workshops this fall! Check out my multi-agent workshop on literary and upmarket commercial fiction October 19 to 23.

This week-long conference session includes:

  • A query letter workshop with 6-10 students and 2 literary agents
  • An opening 2 pages workshop with the same 6-10 students and 2 different literary agents
  • A 2-day interactive panel discussion and Q&A with all 4 agents
  • Full access to the Backspace Writers Conference video archives
  • A PDF copy of The Science of Rejection Letters: A Step-By-Step Guide to Analyze Rejection Letters in Order to Improve Your Writing & Get Published by Jeff Kleinman

Don’t miss this great event!

Sign up today!

How it works:

Monday: Students post introductions to their workshop group in a private discussion forum.

“I always feel that authors are so focused on the editor-agent thing that they forget about the people sitting right next to them, the other writers who could actually be of huge assistance to them. Your business is writing, so make a connection with the writers.” — Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management

Tuesday 2:00 P.M. EST: Query letter workshop with 6-10 students and 2 literary agents held via conference call. (Approximately 2 hours)

Wednesday 2:00 P.M. EST: Opening 2 pages workshop with same 6-10 students and 2 different agents held via conference call. (Approximately 3 hours)

“Everybody who does these conferences is a pretty nice person, so just talk. Know what your book is about, be able to discuss it concisely and passionately. And then be ready to listen, to hear the questions the agent asks, be ready to respond concisely and passionately.”Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management

PLEASE NOTE: Conference calls are recorded. If a student is unable to join the call at the scheduled time, a literary agent’s intern or assistant will read the student’s pages for them, and the student can listen to the discussion later. Alternatively, if a student can attend only a portion of the call, let us know and we’ll make sure your pages are scheduled to be read while you’re in attendance.

Thursday-Friday: Interactive panel discussion in which agents answer questions from students in the private discussion forum. Students also discuss among themselves what they’ve learned throughout the week by posting questions and comments to the group, or by private message.

Questions? Check our FAQ for students or the FAQ for faculty members, or contact conference organizers Christopher Graham or Karen Dionne at admin@bksp.org. You may also telephone Chris at 732-267-6449.

Why Your Query Letter Should Focus On Plot Not Theme

This is my number one gripe with queries: pitches that focus on theme and not plot.

It seems writers like to cover everything in a query letter, including how to make us feel.

Here’s why focusing on theme when you pitch is a bad idea:

1. You’re wasting valuable space that should be spent on facts not proposed emotions. Ultimately, the writer doesn’t truly know how the reader will feel after reading their work. So when someone tells me how I’m going to feel, firstly I don’t believe them, and secondly writers that do this waste valuable space that should be spent on facts like plot, not possible emotional threads that may or may not be there. 

2. Theme can be vague and makes you sound unsure of what you’re book is about. “The bond between a mother and daughter” is a concept not a story. It’s a theme, not a plot. It’s vague, not specific. I could go on about the benefits of using specific, directive language in a query, but I think you get the idea.

3. Themes aren’t what sells projects to editors or sales staff, so it doesn’t sell it to us either. What sells books is a high concept, or unique story that is well-told, well-paced, with lively characters we care about. At no point does the theme actually participate in the selling of the book. Don’t get me wrong, themes aren’t bad, but they have no place in the query letter.

Take a look at your submission: are you highlighting theme when you should be selling the hook or plot?

3 Reasons It’s Good to be in the Slush Pile

notepageI think writers interpret the Slush Pile as a bad thing, when really, agents love our slush pile. It’s where we find our amazing debut authors! Yes, it can be an overwhelming thing for us to sort through–which is why you hear the groans–but sometimes we’re amazed at what we see.

Here’s why you should be glad to be in the Slush Pile:

1. The great projects rise to the top. We see so much in the slush pile via unsolicited queries that it becomes clear what is great and what is okay, what makes us look twice and what is for someone else. If you follow the query guidelines closely and pitch with careful research you’re already ahead of the hundreds of queries we get a month. Many writers get down when they know the number of queries that agents process. But what they don’t know is that most of them aren’t well researched. If you care enough to carefully select the agents you query you’re rising to the top.

2. You’re taking a professional leap! It’s easy to say you’re not ready, but it takes a confident writer to be able to put themselves out there. Querying is Step One in becoming a professional writer. It means you take yourself seriously and agents should too. This is a writer investing in themselves and their career. And we want to work with writers who are in it for the long haul.

3. We read our slush. Agents that are actively looking to sign authors will be looking in the slush pile. Sure, we go to conferences too, but the primary way we sign new talent is through the slush pile. Non fiction often comes via referral or agents going out and pursuing journalists or experts, however fiction is found via slush 99% of the time. So we have to read our slush in order to find good projects! Any agent building a list or actively looking for new talent will spend time in the slush pile.

Good links on the Slush Pile:

Dos and Don’ts of the Slush Pile

Tips from a Slush Pile Find

24 Tales from the Slush Pile