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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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?)

DFW Con: See you this weekend!

Dallas Fort Worth Writers: I’m coming your way!

This weekend I’ll be at the following conference events:

Ask An Agent Session 2

Dawn Frederick, Michelle Johnson, Lana Popovic, Christopher Rhodes, Carly Watters
1:00 to 1:45 p.m.  Sunday

There are a lot of opinions out there about to how to become a traditionally published author. Everyone’s got plenty of free advice to offer. How to make sense of it all? If only someone would fly a bunch of literary agents across the country right here to the DFW Metroplex and gather them together into a room so I could ask them any question I want and get the answers straight from the people who know the market best. Nah, nothing that cool ever happens around here…

How To Sell Your Picture Book

Carly Watters, P.S. Literary Agency
3:45 to 4:45 p.m. Saturday

Writing for young kids has changed: morals and lessons are out and delightful, page-turning, kid-driven books are in. This workshop will teach you the dos and don’ts of selling your picture book in today’s market. 

Today’s Non-Fiction Markets

Dawn Frederick, Harry Hall, Ben Hedin, Me Ra Koh, April Osborn, Carly Watters
1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Saturday

Many writers are so focused on the goal of breaking into fiction that they overlook a huge market with an astonishing variety of opportunities and in many cases, less competition. Here’s a look at ways to make your mark in the world of non-fiction. 

Also, sign up for my pitch sessions and talk to me about your exciting work!

How to Pitch an Agent in Person

time stockvaultI’m back from two wonderful writers conferences: Missouri Writers’ Guild (in St. Louis) and Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc (in Oklahoma City). After whirlwind back-to-back weekends of pitch sessions I share some of my top tips for pitching agents in person:

  • You are the best advocate for your own work. So pitch me looking me in the eye and use your language to show how excited you are about this project. If you aren’t excited, it’s hard for me to get excited.
  • Know how much time you have (i.e. how long the pitch sessions are) and focus on making the most of it. This is your opportunity. Use it!
  • Start with your hook, word count and genre (just like a query letter) and then get into the juicy details of the plot. But keep it brief, I do not want a full synopsis read to me for 10 minutes.
  • We are going to ask questions, so take a deep breath and answer them to the best of your ability and focus on framing it in a way we want to hear (i.e. focus on the hook, main characters, and drama).
  • Don’t get down if one pitch doesn’t go well. There are other agents at pitch sessions, who have other varied opinions, so pick yourself back up and keep going.
  • Use this wonderful opportunity to actively connect with an agent. Tell them you follow them on Twitter, or read their blogs and magazine articles. Tell them you admire client X and have read all their books. You only get a handful of agents in your hometown once a year, so be unforgettable.
  • Know what makes your project unique. Know what else is out there on the bookstore shelves and how your book stands out. Continue reading How to Pitch an Agent in Person