Once upon a time, I finished a draft of a novel. Though it was riddled with problems inherent to a first effort at writing a book, it has some redeemable qualities I’ve been considering revisiting in the coming year. To that end, I’d like to offer some advice for pitching literary agents at a conference. Even if you never plan to attend a writing conference (but you really should!), the ability to pitch your novel to those you meet in all walks of life is a must.
Pitching to Literary Agents at a Conference
Attending a live pitching session shows agents a devotion to craft and a higher likelihood that the writer can deliver a polished manuscript. Submitting a written query may be less daunting, but a face-to-face meeting increases the chance of getting noticed. These tips for pitching to literary agents will help prepare you for a successful encounter.
Even if you are pursuing less traditional paths to publication, any time spent clarifying the core essence of your work can only be a good thing. No writer writes alone, and as entrepreneurs, writers need to be able to sell themselves in all mediums. In the big picture, the costs of attending conferences and paying for editorial services are small prices to pay to ensure your work is top-notch.
#1 Completing the Manuscript
A million great book ideas exist, but bringing a concept to fruition has killed many drafts. An agent is looking for work to acquire for representation now. That being said, I’ve pitched my work in progress two summers straight back in 2013 and 2014 in the name of practice. When you’re finally ready to submit, make sure the manuscript has also undergone revisions.
#2 Doing Homework
Conferences often list the agents who will be attending months in advance. Research each agency and follow their blogs and social media sites. At the very least, attend the agent panel at the conference where they will briefly state the types of books they are looking for.
#3 Preparing Materials
This includes not only your pitch, but also a logline, query letter, and synopsis. If you don’t know the difference make sure to utilize the almighty Google to get informed. If writing nonfiction, a proposal is most likely in order as well. It’s also a good idea to have your social media stats available in case an agent is curious about your platform building efforts.
#4 Perfecting the Pitch
Tons of advice exists for how to write a great pitch. I’ve gravitated toward the Place, Person, Pivot model described by literary agent Katharine Sands. Make sure you know comparable titles as well.
#5 Practicing Delivery
It’s not uncommon for conferences to offer rooms for writers to practice with each other. I like to practice by filming myself using my iPhone camera. No matter how much I think I have my pitch memorized, bringing along a half-sheet of paper to the session helps keep me focused.
#6 Looking the Part
Aim for business casual. Even though my favorite garb may be T-shirts and jeans, a grubby shirt from my Broadway musical collection isn’t likely to make a great first impression.
#7 Conquering the Session
Make eye contact, shake hands, introduce yourself. Dive in! Nerves serve the purpose of keeping us on our toes. A pitch session of three or four minutes will fly by, but if the session is longer, feel free to use the time to ask the agent to critique your query letter or answer a publishing question or two. Remember that agents are people too, plus it’s their life’s work to find the right stories for the market they represent.
#8: Line-Waiting Strategies
Do the math as you wait in line. If five people are in front of you and the sessions last four minutes each, that’s twenty minutes of standing in line. When the final bell sounds, if your current line is too long take that chance and pitch to an unlikely agent with a shorter line.
#9: Submitting Materials
If an agent is interested they will make a request and hand you a business card. You should not hand any materials to them. The sooner the requested information can be submitted, the better. If querying more than a year later, try to see if it’s possible to re-connect with the agent at another conference before submitting. Emailed queries should indicate the conference name and year in the subject line. Also, don’t submit to more than one agent per agency.
#10: Gauging Interest
Not all agents will request material, and many will offer sound reasons why. If an agent merely says feel free to query according to the steps listed on their site, this might be their way of avoiding saying they’re not interested. Do they request ten, twenty-five, or fifty pages? What about the full manuscript? No matter what, don’t give up.
The more effort a writer puts into finding the right audience, the greater the likelihood for success.
Have you ever attended a pitching session? Feel free to ask more questions or offer pointers of your own in the comments below.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018.