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.
This post originally appeared as a guest post on A. K. Andrew’s Writer’s Notebook. You may also like reading Determining Your Book Publishing Goals.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018.
I never have, but I would think pitching a complete story is a given. Imagine the terror if the agent requests it and you haven’t finished or polished it.
Alex, I felt fine pitching agents with a manuscript that wasn’t finished. It was good practice. I did get a few requests, but alas, put the novel away in a drawer and haven’t worked on it in years.
Good tips. I find crafting the pitch a bit daunting but I also have found trying to do it halfway through my writing is a good exercise in keeping the work focused. I’ve never pitched in person to a literary agent, but I think being as prepared as possible (both with the pitch and answers to possible questions) would help both with the impression made on the agent and with making you feel more confident.
Donna, if a writer is really into outlining, a pitch can even be written before diving into the first draft. That’s not to say it might not change a lot during and after the drafting process, but doing so can be a helpful focusing tool.
These are great tips Jeri! I find this concept completely intimidating, but I can see what you mean when you say a writer needs to be prepared with a pitch at any time.
Meredith, years ago, I would get to tongue-tied during this process, but eventually it becomes second nature.
I am glad you have taken your novel out of the drawer Jeri. With so much expertise, I am sure your work would be excellent. Wishing you great success.
Thank you, Balroop. Last night I started rereading it. Much will be deleted and the premise will be a lot different, but some essential elements of the original novel will still remain when I start to rewrite it.
Not so different than a job interview.
Ken, and job interviews are the worst! Just kidding… sort of 😉
“Nerves serve the purpose of keeping us on our toes.” Great line!
This is very helpful for those going the traditional route, and some is important to know as a self-published author, too.
Denise, traditional publishing and independent publishing have so much more in common than not that’s for sure.
I haven’t pitched to an agent before, but I recall the first time someone asked me what my book was about and I completely stalled out. “Uh… it’s about a guy…” It’s a good idea to practice your pitch even if you’re going a different route because you might have to sell it to people in person at some point!
Loni, thanks for sharing that as I’m sure most of us can relate.
Great tips, Jeri. I haven’t done a pitch but I did attend a writer’s conference. Loved it. Sounds like you’re getting those manuscripts freshened up and completed. I’ll look forward to reading your novel!
Lisa, if all goes well I should be able to start attending at least one writing conference a year again as various things settle down in my life.
Excellent post and tips Jeri. I have no problem meeting people. My fear would be alone on stage speaking publicly, lol. 🙂 But excellent tips here my friend. I’m filing this one and I’ll include it in my next issue of writer’s tips. <3
Thanks as always, Debby. Your comment reminds me I need to up my public speaking game. I can do so in a classroom, but the thought of doing so on a stage is an entirely different matter to my brain.
Yet another post that I’ll keep tagged, Jeri! Great tips!
I pitched my first agent last March for my mystery and was nervous. The good thing was that the agent–and I heard this about the other agents there–was kind and inviting and put me at ease. She asked for the manuscript and even though she didn’t accept it, it was a big step for me. I will pitch at every conference going forward in order to keep polishing my pitch.
RoseMary, I’ve also found that most agents are vary approachable. After all, they are in the market for books!
Great advice here, including learning which agents are looking for which genre/plot. After all, if you get your pitch out well and it’s to an agent who’s not after what you’re telling them about then it’s not going to matter how well you delivered it 😉 I think you’ll help someone get further with their manuscript with this guide! I wonder, do you want to contribute a guest post to my new site When Business Inspires?
Christy, a guest post for your new site would be great!