Re:Fiction - The Fiction Writers' Magazine

Pitching to a Book Agent at a Conference

So you’ve chosen the literary agent of your dreams, and he’s coming to a writing conference near you. How do you pitch your novel and get him or her to represent you? Here are some tips.

What is a Pitch Session?

A pitch session is an event hosted at a writing conference. Authors pay to sit down and talk with the agent of their choice for a limited amount of time. Think of it as a face-to-face query letter. Pitch sessions have become a very popular way to bypass the slush pile, however, they are considered much more difficult and require special planning.

The Right Agent at the Right Convention

Each convention is different, and you should thoroughly research the agents who have been invited. Some agents have written about their convention experiences and talk about their idea of what makes a good pitch session (see what Janet Reid and Miss Snark think). Read about authors who were successful in getting requests for material and take notes on what worked for them.

Crafting the Pitch

You will have three to five minutes at the most. Every word counts. A query letter opens with the main character and their problem. A pitch needs a little setup, including title, genre, word count, target audience, and logline (a one-sentence description of the plot, not to be confused with a tagline). Every conference has different rules for its pitch sessions, so it’s a good idea to make a model pitch and tweak it as needed.

Lucy V Hay provides this example:

Hi, I’m [name, a little bit of relevant background – one-two sentences max]. I’m here today to pitch a[genre of project/title of project], it’s a [TV script/Film script/web series/whatever]. The logline is [logline] and it’s aimed at [audience + why].

The pitch should not take up more than a few seconds of your time. Use a stopwatch and practice in front of a mirror, or with a friend. Remember, you’re trying to pique the agent’s interest, not cram a synopsis down their throat.

Etiquette

When you pitch to an agent at a conference, you want to make a good impression as a writer and a human being. Both aspects are important, whether you’re trying to sell one novel or plan to write dozens. The agents are taking time away from their already-hectic life to make themselves available to you. Don’t make them regret it.

Be Polite

When you come to the table, make eye contact and smile. Shake their hand. Wish them a good morning/afternoon and ask if they’re enjoying their time. Give them your pitch. If there is time left over, talk about other writing-related things. When time’s up, shake their hand and wish them a good day. Even if they reject your work, a kind thank-you via social media won’t hurt.

Don’t Stalk

It’s ok to talk to them if you happen to see them outside of the pitch session, but don’t follow them around hoping for a second chance. That’s cheating and very annoying. An agent will remember you as the person who wouldn’t leave them alone. If you see them again, talk about something besides the work. They have other interests!

Don’t Throw Paper at Them

Agents at a conference are not there to collect dozens of submission packets. Leave the query letter, synopsis, and sample pages at home. A business card might be acceptable, but if they ask to see your work, a simple reminder in the email will do.

Final Thoughts

Statistics show that the majority of people are more afraid of public speaking than death itself. If that’s the case for you, consider sending a query letter instead. There are no guarantees that pitching to an agent in person will land you representation.

On the other hand, if you can muster the courage, pitching an agent will win you an immediate response and some bragging rights. Even if you get rejected, pitching is a valuable experience that can go a long way toward helping you on your writing journey.

Taylor Harbin is a professional historian from southeast Missouri. Easily distracted by the internet, he composes all of his work on a manual typewriter. His fiction has appeared in Bards and Sages Quarterly magazine. He can be reached through his blog at www.gutsofimagination.blogspot.com.

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