4 Questions Agents Ask Writers at Pitch Sessions

Over the years, as I’ve written both KidLit and adult fiction, I have participated in several agent pitches and critique sessions. I’ve read every article I could get my hands on discussing how to deliver your pitch, or how to gracefully listen to constructive criticism.

But what continues to surprise me are the questions that agents ask of me. I’d like to share the questions I’ve encountered in hopes that others can be better prepared than I have been in the past. Here are a few of the questions I’ve been asked most often or I’ve found the most helpful to consider:

 

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Column by Lisa Katzenberger, picture book writer, member of SCBWI,
and editorial assistant for Literary Mama. Follow her on twitter @FictionCity.

 

1. Are you working on anything else?

I’ve come to learn that this is one of the standard questions at a pitch session, but the first time I was asked, I didn’t have a pitch for my other work in progress prepared. I fumbled through a long description of my half-written novel. I did not expect to be asked the question during a critique session with an editor, and when I was, I still rambled a bit.

However, at the last conference I attended, I pitched a picture book manuscript. When the agent asked me if I was working on anything else, pitches for two other manuscripts rolled right off my tongue. The agent requested I send her all three.

Another takeaway from this: if you don’t have an answer to this question, you just might not be ready for the publishing world yet. It is rare for a writer to have their very first manuscript published. But once you have one manuscript under your belt, the next one you write will be that much stronger, as you’ve already been down the road before. Long story short: if you don’t have an answer to this question, you might not be ready to pitch just yet.

(How to pitch agents at a writers’ conference.)

2. Who are your favorite authors?

I see this question as an opportunity for the agent to discover a couple things about the writer. First, who are their influences? Are they modern, or do they reference authors who might not necessarily be publishable in today’s market? Also, it indicates if the writer is as passionate about reading as they are writing.

Stumble on this question, and you could come across as someone who has a dream to write a book, but hasn’t done enough research to understand what makes a good story (i.e. read as many books as you can). But if you are able to rattle off a list of authors you adore, that shows you appreciate storytelling and the lessons you picked up in your voracious reading will spill over into your writing. We all have our old sentimental favorites, but make sure you are including authors who are hot in the current market.

 

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3. What kind of a writer are you?

I fumbled on this one too. The agent kindly led me, and asked if my stories are character-driven. “Yes! They are!” I was relieved, as I could speak to that for a while.

But then I thought about this question way after the pitch session was over. How would I describe myself as a writer? What themes do I want my stories to explore?

This is a great open-ended question that could take the conversation in so many different directions. But it’s such an important question to answer for yourself whether you’re pitching to an agent or not.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

4. Where did this story come from?

I was asked this question during a critique session with an editor on a picture book manuscript. I answered honestly—I was inspired by all the smaller kids watching their big sisters dance ballet, wishing they could be out there dancing too. I also talked about the story being about a sense of longing. Then the editor pointed out how the story dealt with sibling rivalry, a subtext even I didn’t register yet.

This was the most thoughtful question I’ve been asked, and I think it is one writers can ask themselves in those early drafts. Not just the obvious question of where did you get the idea, but the deeper layers of where did this story come from inside of you? What emotions are you trying to convey to your reader? What made you have to tell this particular story?

These pitch sessions have landed requests for manuscripts, but they’ve also helped me learn about myself as a writer and become more thoughtful about the stories I’m trying to tell. Chime in to the comments below. What other questions have you had agents ask you during a pitch session?

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2 thoughts on “4 Questions Agents Ask Writers at Pitch Sessions

  1. HumboldtLA

    These were interesting questions to think about and have answers to. I did not like the suggestion that if it’s your first manuscript then you shouldn’t bother pitching it. That boggled me. What is the point of saying that? I can understand having a pitch for the next thing you are working on ready but are you really saying that every completed first manuscript should be shelved and the next one will be the ticket? Freaking odd comment.

  2. walxpen

    Four questions?? Never had one of the above questions asked. And if I was receiving the pitch from an unknown writer, the very FIRST question I would ask is: Can you tell me the titles of four novels you have read in the past year? That tells the agent right off the bat more about the author than five minutes of pitch. One has to read in order to write. If he/she can’t come up with a single title…well… And the type of novel he/she reads gives the agent a good idea of what he/she is going to write, and it gives a rough idea of the author’s level of literacy. THEN we can go on to other things, but I must add that pitch sessions are not real conversations. They’re pushed, rushed, and god knows what the agent is thinking (probably that ‘that guy should have at least buttoned the top four on his shirt. He’s got that gross hair all over his chest…’). A real conversation would be over a cocktail at the bar or hotel lounge, but that can’t happen for a number of reasons, least of all is that the agent is as honestly fatigued with the day as the authors pitching are, and secondly, the agent will draw a crowd so quickly that a reasonable one-on-one conversation can never take place. WHEW…glad I got that off my chest.

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