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7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, Pitching, What's New, Writers' Conferences.

I’ll admit: I was scared to death to live-pitch my book the first time, and I almost didn’t. I figured I was better with words on a page, so I’d just query the agents I met at conferences. I am a huge proponent of pitching your book in person to an agent, though, because it’s incredibly beneficial. Here are seven tips to keep in mind:

GIVEAWAY: Peggy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: MikeHays won.)

 

 

sky-jumpers-novel-cover      peggy-eddleman-author-writer

Column by Peggy Eddleman, author of the 2013 middle grade adventure
SKY JUMPERS (Random House), and the forthcoming THE FORBIDDEN FLATS
(Random House, 9/23/14). She lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains with
her three hilarious and fun kids (two sons and a daughter), and her incredibly
supportive husband. Besides writing, Peggy enjoys playing laser tag with her
family, doing cartwheels in long hallways, trying new restaurants, and
occasionally painting murals on walls. You can find Peggy online
at her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

 

 

Tip #1: If you can get a pitch session with an agent/editor, do it!

Agents get tons of queries every single day, and a good 90% of them come from people who haven’t worked very hard to perfect their craft. Agents know that if you go to conferences, you’re likely in the 10% who have. If you go to a conference and pitch, you’re likely a top 10% writer who has a book close to being worthy of representation. It also gives both of you a chance to meet each other, and that’s invaluable.

(Do you need multiple literary agents if you write different genres?)

Tip #2: If you don’t register in time to schedule a pitch session, get on a waiting list.

Pitch sessions fill up quickly. People get nervous, though, or don’t get their book ready in time, so they cancel often. They shouldn’t, but they do, and this is good for anyone who is on the waiting list.

Tip #3: Figure out what you want to cover during your pitch session.

Don’t memorize a script, but do memorize the points you want to cover. Then you can talk like a normal person about it. And definitely practice talking like a normal person about it to everyone who will listen. The more comfortable you feel when talking about your book, the better your pitch session will go.

Tip #4: Go with other questions in mind.

I speed-talked my way through my first pitch session, because when I’m nervous I don’t ramble– I leave things out. So my pitch was done in less than 30 seconds. After asking me a few questions, the agent requested my full. Then she said, “Do you have any questions for me?” I hadn’t thought about questions for her! I sat there, feeling awkward, said, “Um…. Nope?” then shook her hand and left, with seven minutes of our meeting unused.

Don’t do what I did! Use that time to ask about their agenting style. Ask about the industry. Ask about the process. Ask about craft. Ask questions about your plot. Ask about anything writing related. Chat. See how your personalities mesh. Just don’t leave seven minutes early. You paid for that time– use it.

 

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Tip #5: Don’t cancel your pitch if your book isn’t ready.

When you signed up for a pitch, it was five months before the conference and you thought your novel would be ready, but it isn’t. Don’t cancel your pitch! (Unless, of course, you’ve signed with an agent since then.) If your book isn’t ready, but you’re working hard to get it there, pitch it anyway. When you send a query to an agent and they request pages, you should get it to them within about 24 hours. When you pitch, you have a YEAR to get it to them. A year! So don’t stress that it isn’t completely ready– there’s plenty of time to make it shine. You are pitching to see if the story idea fits with them, if they think its a marketable enough idea that they want to see pages, and if it’s a story that they have the right contacts to sell.

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)

Tip #6: Your pitch session doesn’t have to be used to pitch.

That ten minutes you’ve signed up for is YOUR TIME. Use it wisely. You’ve bought not only that agent’s (or editor’s) time, but their expertise. And it is expertise in an area they are incredibly passionate about. They want to help you. If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to pitch your book, use that ten minutes in non-pitching ways. Some examples:

  • Show them your query letter, and ask for a critique.
  • Have the agent read the first pages of your manuscript until they would normally stop. Then talk about what stopped them.
  • If you’re about to start a new novel and are wondering which of your ideas are most marketable, pitch them to the agent, and ask which they think would be best to focus on.

Tip #7: Don’t be nervous. Really.

The most important thing: remember that they are just people. It may feel like they’re rock stars, but they’re actually completely normal. And because they are, they just might be a little nervous, too. It helps to remember that when you’re sitting across a table from them.

So the next time you get an opportunity to pitch to an agent or editor, make sure you seize it!

GIVEAWAY: Peggy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: MikeHays won.)

 

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24 Responses to 7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference

  1. JanelleFila says:

    Great advice. I suggest taking advantage of any pitch prep classes your conference offers, and practice, practice, practice! The very first class at the last conference I attended asked for volunteers to pitch their query to the audience. The moderator, an agented author, gave me glowing feedback and single handedly wrestled three fulls and two partials from agents I was not signed up to pitch (and one who wasn’t even at the conference!) You never know who might be interested in what you have to say, so say it loud and proud! Thanks for the article. Janelle http://www.janellefila.com

  2. Peter Taylor says:

    These are great pieces of advice and I’ll be delighted to share the link to this article.

    There are many kinds of pitch. I agree that it can be daunting – particularly pitching in front of an audience, when you don’t want to appear a gibbering idiot (though in fact, that’s unlikely). But you’re right that editors and agents are human and are genuinely interested to know what you have in mind – whether it’s to their taste or not. They appreciate that people get nervous – and they will be judging your idea, not you as a person. And their judgement is only their own opinion – another agent or editor may love it. Pitching is just an opportunity for you to attempt to interest that individual. You may or may not learn from their comments – often you will and can make changes accordingly, but not always.

    I live in Australia. In 2010 I pitched the first 250 words of a children’s picture book to a panel of an editor and three agents at an international symposium. The two agents from America and the UK editor said ‘What’s a dingo, and what’s a brolga? I don’t think our children would be interested in those. It’s a ‘No’ for me.’ The audience liked it and suggested the animals would be illustrated, but to no avail. The other agent was more encouraging, but in response I could have changed the animals to lions, mice or other familiar creatures. The text was entered into a competition and wasn’t shortlisted. A month later and with no changes, it was pitched to an editor at another Conference in 2012, and she loved it. It’s published and released this week, complete with a CD of the words being sung to the rhythm of Waltzing Matilda. I hope that even American and English children will love it. I guess we’ll see from the sales figures if the panel was correct.

    If you pitch your work in progress or proposal, and the editor/agent likes it but you don’t complete it in a year, what’s the worst thing that can happen? If they have expressed interest, I think you’ve hit the jackpot and discovered that the concept has the potential to also be liked by a number of others …at some time in the future. Months after interest has been expressed, you can inform the person that they’ll be the first to receive it when it’s been completed (at a date that can’t be defined), but admit that you’re currently bogged down in research or tell them that you have had other works accepted, you’re working on those and the text you pitched is currently on the back burner. If it takes you six years and the person has moved or is no longer interested, at least you know that there’s a good chance that it will be worth the effort to eventually finish it to your satisfaction (submitted in haste and rejected at leisure…). But I think the chances are that if the pitch was impressive, they’ll be eager to consider it at absolutely any time.

    Best wishes to all

    Peter

  3. vrundell says:

    Wow! Thanks for the great advice. I had never thought about pitching raw ideas before, but now I know what else to chat about.
    Best of luck,
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

  4. Debbie says:

    I’m glad to hear that a pitch might entail questions. What someone asks can tell a lot about the depth of what is being offered. Thank you for that important point.

  5. Thank you so much for these timely pieces of advice. I’m going to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference in a few weeks and I signed up for the “speed dating” pitch session. I’ve also recently signed with Abbot Press so I can’t pitch the work that will go to them, but I wanted to participate in the pitch session anyway with the thought that I would just take the time to speak with the agents/editors/publishers. Ideally, I’d like to ask them what they think about my other thoughts and concepts for future works, and areas of focus. Your article has just verified for me it is okay for me to use my time with them in that manner.

    Robin

  6. Vicky says:

    Thanks for the wonderful advice! I went to a conference recently and the agents were swamped!

    Now that I’ve read your tips, I can better prepare myself.

    Thanks a million!

  7. Clae says:

    Very helpful advice, thanks.

  8. Rosi says:

    Lots of great tips, but #6 is especially good. Thanks.

  9. Excellent advice! I’ve never formally pitched a project before, and have no idea how I’d do. Sometimes I wing it well, other times I speed-talk. Hopefully, I’ll be to the pitching stage by this time next year.

  10. Haypher says:

    I’ve never pitched because I thought you had to have your manuscript finished or 95% finished. Didn’t realize you could use that time for something other than pitching your book. For instance, loved the suggestion of asking them to read the first pages and tell me when they would stop and why. That would be amazingly helpful.

    Thanks!

  11. shellisue says:

    Great tips Peggy! I’m especially surprised and happy that the etiquette for getting agents your manuscript is a YEAR if you pitch. Totally didn’t know that! I went to a conference last September and I haven’t sent it yet to the agents who requested it. I thought I’d missed the boat with these agents but apparently not. Thanks again.

  12. marquest says:

    All good tips. Number 3, the part about talking about your book to normal people would be too hard for me to do as there’s no one I can talk to. I’ve tried practising talking to myself but it feels silly and repetitive.

    I actually went to a so called pitch workshop as part of a writers festival event. I don’t know how much I paid, but it was one of the biggest ripoff ever. The “workshop” was just five editors from different publications talking about their experiences as editors and the things they didn’t like when receiving submissions. They were so bloody precious, too, making fun of wannabes who had dared to contradict their judgement. They talked for about two hours, asked if anyone had any questions (a few did–I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth); and then finished off by suggesting we check the submission guidelines on their websites and buy some of their readily-available-for-purchase mags/books which were placed at a table near the door for our convenience.

    • atwhatcost says:

      marquest,
      Hopeful writer to hopeful writer–both of us with no real-world friends and family who want to hear us about our novels, I wanted to respond to the idea of talking to ourselves seems silly and repetitive.

      We’ve made up a world that doesn’t exist, even if it’s this world, because the characters don’t really exist, and then we’ve spent long hours in that world perfecting it. That doesn’t strike you as a bit sillier than talking to yourself? If it wasn’t, why do you think no one wants to hear about what we’ve been doing? Oh, and then we’ve repeated the process, at least a few times, not just to perfect the world and the characters, but to perfect every jot and tittle. What’s wrong with repetitive?

      This is not the time to get completely rational now. We have a story that’s crawled into us and won’t let go. Silly and repetitive took up residence in our minds long ago, or we wouldn’t have something to pitch. Talking to ourselves can’t possibly be weirder, and it’s not a sign of crazy. It’s only crazy when it’s a two-sided conversation and neither side is listening to each other. Don’t rational your way out of doing that under “it’s too silly and repetitive now.” We’ve embarked on that boat so long ago, The Pitch is a sign we’re getting close to our destination. ;)

      • marquest says:

        Hi Atwhatcost,
        Sorry it took me so long to answer. Since I don’t expect people to reply, I don’t normally check back on posts. Anyway, thanks for replying. When I mentioned I sounded silly and receptive, I wasn’t referring to the process of talking to myself–I talk to myself all the time and I don’t find that weird or crazy, or silly at all. In fact, I love it. That’s how I create my characters. What I was trying to do was address the way tip 3, which is about practicing your pitch with family and friends, relates to me. The point I was trying to make is that not everybody has family and friends to practice their pitch with and that not having other people to practice the pitch with is very hard for me personally. I know there are writers out thee who have no problem pitching solo. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. My pitch sounds lame to me. My voice sounds whinny. I stumbled over my words a lot. There’s no flow to it. I keep repeating the same things. Maybe I’m just too critical or insecure. I don’t know, but It’d be nice to have other people encouraging me and supporting my work, for a change.

        There’s a pitch conference in New York (http://newyorkpitchconference.com) might be the kind of thing I need. It sounds extremely daunting, though. I don’t know if I have the courage to face people who are going to pull my work apart or the resilience to deal with it afterwards. I know my work isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t want anyone to rubbish it either. I read some of the reviews and people say it isn’t for the faint hearted. The thing is I know I need to work on my pitch and its delivery and being at home talking to myself isn’t going to do it.

  13. Miriamrae says:

    I love this! I was wondering tho’, how much does it usually cost for ten min of an agent/editor’s time?

  14. Lathya says:

    This gave me a few things to think about. I’m almost done with my final edit of a book and I’m confused about the next step. I’m like, I have a book…now what…?

  15. MikeHays says:

    #4 and #6 are priceless. I’ve been so focused on the pitch before, that I almost became paralyzed when the editor asked a simple question not related to the project I was pitching. Deer in the headlights because I didn’t think of the pitch as an opportunity.

  16. Karen Meyer says:

    I’ve never been to a writer’s conference, but I am serious about improving my craft.
    When you pitch in person at a conference, isn’t it unlikely that the agent is looking for
    your genre? Or maybe that problem is solved by choosing the right writer’s conference.

    • Peggy Eddleman says:

      If it’s a genre-specific conference (like one on writing romance, or on writing mysteries, for example), then the organizers ask agents to come to the conference who represent those genres.

      If it’s a more broad writer’s conference, they will usually try to get several agents to come, covering as many genres / age groups as possible. So if you are going to a conference, you can research the agents coming, and choose the one that seems like the best fit for you and your manuscript.

      So the answer is, if you are going to a conference that covers what you write, there’s a good chance that there’s an agent that reps what you write. It doesn’t always work this way, but it usually does. :)

  17. writermom116 says:

    All these tips are insightful, but #3 & #4 really resonate with me. I get very nervous talking to people and would most likely speed-talk and waste a lot of my time as well. I hope to get to a couple of conferences this year, and will definitely plan out my questions and practice my pitch to random friends, strangers or anyone else who’ll listen!

  18. Michael G-G says:

    Some great advice here. I think agents might welcome the chance to have a conversation, rather than be pitched at all day.

    (Love the cover of your novel, by the way.)

  19. burrowswrite says:

    Love number one! I have had the chance a few time and always jumped at it mostly for the experience of figuring out what questions are asked, and what agents/editors are looking for.

  20. DanielR says:

    Great advice here! I have not spent much time on the conference circuit, but this year I plan to and will put some of your suggestions to use. Thanks.

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