Editor’s note: I am declaring November 2010 to be “Agent Guest Column Month,” and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 3: Today’s guest agent is Miriam Kriss of Irene Goodman Literary.
Miriam Kriss is an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing commercial fiction and she
represents everything from hardcover historical mysteries to all subgenres of romance, from young adult fiction to kick ass urban fantasies, and everything in between.
Miriam’s co-agent, Irene Goodman, offers manuscript critiques on eBay every month, starting on the first day of each month, with all proceeds going to charity. Click on the link for more details on these critiques and charity auctions.
I go to a lot of writers’ conferences and the highlight of many of them for both myself and the aspiring authors who attend them is the agent pitch sessions. The format of these appointments varies from conference to conference. Sometimes they’re five- to ten-minute meetings between an agent and an aspiring writer, other times they’re speed dating style mini encounters. Still other conferences go with a group pitch model where a group of writers sit down all at once with an agent.
Whatever the format these are opportunities for writers to not only convey their excitement about their project to an industry professional but to also get some sense of who the agent is and if they would like to work with them. Often attendees put a great deal of pressure on themselves for these meetings and feel the whole of their future careers depend on this short encounter. I wanted to give some tips about what agents look for in a pitch to let you feel more prepared the next time you sit down across from your dream agent.
1. Know Thy Genre (or Sub-Genre)
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to with someone and asked them what they write, only to be faced with confusion. Knowing where your book would live in the bookstore is crucial to making sure the agent can evaluate it properly. Even if you’re writing something that has elements from several genres, it’s important to understand it can only be shelved in one place when in the bookstore, so you need to determine who your audience is and make that clear from the beginning of your pitch.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This isn’t the moment to go into every intricate plot point. Rather, think of your pitch in terms of cover copy. What’s your log line? A logline, or one sentence pitch, is a phrase borrowed from Hollywood, where as Mamet’s character Charlie Fox said in Speed the Plow, “You can’t tell it to me in one sentence, they can’t put it in TV Guide.” This is the intrinsic hook that will make people want to pick up your book. A common mistake I see is for people to try to use that one sentence to sum up every aspect of their story and then get frustrated when it doesn’t. This isn’t meant to be a synopsis of your plot, rather it’s bait to make people want to read it. Likewise, the body of your pitch should be more like back cover copy than a synopsis, meant to give the high points of the story, not a blow by blow account. Overall, remember, you know this story inside and out, after all you wrote it, so don’t be afraid to just talk about it, rather than feeling you have to keep to a scripted pitch.
3. Seize the Pitch Session
This is your moment. You paid for it and it’s yours. So after you’ve pitched and the agent has decided whether they want you to send them something or not, if your appointment time isn’t up you should feel free to ask questions about the market, the industry or the specific agency. Think of it as a one on one agent panel. Bringing a short list of questions in with you in case you have time to ask them can be helpful. And in a group pitch remember, if you have that question, odds are someone else in the group was wondering the same thing.
4. Follow Through
If the agent gives you specific instructions on how he or she want to get your material be scrupulous in following them. This is hard to do if you’ve completely forgotten what they were. I recommend that people write down what the agent wants and how he or she wants it because it’s easy in the excitement of the request to think you’ll remember, and then forget a small detail of it when you get home and sit down to send it out.
People often come into these meetings very nervous, and I want to assure you really don’t need to be. This one meeting will not make or break your career, promise. It’s an opportunity to not only pitch your book but also get honest feed back from an industry professional. Keep in mind that agents come into a pitch session wanting to hear something fabulous and we’re looking to fall in love. Hopefully it will be with your story, but whether it is or isn’t, how you pitch will never be as important as what you put on the page.
And remember: If you’re looking for a professional manuscript critique for a good cause, go to irenegoodman.com for more details.