Next week I’ll be at the Storymakers conference, where I’m one of the agent liaisons. (I’ve spent more time than I care to think of in the last week scheduling pitch sessions and sending emails about said pitch sessions). As part of my job, I also get to field questions from attendees about how to best approach their pitch sessions.
Most of these tips can be summed up under be prepared and be professional.
Do your research. Before the conference starts, make sure you know something about the agent or editor you’re meeting with. What kinds of books do they represent?
Prepare your pitch. Even though most pitch sessions are ten minutes, you don’t want your pitch to take the full ten minutes. Your pitch should be a short introduction to your book—something that will encourage the agent or editor to ask more questions. A good pitch will convey the plot, genre, and tone of the book—as well as what makes your story unique.
There are lots of great tips for elevator pitches online, but my basic rule for pitches is to include character (who is the story about), goal (what does the character want), conflict (what’s keeping them from what they want), and consequence (what’s at stake if the character fails—and if they succeed). For example, for A New Hope, a young farmboy (character) must learn to control his newfound Jedi powers to destroy the Empire’s newest weapon (goal and conflict) before the Empire quashes their rebellion (consequence).
Practice your pitch! This is harder than it sounds, because you want to sound natural talking about your book. Even if you’ve memorized your pitch, you should be able to deliver it in a conversational style. Practice on your friends (especially the ones you trust to tell you if you sound robotic). If you’re feeling brave, try asking fellow conference goers if they’ll let you practice your pitch on them.
Prepare questions. As mentioned above, your pitch shouldn’t take the full ten minutes. But if the agent or editor seems to exhaust their questions with time to spare, don’t panic! Use the rest of the time to ask the agent questions about publishing, market trends, querying, etc. Their expertise is an invaluable resource. Don’t let it go to waste.
Dress and act as a professional. Look like the professional writer you aspire to be. First impressions do matter, whether we want them to or not.
Be friendly in the session—don’t jump right into your pitch. A few seconds of greeting and small talk can help you relax and set a warmer tone for the pitch. As you’re pitching, remember not to monopolize the conversation. Let the agent or editor ask questions about you and your book; try to keep your answers concise so that you can cover more ground in the pitch session.
Be timely. This means both arrive early to your session so you’re ready to go when the agent is, and also wrap up your session when you’re given the signal to do so.
Say thank you. At the end of the session, remember to thank the agent for their time. It’s a nice gesture that doesn’t cost much, and can cement a good impression for the agent.
Take notes afterward. You can cover a lot of territory in ten minutes—it’s a good idea to take a few minutes after your session to write down any thoughts and impressions before they’re lost.
(Bonus) Have fun! In the stress of pitching, it’s easy to forget that you and the agent share an important commonality: you both love books. This is a chance to meet an interesting new person, and even if they may not be destined to be your agent, you can glean some great tips from the session—and maybe even enjoy yourself. My very favorite pitch session was one where we spent fully half of the session talking about the books we loved. While the pitch itself went well, it’s that conversation that stays with me.
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.