If you’ve pitched at a conference, chances are you’ve read articles and blog posts about how to pitch. You’ve written out an elevator pitch. You’ve revised it until it shined. You practiced it in front of a mirror.
And you were scared out of your mind when your time came to face the agent across the table.
I’ve pitched at many conferences, but after the first couple of times, I started bending some of the supposed rules. While I’d had requests for pages before, I started getting enthusiastic requests for pages.
After I threw out the rule book on pitches, I got requests for full manuscripts.
Turns out that the “rules,” well, aren’t.
Here are a few things no one really tells you about pitch sessions:
The agent doesn’t want to hear a memorized elevator pitch.
Honest. If preparing one is helpful for you as the author in distilling your book down to its core components so you can talk about it better, then great—write one! But don’t rely on it, and if you can avoid it, don’t even use it.
Remember that your pitch session is going to last a whole lot longer than your 30-second pitch. What are you going to say after you’re done with the perfectly memorized verbal blurb?
What if the agent asks questions? Are you ready to answer questions about your book? What if the agent asks about what else you’ve written—or plan to write?
A pitch session isn’t an audition.
The goal of a pitch session isn’t to sell your book. The goal is to have an agent interested enough in you as a writer that they’ll consider taking you on as a client by reading some of your pages.
That means taking you on as a client for a career, not for a single book.
And that means you need to be thinking bigger than one book. You need to be thinking about the industry, about genre, and so many other things. Which, hopefully, you’ve already done, so you aren’t pitching your amazing epic fantasy to an agent represents only nonfiction and historical romance.
Do your homework on this one: If the agent doesn’t represent the kind of books you write, it won’t matter how much they adore your work; they won’t take you on as a client because they lack the industry contacts to sell your book.
A pitch session should be an interview—one that YOU conduct.
This is the biggest thing no one explained to me. I stumbled onto this truth one year when the book I’d planned to pitch wasn’t ready when I thought it would be. I didn’t have polished pages to send even if the agent wanted them.
Instead of giving up my pitch session, I walked in and talked with the agent about what she represented, what she’d recently sold, and how her bio indicated she repped other genres—so was she still interested in those other genres, when she hadn’t taken on a client in them in a long time?
It was a great conversation, and at the end, I had a much better idea about whether she and I would be a good fit. The answer: not really. She was a delightful person, but we weren’t a good fit professionally. Even so, she asked me to send her my WIP when it was ready.
That pitch changed how I viewed the entire process. I realized then that I needed to open the scope of what I’d been trying to do with pitches. From that point on, I went in with information about what I’d published to date, my current WIP, and where I hoped to go in future works.
I asked the agents questions about their approach, their personal preferences on a variety of industry things, what kinds of books they personally enjoy most, and more. One of many things that was very important to me was getting an editorial agent. Many agents don’t do editorial development with their clients, and that works great for some writers. But I know myself, and I knew I’d want an editorial agent.
My interview method WORKED.
Remarkably well, in fact. It’s almost freaky how well.
I believe part of the reason is that agents are people too. When you walk in, they’ve probably been listening to pitches hour after hour, all from petrified writers.
They’re likely exhausted after trying so long to be extra pleasant in an effort to make yet another neurotic writer feel at ease. (Wash, rinse, repeat, every ten minutes.)
All they want is to find that gem of a client who writes what they love to represent.
Be that person!
Why interviewing the agent makes sense:
They say that a bad agent is worse than no agent, or that a writer-agent relationship is sort of like a business marriage. Both are true.
So take your pitching time seriously. You paid for it. Make the most of it by digging around to ensure that the person you’re talking to would be a good fit for you, not just the other way around.
Do the work.
Research the agent in advance. Find out who their current clients are. Read up about them beyond the conference bio. Look up some of the books they represent. Read a couple of them. Follow the agent on social media to get a feel for their personality.
All of that will help you know in advance if you might be a good fit. If you think you are, bring all of the information you’ve gleaned into the pitch with you. You’ll be prepared with specific reasons you could be a good fit. For example, “My work is in the vein of your client Mary Jo Writer, only set in the Civil War instead of World War I, so I thought my work might interest you.”
In all of my time approaching pitches as job interviews (where I’m the one doing the interviewing), I’ve had exactly ONE time when the agent didn’t ask for pages. And in that case, it was clear even before the conference that a good fit was rather unlikely.
This was the only agent at the conference who might rep something other than YA, and I write for adults. I knew it was a long shot, but I didn’t want to give up the chance for a pitching experience. Midway through my time, I knew that having him read my pages would have been pointless. Quite simply, he wasn’t the agent for me, and I wasn’t the right client for him.
The giant irony: How I got my agent
I didn’t get my agent by pitching.
Or from a friend’s recommendation.
I simply queried the old-fashioned way.
I don’t regret any of the pitches I had. Each experience taught me something and prepared me for more. I learned a ton, and I’m grateful for those things. I think I’m a better client today because of those experiences and the work I put in before the pitches than I would have been otherwise.
And honestly, I’m really glad that none of those pitches worked out because I really love my agent!
Annette Lyon is a USA Today bestselling author, a five-time Best of State medalist for novels and short stories in Utah, and a Whitney Award winner. She’s a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English and is the author of over a dozen novels, at least as many anthologies, a chocolate cookbook, and a grammar guide. Annette is represented by Heather Karpas at ICM Partners. Her favorite chocolate is Fazer’s Blue bar, but as that’s not readily available in the States, she typically settles for See’s and Guittard.