Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for What I wish I had known before pitching to an agent


I am a huge, huge, huge proponent of pitching your book in person to an agent.

Why? Because of what it gets you! I'm sure you know that agents get tons of queries every single day. A good portion of them (like 90%) come from people who haven't worked very hard on perfecting their craft. Agents know that if you go to conferences, you're likely in that top 10%. 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. They don't have to wade through that 90% to get to you. Not only that, but it gives both of you a chance to know each other. And that's invaluable.

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

Here's what I wish I would've known before pitching. (It's important to know that the conferences I've been to are ones where you pitch to one or two agents, and have a dedicated 10 minute scheduled time to meet with them. I know some conferences do a pitch-a-palooza type event where you go from agent to agent, and only spend a couple of minutes at each one. At that type of pitching event, there are a couple of these tips that might not apply.)

Tip #2: if you don't get a pitch session, get on a waiting list, because people cancel theirs all the time.

I pitched to my agent last year at the same conference I'm going to next week. It almost didn't happen, though! I was, quite possibly, the first person to sign up for the conference, so I could've had my pick of agents to pitch to (each person can have a max of one pitch).

Buuuuut.... I figured I would fumble my way through a pitch, so it would be better to just send a highly crafted query. Eventually, a good friend talked me into it, but by then the pitch sessions were already taken. So, I went on a waiting list.

Tip #3: Figure out what you want to cover. Don't memorize a script, but do memorize the points you want to cover. Then you can talk like a normal person about it.

I went to a class on how to pitch at a conference two months earlier. I had my 2-3 sentence pitch ready, and practiced on everyone who would listen, working to make it sound conversational, but still cover everything I wanted to cover.

Tip #4: Go with other questions in mind.

Then I went into my pitch session I speed-talked my way through it, because that's what I do when I'm nervous!I don't ramble-- I leave things out. So my pitch was done less than 30 seconds. She had asked me questions and I had answered them, and under the two minute mark, she had requested my full. Then she said, "Do you have any questions for me?" I had not even thought about questions for her! I just sat there, completely awkward, saying "Um.... Uh.... Oh.... Uh.... Nope?" Then I shook her hand and left, with seven minutes of our meeting unused!

People, don't do what I did! (See how willing I am to embarrass myself for your benefit?) Think about what you really want to talk about. This is golden time. Ask about their agenting style. Ask about the industry. Ask about the process. Ask about craft. You can even ask questions about your book-- like things about the plot you can't figure out. Ask about ANYTHING writing related! Chat. See how your personalities mesh. Just don't leave seven minutes early.

Tip #5: Don't cancel your pitch if your book isn't ready to send!

When you signed up for a pitch-- yeah, it was five months earlier, and you thought your novel would be ready, but it isn't. Don't cancel your pitch! IMHO, the only reason to cancel a pitch is if you got an got an agent between when you signed up and the conference. If your book isn't ready (but you're working hard to get it there), pitch the book 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 all the way ready when you pitch! You have plenty of time to make it shine. You are pitching to see if that 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 they have the right contacts to sell.

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.

Let's say you signed up for a pitch, but it just doesn't feel right to pitch your book, for whatever reason. Those ten minutes are still yours! I've had friends use them in ways other than pitching, and the agents in every case have been more than willing to help out.
  • A friend brought their query letter and asked for a critique.
  • A friend brought their first three pages and asked the agent to read until they would normally stop, and then talk about what stopped them.
  • And I've had friends say, "I'm about to start writing a new novel. I have these five [or however many] ideas, but I'm having troubles deciding which one to use." Then they tell the five ideas, and ask which is the most marketable idea.
Tip #7: Don't be nervous. Really.

And the most important thing: remember that they are just people! I know it feels like they're rock stars, but they're completely normal. It kind of helps to remember that when you're sitting across a table from them. :)

34 comments:

Angela Cothran said...

These are awesome Peggy! I'm generally really collected. I have TONS of public speaking experience, but for some reason talking about my MS sends me over the edge. Maybe it's because it's SO personal.

I love the idea of having points and hitting those. My question is...Plot points? World building points? Things that make your book different?

And if you have time will you stop by my blog today and tell me which of my log lines you like best? You are my idol:)

Steph Sessa said...

Super awesome post! Thanks! What about pitching to editors? I'm not really sure if I understand it. Do you pitch to editors if you have an agent? Or can you do it if you don't have an agent? What's the pros to pitching to an editor when you don't have an agent?

Joshua said...

Now I'm scared. And I'm bookmarking this for future reference. Not just so it can scare me again.

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Thank you so much for this! I have a pitch session scheduled for next week (possibly the same conference you're going to, I think) and, of course, the book isn't ready to go and have been debating canceling it. But you've convinced me to go. :)

Daisy Carter said...

Ah! LOVE this post! I got my agent through a conference pitch! I pitched Erin Murphy, who is STELLAR! She loved my hook so requested the full. She passed it on to Tricia, her newest agent, who loved it and ended up offering representation herself!

David P. King said...

These points will come in handy when I pitch next week (at the same conference you're going to - prepare to get stalked!). Looking forward to another year of awesomeness! :)

Paige Kellerman said...

What a great post, Peggy! I didn't know about the whole pitching anyway even if your MS isn't super super shiny perfect. Now I just need to work up the courage to go do it. Sharing!

Colin Smith said...

Unfortunately, a conference is not a financially viable reality for me anytime soon (outside of WriteOnCon), but these sound like awesome tips, Peggy! Should my circumstances change and I am able to get to a conference, I will definitely keep these in mind! :)

Carrie Butler said...

I so want to do this! Hmm...

------------------------
Dear Industry Overlords,

Please hold more conferences in Ohio.

Thank you,
Carrie Butler
------------------------

Of course, that leads to my next letter:

------------------------
Dear Potential Sugardaddies...
------------------------

I kid, I kid! *Grins* Great post!

Nicole said...

Great tips!!

Annalisa Crawford said...

Great post. I'm really not sure it works in the same way in the UK though. In fact, I'm not sure there are very many writer's conferences - all the festivals semed aimed at readers.

Angela Brown said...

I had the best time doing a pitch session during the last conference I went to (thought nothing came of it as far as no rep offer from an agent). A lot of what you mention in your tips were shared during a prep session some of us had on the first night of the conference. Sort of a boot camp for pitch sessions. The agent filled the room with her energy, got everyone involved and helped us form "movie" pitches like "Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief meets Snatch". So much fun, especially since most of us were fantasy and YA novelists-in-training. Mine involved Eragon and something but I can't remember lol!!! Then she reminded us that agents are gatekeepers, but clients are their bread and butter. No clients, no sales, no income. That helped bring down the nervousness levels.

Patti said...

Such great tips. I've booked marked this page. The only problem I have is with your last piece of advice, "don't be nervous". But I guess being prepared would helps with that.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

These are great! I loved the ideas for what to do in that appointment instead of pitching. :)

Happy A-Z!

Susan Kane said...

Excellent points!

Tonja said...

Sincerely, this is the most helpful post I've read anywhere in a really long time. Thanks!

Jessie Humphries said...

I was one of those girls from last year that totally decided to ask for advice on my first pages. I was pitching to Sara Megibow and she was all too willing to tell me what she thought. I think anything is up for grabs. Well, not anything...there's no need to talk about your fascination with taxedermy, and how you have all five of your dogs stuffed in your bedroom. That's definitely not appropriate. I meant writing related :). Great stuff Peggy.

Cristina said...

awesome tips! I'm bookmarking this because some day, some day.. I might actually have a finished book to pitch :)

Mara Rae said...

This makes me wish I was going to a conference in the next four months (before I move), but there just aren't enough free weekends/money to make that happen this year :( I'm guessing there aren't a lot of writer's conferences in Yekaterinburg, either! *sigh*

Shallee said...

You have NO IDEA how much I needed this post! I'm pitching at Storymakers next week, and I swear, you just answered every one of my questions/concerns!

Thanks a million. :)

Faith E. Hough said...

Such good advice, Peggy!
I had a critique with an agent last year--we sat down, and she immediately said, "I loved this and would love if you could send me the full. Do you have any questions for me?" After which I stumbled about for 10 minutes trying to come up with things to say! :)

Laura Marcella said...

This is awesome advice, Peggy! I'm tucking it away for future reference. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Fine. I did't sign up for the Storymaker pitches. *sigh*

Caryn Caldwell said...

So, so true! Of course, one of the biggest advantages of pitching is that no one wants to say 'no' to your face. I had a lot better luck with pitching than with query letters, and I think that's part of the reason.

This year I'll be pitching to editors at a conference instead of agents, so I'm already having flashbacks to the agent pitches I've done!

Cindy Dwyer said...

What are the odds of me clicking on random A2Z links and finding yours? I'm going to a conference on Saturday! What timely advice. Thank you.

Of course, I'm clicking on these links to procrastinate coming up with my pitch...LOL.

Trisha said...

Thank you for sharing your expertise, Peggy! This is an invaluable collection of tips for anyone planning to pitch soon!

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

Hi Peggy, I've been enjoying your informative posts and yesterday I came back to your blog to read through that post about making your own "most-viewed posts". I went through it step by step and I'm very happy with how it turned out! So thanks for that!
Duncan In Kuantan

tfwalsh said...

Great advice... the last part would be the hardest for me... not being nervous.. I'd probably me a mumbling mess...:)

Maggie McGee said...

REally good information! Thanks!

Rosalyn said...

This is really timely advice (I'm also pitching at Storymakers next week). Also, I had not one, but two different people recommend this post to me yesterday. :)

Jack said...

So awesome of you to have given these tips. Now I really want to head on in to a conference and try to hone my pitching skills! Bookmarked!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Such great advice, Peggy, and so nice of you to share your wisdom with all of us, even if you feel embarrassed, which you shouldn't, because we all have to learn, right? :)

Nicole Mc said...

Peggy!!!!!!!!!!! If you were sitting in front of me right now I would kiss you!!! I leave for my first ever conference Thursday and have TWO PITCHES!!! I'm a wreck, but this was incredibly helpful. *kiss*kiss* :)

Charlie Holmberg said...

Love this post!

I've been to a lot of conferences, but not-a-one has ever had a pitch session! (Though I did get to chat with Lou Anders with a small group at WorldCon last year, that was nice.) I'm thinking I have to get into World Fantasy do find pitch sessions... but I don't think that will happen anytime soon (yay money).

I DID get the first few pages of my book into a reading shindig at LDStorymakers, but I had to give up my spot at that conference since my husband's graduation was the same day (I'm such a good wife, I know...).