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.
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. :)