Pitching in person

I love going to writers conferences. I get to see new places, meet editors and other agents, and help writers put their best foot forward. At just about every conference, there’s a live pitch session, where writers get the chance to pitch their book to an agent. A lot of writers come to me and they’re nervous. I understand why; they’ve worked hard on their book and this is a chance for it to get the attention of a larger audience.

I say no to a lot of pitches. Most of the time, it’s not because the pitch is bad, but because the book is just not something that pushes my YES I HAVE TO HAVE THIS BOOK button. If there’s still time in the pitch session after I turn a book down, I often ask the writer if they have a question I can answer. The question I get asked the most is How can I improve my pitch? Here is some of the advice I give.

 

  • Loglines. I hate them. I know I’m not the only agent who does. To me, they’re completely meaningless as the opening to a pitch. They might be nice to have once we sign a client and put together pitches for editors, but I believe too many writers waste time writing loglines that don’t help them catch an agent’s attention. Spend about one minute working on a logline for every thirty minutes spent working on your pitch.
  • Remember the point of a pitch: It’s not to tell your life story or how the book came to exist. It’s to get the agent to want to read the book. Everything else is secondary, especially if you write fiction. With nonfiction it’s different, because your life story and how the book came to exist are part of your book’s platform. But since I represent fiction, that’s what I’m focusing on.
  • The overall structure of a good pitch: Introduce your main character and tell me something about him or her that makes me want to know more about their story. Then introduce your setting, as all characters are a product of their settings. Next, tell me what’s at stake for your main character. (AKA: What’s their biggest point of conflict?) Then stop. The end of your pitch should leave me wanting more.
  • Pitching is like getting to Carnegie Hall: You gotta practice man, practice. Practice reading your pitch aloud in front of a mirror. Hearing it can sometimes help you fix syntax or other errors. Practice reading your pitch to your friends, your significant other, your pet, your critique group, your webcam, whomever. The more you read it, the more comfortable you’ll become with it. You don’t need to memorize it word for word, but know how you want to lay out the characters and plot. That way, if you get in front of an agent and nerves hit, you’ll still know what you want to talk about.
  • Know that agents are human, and we’re generally nice people who want to hear about your book because it might just be exactly what we’re looking for. We will not bite. We will not tell you that you are a terrible person. We will not reach across the table and steal your wallet.
  • “No” is not an invitation for you to justify why we should read your book. Every agent has different reasons for saying yes or no to a pitch. Sometimes I say yes. A majority of the time, I say no. I feel it’s important for writers to understand that when an agent says that your book is not right for him or her, they mean it. That’s the end of the discussion. The more a writer argues with me about why I’m saying no, the less I want to say yes, because if this person is going to argue with me and I haven’t even read their book, how am I going to manage their career?
  • The best place to look at a good pitch is your local bookstore. Pick up some novels that are in a similar vein to yours and read the jacket copy. Jacket copy, like your pitch, is meant to entice readers. It introduces the main character(s), presents the problem, and leaves you at a point where you (hopefully) want to pick up the book and find out what happens.
  • Be able to pitch your entire book in 60 seconds, but have more information on hand if the agent wants to hear more.
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