Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Houston Writer's Conference Countdown: How to Pitch

Yesterday we talked about working the room. How to strike up conversation with agents and editors at conferences you attend. How to do that, first and foremost, without ever, EVER pitching. Just don't. Trust me.

Today, let's talk about when you will be pitching: a pitch session (see how that works?). The only other pitchable scenario being a query letter. Want more on why those are the only two pitch moments? Check out this post here.

You've signed up for a pitch session. How do you make this a productive session, wherein you charm the agent or editor, get your premise across, and maybe get a request? Well, first, a little secret:

Agents (not to mention editors, who rarely deal directly with author queries) are most comfortable evaluating projects via a query or requested manuscript. Why? Most verbal pitches are HORRIBLE. There. I said it.

You're a writer, not (necessarily) a public speaker! You're unlikely to EVER give a better verbal pitch than you will with a query letter. And agents and editors are primed to prefer written pitches. But then what's the point of a live pitch session? Well, face time, as with all things at a conference. But it should also be educational. Here's what you should do.***

  •  Be Quiet. Soon. When you sit down, say hello and then give your one-sentence log line, which everyone should concoct for their book. It should include the wordcount, category and genre (eg: adult fantasy, YA paranormal), main character's name, and what the main conflict is. Tell the agent or editor what happens. Then stop talking. No "themes." No "tones." No "styles." Let the agent/editor ask questions about your sentence, or get really excited. Either way, let this be a conversation. 
  • Bring your hard copy query letter. At some point, when conversation lulls (note that if the agent is just really excited, just keep chatting with him or her), mention that you've got your query and would they like to look at it with you. Don't consider this step failure (ie the agent isn't gushing). We've already covered that verbal pitching is really hard. Loglines are even harder. So, let the conference be the learning opportunity that it is, and don't judge yourself. I guarantee that showing the agent your query will mean you leave with a permanently improved query.
  • Ask Questions If the agent is not loving what you're pitching, ask why. If they say it's not right for them, that's really true. Some stories just don't hit the right spot, even if the agent or editor "works on" that genre. But beyond that, you could glean some candid market info--maybe a slew of other books like yours were just announced, which means that your book is behind the trend (no one's fault). Follow up question? Ask what the agent/editor thinks the next trend is. Maybe you can tailor your query that direction. If they love the book, ask more about why--trends are always good topics.
***The other thing about pitches is that you have almost NO time. 2 minutes. 5. Some are 10, which is better. But basically you should go in with a very specific agenda (while leaving room for this to be a conversation): log line, agent response, query letter, planned question or two. If you walk in just planning to pitch and...pitch, you'll leave with zero new information.


  1. I don't know how long it will be before I can get to a writer's conference, but I will need these pointers in the future.

    Thanks for pulling back the curtain.

  2. I'll be there in Houston - how weird would it be if I came in with your script filled in like madlibs?

    Thanks for the tips --

    1. Yikes, more weird is the way my name shows...damn apostrophe is always a problem...

  3. I have a 500,000 word memoir of my time in Yakalsylvania. I know it will be a bestseller. Think Jaws meets The Bible. Here's my query. I dare you to try to improve it.

    1. You stole my fiction novel idea! Lawsuits! My shark will be in touch with your shark, uh, I mean you, forthwith!

    2. Your shark wears army boots.