July is deep into the writing workshop season so I thought I would tackle one of the most stressful components – the dreaded agent pitch session. Next week I’ll get even more specific and focus on the one line pitch.
At many writer’s conferences, agents are invited to speak with authors who have completed manuscripts. The writer typically signs up for a five to ten minute interview with an agent, and during that time they are asked to sell their book. Often the conference presenters will inform writers if the agent prefers to receive anything during the meeting, such as a written query or a synopsis. The agents won’t typically carry away entire manuscripts because of the size and weight, but it can’t hurt to be prepared! I would at least bring the first 10-20 pages… just in case.
Some things to consider for your first pitch session:
Don’t wing it
Prepare and polish. Plan a 2-3 minute explanation of your book. Imagine your book as a movie at the theatres. You’ve seen the movie and want to convince your best friend to go with you and see it again. Your best friend says – what’s it about? Think about how you would answer that question. You wouldn’t discuss character arc and conflict resolution. You would summarize the plot, focusing on the most exciting elements of the movie. You have to do that with your book. Practice on a friend. Sell them your book in 2 minutes. Listen to the questions they ask. Refine your pitch. Next week’s post should be helpful. I’ll explain more specifically about crafting the all-important first line of your pitch.
First, before signing up for a pitch session, research to make sure the agent actually represents the kind of book you are selling. I talked to an agent at a writer’s conference last year who said she is shocked how often people sit down to pitch a manuscript, and it doesn’t match the kind of books she represents.
Once you’ve been assigned to an agent, do as much research as you can to find out the kinds of books they represent. What have they sold in the past three years? Do any of the books have anything in common with your own? Be prepared to explain the similarities/differences. It shows your serious and well-prepared. Does the agent have a website/blog? Have they been interviewed on the web or in magazines? Do they have a bio on their agency website that lists their particular likes and dislikes?
Prepare a knock-out synopsis and query
While most agents won’t lug home a manuscript from everyone they talk to, they will most likely want your query letter and synopsis. Be professional and above all – sell your book! Walk the fine line between writing professionally and writing academically. The same agent I spoke with last summer about the need for writers to do their homework, also said she receives synopsis that read more like college dissertations than a proper summary of the book.
Prepare for questions
I pitched my book, The Territory, to an agent at the Midwest Writer’s Conference. I can’t say that it went very well, but it was a good learning experience. I was extremely nervous. I had done my homework, I knew the books she represented, I knew how my book would fit nicely into her list, and I had memorized my pitch. I had practiced until I could run it in my sleep. On my way up to the conference table where she was sitting, my sandal broke, so I limped to her table, trying to grasp the front of my shoe with my toes so it wouldn’t completely fall off my foot. Worse though, after I completed my spiel, she asked a few specific questions about the book. I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t even considered what kind of questions she might ask me. She caught me off guard and I stumbled through an answer that did nothing to sell my book. Needless to say, she didn’t ask to represent my book.
Prepare for Criticism
At times, agents will offer constructive criticism during a pitch session. Be prepared mentally to accept the criticism. Arguing with the agent about his misinterpretation of your brilliant concept won’t help you – it will only make you look petty and ungracious. That’s no way to sell your book. If you’ve connected with an agent and feel that you didn’t represent your book the way you intended, send a follow-up query. Remind the agent who you are, where you met, and explain the miscommunication. Much better approach than making the agent wish he had never met you!
If you are on the agent trail this summer I wish you the best of luck!