Monday, March 7, 2011

Pitching to Agents at Conferences

Pitching your book to agents at conferences is a great opportunity, and anyone who's done it knows how exciting/nerve wracking it can be.  Talk about high stakes!  Will the agent request pages?  Will she at least request a query letter?  Or maybe, the full manuscript?

It helps tremendously if you have two things going for you:

First, an awareness that agents are just people, too, and that they really do want to hear what you have to say. Most will tell you that they know writers are usually nervous when they pitch, and that's all right; they can hear what they need to through your nerves.  So go for it.

Second, a clear, concise understanding of what should be in the pitch.

Start by introducing yourself, stating the title, genre and word length of your book, and whether it's complete (it should be complete before you pitch to an agent, and it's important that you tell them it is).

Then there are two more pieces, one short and one a little longer.

The short one is one sentence that describes the heart of your story. This is also known as the log line. To figure out your log line, ask yourself what it is that truly drives the story.  What is it the characters are compelled to do and why? If this doesn't come to you succinctly, think in terms of what the private stakes are for the character (life, liberty, etc.), and what the public stakes are—what thing bigger than, or outside, the character created the possibility of this situation.

Here's the log line that James Scott Bell gives in his book, The Art of War for Writers, for THE FUGITIVE:  A respected surgeon, wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, must evade capture by a team of U.S. Marshals until he finds the real killer.  

For the longer piece of your pitch, think of what you would write after the log line for your back cover copy.  You want to include:

a) what the question is that has to be answered (that comes from the plot)/what causes the protagonist's quest.  Use your protagonist's name in this part of the pitch.

b) what it is the protagonist faces in order to defend/support/challenge how the question is being answered

c) what defining action takes place that allows a resolution and a major revelation

Try to do this second part in five-to-seven sentences, and keep the pitch under two minutes.  You will want to have time after you finish for the agent to ask questions and to talk a little. Be ready to ask the agent a couple of questions, too, about her agency and how she likes to work with clients.  If you're able to show an agent that you know something about her by asking your questions, and that you have an idea of how you like to work, beyond the writing itself, that can be impressive.

There's a blog post up today from the terrific agent, Jessica Faust at BookEnds, that covers her guidelines for the pitch. It's an excellent read.

Any pitching stories or wisdoms you have to share?  We can all learn from each other.



  1. Linda thank you for great pitching advice. If we can do everything you suggested here, and share it with enthusiasm and passion, how can they not want to read it? I am going to read this again before PNWA conference in August. Your advice is incredible! Thank you.

  2. This is excellent advice Linda! One thing I would add is, practice your pitch to your friends, in the mirror, other conference attendees. It helps to get it down so when you pitch to the agent you can focus not on the words, but on the story. Great post!

  3. Hi, Linda,

    This is fantastic advise! I'm not attending any conferences soon, but I will definitely copy and past this post in my files for the future...


  4. I'm so glad you told us about this post today!!!! It's incredibly helpful. (Maybe in a month I'll have something to add!) For now, I'll go with this. :0) I'll be posting my logline in a day or two on my blog, you'll have to stop by and see whether or not I put your advice to good use! I'll need the help! Christy

  5. Thanks, Linda!! We've been looking up a ton of info on this lately, too. Some agents say they requests materials from every person who pitches since they put all the effort/money into it, while others say it's no better than the slushpile. So yes, preparation (at least as much as we put into our queries - which is a lot) is going to be key. Thanks for the advice!
    (Linda, btw, the email in your profile keeps kicking back to me)

  6. Karlene, if they ONLY represent YA/MG, then maybe they could resist our grownup stories; otherwise I simply can't imagine they would!

    Heather, thanks for that comment and especially the addition of the advice to practice the pitch. Yes, you are so right! Getting comfortable enough to focus on the story instead of the words is key.

  7. Thanks, Michael. I'm glad you found it interesting— hope it comes in handy!

  8. Christy, that's exciting that you're going to post your logline on your blog. I will definitely be there to check it out! Can't wait to see what your book's about.

  9. No better than the slushpile? I haven't heard that one. A lot of agents do request materials freely at conferences, though. Actually, if it's a writers membership organization that's putting on the conference, like PNWA (the Pacific Northwest Writers Association), the agents there figure you must be serious about writing since you not only came to the conference but are a member of PNWA, which has a good reputation. They know from experience that they will get more professional submissions there than what comes in with the average unsolicited email query.

    (Thanks for the profile email reminder! I think I finally got it fixed. Sorry about that!)

  10. These are great pitch tips--thanks!! :D

  11. You're welcome, Laura! I hope it's useful.

  12. This is an awesome post. I've never had the chance to pitch before (they don't do it at the LA SCBWI conference). I also thought it was no different than the slushpile (okay, maybe a little quicker) because agents were just as likely to reject your pitch as they were the query. Now I know better.

  13. I hope you do get to a pitch conference, Stina, if that appeals at all. The number I've heard for request success is 60%--there's a 60% chance of getting a request for your material at a conference where you pitch your book. Pitch to several agents; you're likely to get some requests. My own experience bears that out. You might love it!

  14. Hi Linda ~ Erica& Christy sent me your way. These are some excellent tips! I have pitched to an agent before. Sadly, it was kind of a nightmare for me. My nerves have a habit of always getting the best of me. But, I'm going to try again at the Pike's Peak conference at the end of April, so these tips are timely. Thanks!

  15. Me, too, Donea! Nerves can be so upsetting. It helps a lot to practice with friends (or even the mirror), as Heather said in her comment. But agents do know we get nervous, and understand. Best of luck at Pike's Peak! (It really is all about the writing, no matter what anyone says!)