Literary Agents #3: How To Pitch An Agent (Tips on Writing Tuesday #8)

In the first part of this series, we talked about what you should know about literary agents (hint: they are regular, everyday people!).  In the second part, we discussed why it would be a very good idea to pitch an agent in person.

Today, we will talk about how to pitch an agent.

1) Know What Your End Goal Is

Knowing how you are approaching the pitch and being comfortable with your decision will go a long way.  If you are shaking the agents hand and still don’t have a clue what direction you want to go, then you have a problem.

If your manuscript is ready and you are looking for representation, that’s wonderful.  If your end goal is to just get practice, network, and get feedback, that’s awesome, too – just make sure the agent knows.  Don’t try to pretend your book is done, when it’s not.

2) Dress Professional and Be Professional

The agent-author relationship is a business.  So if given the option of dealing with high-maintenance authors who have no idea how the business side publishing works, or working with writers who understand what it means to be prompt, courteous, easy-to-work with and NOT crazy…I’ll let you guess which author the agent will go with.

3) Use Your Time Wisely (aka The Anatomy of the Pitch)

Most conferences will allow anywhere from 7-10 minutes of time for you and the agent.  You want to take advantage of ALL of it.  You are in charge of the pitch, so knowing how to use your time is crucial.  In my experience, the pitch comes down to the three main parts: the intro, the pitch, the question and answer.

The intro should take no more than 30 seconds (maybe a minute if your agent seems especially friendly).  “Hello, my name is…nice to meet you…how are you enjoying the conference?  You can even ask about any new acquisitions they have or how a recent release is doing.  Doing so lets them know you have done your homework.  Smile and be friendly!

Then you go right into the pitch.  Tell the genre and word count of the book you are pitching and then give the pitch line – that one sentence that describes your story: “My book is James Bond meets vampires” or “My story is Joan of Arc meets Game of Thrones”.  You get the point.  Whatever it is, make it true and make it grab their attention.  Then go into the actual pitch.

The actual pitch of your book should be between 1 and 2 minutes long.  That’s it, no more.  Only a few main characters need to be mentioned.  What’s the protagonist want, how are they trying to get it and what/who is keeping them from it?  What is the conflict?

When you are done with the pitch…stop talking.  No, really, don’t say anything else.  Over and over again the one area where an author hijacks a perfectly good pitch is they don’t stop talking and walk themselves over a cliff.  Practice the pitch, say it, and then shutup:-)

You have just told the agent about your baby; the story you have been toiling over.  Let them ask you a question.  And then another…and then another.  When the questions come, keep your answers short and sweet and to the point, avoiding side tangents.  If you have done your job with the pitch, then the agent will have questions about the conflict, other characters, setting, etc.  Remember, you want it to be a conversation.

4) How to End the Pitch

When the time is up usually one of two things will happen: they will give you a card and tell you they want to see some or all of the manuscript, or they will shake your hand and think you for the visit.

If they want to see more of your work, take the card, thank them with a smile, and tell them you look forward to sending it and will be in touch shortly.  You can skip and jump and shout after you are out of their earshot.  If they don’t give you a card, still shake their hand, say thank you for their time, and walk away, grateful for the opportunity to grow as a writer.

Whether you feel the meeting was positive or negative, write your feelings about the experience as soon as possible.  What went well, what didn’t, what can you improve for the next experience you have with an agent?  Were there questions the agent had that you didn’t have answers too?  Learn from the experience!

What experiences have you had with agents at pitch sessions?  I would love to know!


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