Pub Rants

Calling All Conference Organizers

 30 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: It’s suppose to snow later today so I’m working a bit from home, then walking Chutney early while on my way to the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY THERE DELILAH by Plain White T’s

Considering I just finished attending the Northern Colorado Writers Conference (and a big shout out to Kerrie who single-handedly pulled off a terrific, well-organized conference up there), I found Jessica’s comments on Conferences over there at Bookends to be pretty spot-on.

I strongly recommend any conference organizer to hop over there and take some notes.

But Kerrie of NCW and I got into another great conversation over the weekend when I was in Fort Collins and I’d love it if conference organizers can add this to their list as well.

When agents attend conferences and participate in pitch session, our basic hope is to potentially find a new client in the mix. It doesn’t happen too often but I have found two of my clients from conferences so I’m always optimistic. After all, what are pitch sessions for if not to hook up a writer with an agent?

Now for a pitch session to work, the writer needs to have a completed full manuscript. Why? Because if an agent likes the sound of the project, she’ll ask for sample pages (probably the first 30 or 50 pages). If the agent likes what she reads, she’ll want to request the full novel (and that can happen just a couple of weeks after sample pages are requested so a writer needs to be ready).

If there is no full manuscript, therein lies the problem.

As a writer, you always want to put your absolutely best writing foot forward—so you shouldn’t need to rush or send in a novel prematurely just because an agent requested it and the full wasn’t ready.

It’s a good way of getting a rather prompt rejection and then that avenue is closed (as you only get one shot at an agent) until you either do a significant revision and resubmit (but an agent is always going to be slightly hesitant about a resubmit—see my previous blog post on Love The Second Time Around) or you have a new novel to shop. Which can take a year or more to prepare.

But most new writers don’t realize this. They see “pitch session with Agent” and sign right up because who wouldn’t want to talk with an agent, right?

But ultimately, a writer can’t pitch a project that doesn’t exist or is unfinished because there is nothing for me to see at this point in time. Out of my 12 appointments at NCW, I only requested sample pages from 4 participants as all the others either had just started a project, were in the middle, or had only an idea for a novel.

I hate to say it but that made these pitch sessions a waste of my time because I ONLY want to talk to authors who have project ready to be read. Sorry if that sounds heartless but it is the truth. Writers with “ideas” for a great novel are a dime a dozen. It’s that one in a hundred writer who actually has the perseverance and stamina to sit down and write the entire thing (which is a huge achievement all in itself since the majority of aspiring writers never even make it that far).

Not to mention, how many great writers did I miss who did have a completed novel because my pitch slots were full? Ack.

So here’s what I’d like to add to Jessica’s list. I know it makes more work for the conference organizers but it would make a HUGE difference in the power of the pitch sessions.

Please don’t allow just anyone to sign up for a pitch with an agent. All interested writers should submit a mini application to pitch that includes the following:

1. Title of project
2. Genre
3. Word count
4. Is the manuscript complete? Yes or No.
5. previous publications if any
6. Why is this agent the right fit for your project?

If the writer checkmarked NO for number 4, then the pitch session is denied. If the manuscript is finished, then the conference organizer can check the project next to the agent’s bio (which should include a list of what they are currently looking for) and make sure it is a match. Then sign the writer up for the pitch.

Most conferences right now assume that writers will do their homework (because heck, that would only be to their advantage) and sign up with the appropriate agent.

I find that this is rarely true. In fact, I’ve even had authors pitch me projects my agency clearly doesn’t represent and when I ask why, they will often say that the other agent slots were full and they just wanted to practice the agent pitch.

Argh! I’m always polite but I don’t want to be somebody’s practice session! I only want to hear about projects that might get me a new client whose project I can sell!

Calling all conference organizers! I beseech you to take this extra step. All agents will thank you.

30 Responses

  1. Kate H said:

    Kristin, I totally understand your frustration and agree that your way is the way pitch sessions should be run. And what I’m about to say obviously doesn’t apply to you. But I have been to conferences where the agent bios provided did NOT say what the agents were interested in, none of the agents had any web presence at all, and a poor writer would have had to hire a private detective to find out any useful information ahead of the conference! So I hope the conference organizers are reading this, because some of them have even more to learn than you think.

  2. Renee Collins said:

    I totally agree. Actually, I was surprised to hear that so many paid the money to go to a pitch session without an actual finished product. It’s just . . . pointless.

    As for the “mini application,” I squirmed when I saw the previous publication question. I’m an author with no credits to my name, and I plan on attending writers conferences and pitch sessions for that very reason.
    It’s hard enough to have the glaring empty author’s bio on my querys. But, if an agent selected pitch sessions based on experience, I would feel, yet again, at a big disadvantage.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I can definitely see your point, as an agent and a business person; the problem lies with the nature of many writers’ conferences. They are aimed at beginning or unpublished writers. Thus far I have not seen any with an application just to get into the conference- conferences for the published only, people with a good idea of what the biz is, what it means to be professional, and how careful they should be in choosing when and who to pitch.

    Conferences are filled with newbs. There’s no way around it. A lot of them will be going there just to practice pitching, and just to meet an agent for the first time. At my first conference, I was actually scheduled to meet Ms. Nelson for a pitch session– I canceled when I realized that my pitch was faulty and I didn’t yet have the confidence in my project that I should. I had enough experience in the business world to understand that wasting her time with a project I myself was iffy about wasn’t very professional. And I am glad I had second thoughts, because at that very same conference I realized that there were tons of people present with much less sense than I had, and that has to be murder on agents & editors.

    I have to agree that there should be a screening process for pitch sessions, but it should be limited to Title, Word Count, Finished or Not, and Genre. To add more makes it look as if the writer is querying, and frankly they did not have to spend the time and money on attending a conference to do that. New writers don’t need to feel rejected when attending a conference, they get plenty of that at home.

  4. Deb said:

    This comment leads into a funny. Sometimes agent & editor appointments are set up so far in advance that it gives plenty of time for circumstances to change in the interim. I had an editor appointment set up in May, for a September conference. In the meantime, a different editor at the same house asked for a full. By the time of the Sept. conference, that full was still under consideration by Editor #2, leaving me with nothing to pitch Editor #1. Not Editor #1’s fault. Hardly mine.

    I sat down and said, “Hi, my name’s Deb and I’m not trying to sell you a novel.”

    She brightened immediately! Which made me chuckle. I then explained the situation and asked her, “Do you mind if I ask you about today’s romance market, instead of pitching you my books?”

    She said, not at all, and we had a very productive chat, at least on my part.

    It CAN work, but in very particular circumstances. Had this been an agent appointment, I’d have canceled and left it open for another writer who wasn’t dangling between “send the full” and “here’s the contract.”

  5. Randy said:

    Amen. As someone who unsuccessfully pitched at a conference last weekend (not the same one you attended), I recommend that coordinators attempt to get the latest information from agents/editors on what they’re looking for. I did as much research as I could prior to my appointment–perusing the editor’s house website, googling for blog interviews, knowing a few authors whose work had been recently requested–and yet I got it all wrong. She’s no longer looking for the type of manuscript I pitched. A waste a time for both of us–not to mention a personally depressing experience. I heard similar stories relating to other participants on both sides–mismatched genres all over the place. Too bad!

  6. Angela James said:

    I was at the same conference that Jessica was at this past weekend. We had all day pitch sessions (ouch) and of those, I think I only got three pitches that were for completed projects, suitable for my company.

    Of my other pitches I had two that were books still in the “idea” stage, two who wanted to ask me about how to become an editor or agent (and honest, I know very little about being an agent), two who had partially completed manuscripts that would be done in the next year, and one that was a partially completed manuscript of a book the author wasn’t really entirely sure of the genre or what his book would be about.

    It’s…discouraging to sit all day and to have this happen. Like you, I think it would be wonderful to have some guidelines to be met before authors can sign up for pitches.

  7. Maria said:

    Thanks for this post. My local writing organization has a conference coming up, and I’m grumpy about the way the organizers handled it. In the conference info, they advertised all the attending agents as handling “all genres of fiction and non-fiction.” This simply wasn’t true. I knew that from a glance at their names, and a trip to Agent Query confirmed it. I was wary of signing up for a pitch session because I didn’t want to wind up pitching my contemporary YA to the lit fic / serious non-fic agent, or to the mystery / thriller-specializing agent.

    The other thing the organizers did was advertise in the e-mail that a critique appointment could lead to the agent offering you a contract. As in, on the spot! On the basis of a single chapter!


    All attendees had to do to sign up for a critique or pitch was send in their check. Critique pages aren’t due until a few weeks before the conference. At the last meeting of this organization, one person confessed to me that she’d signed up for a critique, but hadn’t yet written the pages she was going to have critiqued! And here I am with a completed manuscript, and I’ve been shut out of all sessions.

    I suppose I’m still 10% bitter for my own sake, but mostly I’m annoyed that other writers with complete, ready-to-shop manuscripts may have gotten shut out of getting useful feedback.

  8. Francine Sharp said:

    I agree 100%– targeted pitch sessions would be more efficient for everyone!

    On the subject of word count, is there an ideal word count for YA books?

  9. JDuncan said:

    Kristen, I have a suggestion, which may fall in that ‘this may seem heartless’ category, but would certainly aid those writers who are actually ready and prepared to pitch. If you get a person who is not pitching a full novel or a category you represent, then you get to respectfully stop the pitch session right there, hopefully after a minute or so. I could be wrong, but I believe there are usually folks who are on a wait list of some kind, hoping that someone who signed up doesn’t show or what have you. If a session or two gets canned due to inappropriateness, then you have extra minutes at the end of the scheduled sessions to squeeze in one or more pitches that are actually ready for you. I think a lot of folks tend to forget that they aren’t the only ones forking up some money to come to the conference, and hoping to get their money’s worth.


  10. Jessica said:

    Well, I don’t think that was harsh at all. I went to my first (and only) conference last year and felt so bad when I sat down at an agent appointment because my manuscript wasn’t complete. I didn’t realize before signing up that it should be, and he was really nice, but I felt like I was wasting his time. You have a great idea here. Conference newbies would never know to have a completed manuscript. And I did tons of research on publishing and the agent before I went. Thanks for the post! I read this blog everyday and, obviously, love it. 🙂

  11. beth said:

    It’s also frustrating for authors who really want to meet with a particular agent, but there are other authors “just practicing” in my way! Argh!!!

  12. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, is there any chance you’d consider a conference pitch for a partial from a multi-pubbed author hoping to sell on proposal?
    If so, a mini-application with the question about the manuscript being complete would rule that author out.

  13. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I’ve been guilty of taking a pitch appointment with an unfinished manuscript so I could get face time with an agent I’m really interested in. I did it because I was a Golden Heart finalist at the time and so had first crack at my choice of agent appointments at RWA National. Yet, I felt I couldn’t pitch the agent in question my GH manuscript, because it’s category and the agent doesn’t generally represent category. I couldn’t pitch her a full manuscript I’m currently marketing myself (and which I’ve recently revised at an editor’s request) because the agent had seen sample pages for this project in an earlier incarnation and had already rejected them. I couldn’t pitch my novellas, because I knew this agent prefers to hear pitches for single titles and then novellas can come later. So I just laid it all on the line about what I *couldn’t* pitch to her, and we ended with that I’d be in contact when I finished my latest ST wip.

    The problem? I write under two names, and a few weeks after National suddenly my pen name was hopping with editor requests (that had nothing to do with appointments at National). However, they were mainly novella requests. When I met the agent at National, I fully intended that my ST under my real name would be finished in the late fall and then I’d be in contact. But the truth was I wound up having to put away the manuscript to work on the other requested projects, which did lead to sales of those I’ve submitted so far, so it wasn’t a bad choice.

    The end result? I don’t regret that I put aside the project I mentioned to the agent during our pitch session. But I feel really stupid for talking about a project I thought I could finish within the time frame I mentioned…and then I didn’t finish it. Never mind that I sold other stuff myself in the meantime, I now totally agree with not pitching something until it’s finished. I don’t regret taking the appointment **for myself**, but I do feel like I wasted the agent’s time and how will she feel about my submission when it finally comes?

    Lesson learned

  14. Anonymous said:

    Wasting people’s time is a two-way street.

    Sure, it’s bad for an agent to be pitched mss that aren’t finished or in genres they don’t represent.

    But, it’s also cruddy to for writer’s who do have completed ms and have signed up for an agent/editor pitch session only to hear that same agent/editor shout out proudy during a Q&A panal that, heck no, they aren’t looking for new clients. They haven’t anyone from a writer’s conference in ten years!

    Um, then what are they doing there?

    Usually these same agent/editors aren’t participating in any other workshops, either. Way to waste everyone’s time.

  15. Anonymous said:

    What if you’re a published author with a track record of several books and decent sales? What would be the appropriate protocol there? If you’re already selling on proposal or less, what would be helpful to an agent? A sample of a published book?

  16. Tricia Sanders said:

    Thanks for the information. I’ve always been curious about the notion of “practicing” your pitch. Thanks for clarifying your feelings. I’m sure other agents feel the same. I’m planning a workshop with pitch sessions for the fall and will use your mini-application to weed out the practicers (is that a word?)

    We want the writers to be successful in their pitch sessions, but we also want the agents to not feel like their time was wasted. Thanks again.

  17. Julie Weathers said:

    I’m glad this seems to be a popular subject. My novel will be finished and polished by the time I hit the conferences, but it’s sad to hear people actually pitch ideas.

    My main fear is not being able to communicate what Paladin is really about. That would still make it a waste of time for both agent and myself.

    Seeing the different comments about conferences at least gives me an idea of what to expect.

  18. Icarus said:

    Excuse my (honest) ignorance, but if you’re an author with a track record, don’t you have better ways to shop for an agent than plunking down twenty bucks at a local writers’ conference?


    I have a hypothetical question on this topic. What if I have a project in an area that an agent at a conference doesn’t represent, but which is represented by one of that agent’s partners? Is it okay to pitch something to an agent in the hopes that someone else at their agency might be interested in it? Like, say an agent mostly does romance, and I have a fantasy novel, but I know that one of the other agents in the agency represents fantasy?

  19. Anonymous said:

    Do you think an editor pitch session at a conference should meet the same criteria?

  20. Amy Nathan said:

    Loving the questions here on how to pitch an unfinished book when the post says, um, don’t.

    I purposely did not scheule a pitch session (with Kristin) at an upcoming conference because my manuscript is incomplete. Would I have liked to hear her say it’s a great idea and she wanted to read it when it was finished? Sure, but that’s not the purpose of a pitch session.

    I’m going to the conference anyway, will sit in on Kristin’s workshop and soak up the info and energy of the writers, editors and agents around me. I’ll get my “first” writers conference under my belt, and come away, hopefully, restored and renewed and ready to finish and polish my work.

    I think the problem with the conferences is that the “rules” are out there, but there are always those who think said rules most certainly do not apply to them.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Icarus; most conferences cost two or three hundred dollars. When you register for a good one, you find out in advance what agents and editors will be attending. You have some time to do research on each agency beforehand, narrowing your field. As for pitching someone who might know somebody who’d like your book… they don’t work that way.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I’ve been a lurker for a while but want to add my comment today.

    I go to agent pitches as much to see if an agent and I am compatible as to pitch my work. Those quick ‘speed dating’ minutes can tell me a lot about whether we would be a good match. I’m a published author and I am counting on my agent to take care of selling my work so I can keep being a published author. If we don’t have the same general vision of the industry, I’d rather know, for both our sakes, before I sent anything to be evaluated.

    I’m a published author and so far, I’ve sold my manuscripts on my own. (There’s still a few romance houses who are good with unagented submissions.)But I would like to branch out and have more opportunities than I have now, being unagented.

    So I take advantage of agent pitches even when I’m not ready to send in a manuscript to interveiw prospective agents. Kristin, I would greatly appreciate your opinion on using pitches for this purpose.

  23. Vicki said:

    I do have to agree with anon 1:10. Why would an agent do the Pitch session if they are not taking on new clients and have no thoughts or wants to do so? That one does confuse me.

    However, pitching to an agent or editor with an unfinished manuscript or ‘idea’ only makes no sense to me.

    That said, if you are a new writer or even a published author who is looking for an agent and your book is not complete then I have a great suggestion for you.

    Volunteer to work the appointments. Hold on; don’t get too excited just yet. This is isn’t a ticket to pitch on your own. But you will be able to say hello and introduce yourself. That in itself is big. Take very good care of them, if they want to keep the appointments coming, then by all means do so. If they prefer to have the few extra minutes between pitches, honor it. Make sure they have water, coffee, or tea, something to drink. Talking for hours can be rough.

    Now for what might happen. An editor or agent may ask you to sit down when they have a break and pitch your book. By all means be prepared for this in case it happens.

    Above all else be honest with them if they do. Tell them your book is not finished, or it’s still in the idea stage. If they ask you to pitch it anyway, take a deep breathe, smile, and pitch your baby.

    This happened to me last year at Nationals. My current book was not yet complete and when I was asked to sit down and pitch it to an editor, I told her that. She asked me to pitch anyway. And yes, she did ask me to send it to her once finished if it met their guidelines (word count).

    All of this said (yes, I know it is long), do not volunteer and then pitch without being asked to. The editors and agents are on a very tight schedule. They have limited time for the pitch sessions and more often then not, have scheduled appointments with their clients from there.

  24. Jennifer McKenzie said:

    I have a question.
    One of the things that’s been suggested to me is don’t just have one thing to pitch.
    So, I have a romantic suspense to pitch that’s finished BUT the agent isn’t very interested. THEN I pitch an erotic book that’s started (but not finished)
    Is that “bad form”? I’m curious because I’d like to sign up to pitch, but I don’t want to screw it up.

  25. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    Maybe this is because I’m now looking at this from the other side of a couple of book contracts, but this boggles my mind. I agree with Kristin 100% — if you’re pitching at a conference, you should be at the same level of completion you would be for a query letter. Would you send an agent a “practice” query letter?

    Uh, no. Because that agent is going to remember your name — even more so I would think in a pitch session when there’s a face to go with it — and if you show up and waste their time with an unfinished proposal, it screams “unprofessional.”

    Anon 1:28, I got my (wonderful) agent after I had a book contract and wanted someone to represent the sequel. I don’t see the point in going to a conference at that stage — I just shot off e-mail queries to my favorite agents that I’d researched and had an agent in a few weeks. Why spend money and take up a slot that someone else who was still trying to get their foot in the door could use? Yes, the project that was currently on the table was incomplete. But I did have a track record of finished pieces and the editor was looking to sign on a proposal.

    So Kristin, I think you could absolutely be harsher! Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck for your three chapters and synopsis, FINISH THE BOOK!

    There are so many resources online that say the same thing — there’s no excuse for going unprepared or thinking you’re above the guidelines.

    Ahem. End rant.

  26. LaShaunda said:


    I totally agree with you. Why pitch if you only have an idea. When I do my online conference, I offer online pitches. I make sure the pitch is correct for the agent/editor and I also make sure its finished.

    I like your list and will use it for my next conference.

  27. Shalanna said:

    I’d like to point out that at many conferences, when attendees send in their fees and paperwork, they are told that they may pay $25 (or whatever) extra for a pitch appointment, BUT that the way it works is that you list your choices 1, 2, and 3, and IF there are any slots left with those agents, you’ll get one . . . otherwise, you’ll go on the waiting list. Now, in practice (and I am sure I’m not “outing” anyone here), the staff members who organize the con will select their own choices first, and then the people in their local organization (for example, the Dallas RWA or MWA or whoever is putting on the show) will have priority, and then the Golden Heart or Lead Foot finalists. ONLY THEN will your average conference attendee who isn’t in one of those groups get slotted in. This is how you get people pitching a mystery to an agent who really hasn’t ever repped any mystery–the attendee felt he/she had to list three choices, and there were only two agents who repped mystery. Occasionally there will be a cancellation by an agent who has had a crisis and cannot attend, and if someone fills in, this may also cause a genre mismatch (because the writers are still hoping to talk to an agent and see what color their scales and fins are and what flavor of fire they breathe. *GRIN*) Writers really aren’t trying for a mismatch when they sign up for the pitch appointments; it’s just a consequence of the way the system works. At larger conferences, it’s worse. Smaller cons may work better for pitching, actually.

    That said, I was at the Dallas RWA conference a couple of weekends ago, and the agent I was matched with was a really good match for me! She was my first choice, but that was serendipity, as I couldn’t find out that much about her other than she had sold a number of YA series novels and was open to mysteries and chick lit/women’s fiction.

    Agents should not be put into those little rooms and have writers herded at them every eight minutes for four hours at a stretch, IMHO. That’s what generally happens, and I don’t know how they survive it. I know the organizers are trying to keep agents on as many panels as possible and still have pitch appointments, but wow . . . maybe the pitch appts should be in the bar, so agents could “relieve stress” when needed. *GRIN*

    This year I tried something different. Instead of having a little index card and reading a sentence or two about my book off of that as my palms sweated, I walked in and started talking about the area of Texas we’re in and its interesting qualities and how it’s a tourist attraction . . . and then explained that this is the reason I set my murder mystery at the attraction! Because aren’t you tired of reading all those scenes of cell phone calls, driving the car, and talking heads in some restaurant or bar? My scenes are set in a hot-air balloon, inside a tortilla factory, and in the desert on the viewing platform for the Marfa Mystery Lights. This seemed far more interesting and more fun as far as a talk with the agent went. (Those read-off-the-synopsis things must be awful for agents.) We discussed the area and places the agent might want to hit while she’s in Texas. It gave both of us much more of an idea whether we’d be compatible working together than one of those awkward read-aloud sessions. I recommend this conversational approach to all of you who pitch!

  28. Caryn Caldwell said:

    Whew! Am finally getting caught up on old blog posts after a crazy month. Just wanted to tell you that this makes sense. Yes, it may be more work for the people running the conference, but in the long run I think it could benefit everyone, including the organizers. After all, when agents find out that they have such stipulations for appointments, I imagine some of them may be more likely to attend. This can make it easier to find agents and can raise the overall caliber of the conference.