Pub Rants

Pitch Alternative Recap

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STATUS: Busy Monday as I connect with my foreign rights person to debrief Bologna.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONESTAR by Norah Jones

Thank you all for the many varied responses to my blogs about Pitch Alternatives. I’m actually going to share these blog links with various conference organizers so this was not for naught.

So I can do so, I want to recap some of the options that I think will work most effectively.

The problem, for me anyway, in allowing non-ready writers to pitch unfinished projects is the expectation that is often in place before the pitch. I know that these writers actually still expect an agent to request the material—even if the work isn’t complete.

And I’m very serious about this. I’ve gotten shocked responses from pitchers when I’ve started the session with “Is your manuscript complete” and then when given a “no” reply, they were stunned that they couldn’t just send it a year later when it was ready.

Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up so what I’m saying is that if we allow folks to just pitch at will, it puts too much expectation on the agent and then we feel like the bad guy by saying, no, you can’t send the partial you have; or, no, you can’t send it a year later when it’s finally finished.

This is what I’m trying to avoid. So here are my ideas. This is working off the assumption that the pitch appointments will be screened and only writers with finished projects will be allowed to “formally” pitch.

For all unfinished projects, here are some viable alternatives. These would all include a fee, above and beyond the conference fee, for the participant to attend. That way the conference is not sacrificing revenue for these alternate ideas.

1. A morning practice pitch session that is advertised as such. In other words, any writer with an unfinished project can pitch an agent or editor but they go in with the expectation that the agent/editor will not be asking for sample pages. This is solely for fun and practice. I suggest that the conference organizers ask the attending agents/editors if they are open to being faculty for this kind of session. I wouldn’t mind doing it and then the pressure is off me completely because the expectation is clear upfront to both parties participating.

2. A social event with an agent (or editor but I’m not going to retype that each time), limited to 6 participants and held at an off-site location (to avoid interruptions), that’s a roundtable discussion that allows writers to simply have sit-down Q&A with agent. This isn’t a practice pitch session per se but it might end up there if the agent directs it that way. Event to be held in a bar or restaurant so food and drinks are available. Expectation is that participants pay to attend and then also have to pay for their own food and everyone there pitches in to pay for the agent. (Trust me, we won’t eat or drink so much to make this cost prohibitive. Or we shouldn’t anyway!)

3. Coffee Klatch: Morning session in a classroom where participants pay to attend and the fee also includes coffee, tea, and pastries. Hey, I think events don’t work as well if food isn’t there. The conference can set the price appropriately for how much it would cost for the food/beverage service. Or, cheaper yet, the session moderator brings the bagels or donuts (but the session fee still pays for the bringing in of yummies). A similar idea could be done with a special lunch in smaller rooms with smaller tables that are more private (so you don’t get the overwhelming loudness). Participants can pay to have a special lunch with an agent. Limit the number to 5 or 6. Maybe have the event off-site at various restaurants so the Conference does not have to pay to reserve these rooms. Or, utilize the same rooms already reserved and have food brought in. That way the Conference can control cost and make sure the fee covers the expense.

4. Small roundtable query workshop and or opening pages—limited to 6 people. I’m not opposed to this but I just wanted to point out that it’s a lot of work on the agent’s part to prepare for this. At Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, they do this on the Friday before the conference begins, I spend a good two hours easy on reading and commenting on the submissions so I’m prepared. I know you don’t realize it, but it’s asking a lot from agents. I have so very little free time as I easily work 10 or 13 hour days on average just to keep up so I have to get this preparation done in my spare time and to be honest, when I have spare time, I really want to do something fun like hang with Chutney and my hubby. I often don’t feel like taking 2 hours to read opening pages. Just being honest here. I do it but it’s a commitment.

33 Responses

  1. Miriam S.Forster said:

    I like options 2 and 3. I always want to talk to agents and editors at conferences (not about my book, just about life and stuff) and I’m always too nervous.

    So many people want their attention that I’m afraid of being a nuisance. So some sort of social thing would be awesome!

  2. Tracy said:

    I think those are all great options, and I can certainly understand the lack of enthusiasm (for lack of a better term) for #4. I’m glad you mention how much prep work goes into something like a “small” roundtable workshop. It’s important for people to get a proper perspective of the work it entails on your part to give the writers a quality experience. Besides, you’re a person, not some sort of agenting machine! If you don’t defend your time, no one else will do it for you.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Nice summary. I’m ready to hear about a conference that is first to implement some of these ideas!

  4. Keira Soleore said:

    Kristin, I’ve been a lurker on your blog for a while now. I had to comment on the generosity of all your suggestions. The likelihood of these unfinished projects resulting even in a single request is low. So either of these options is more of a teachable than a business opportunity. Realistically speaking, how many agents would be willing to give this a go, given how packed their schedules already are?

  5. Kathleen MacIver said:

    I think options 1, 2, & 3 are all pretty good…but #4 sounds, to me, like too much work for agents, therefore very few would want to do it.

    And quite honestly, in my opinion, it’s pitch and market insight that unpublished authors need from agents. The critiquing and so forth that they’d get from reading pages can be gotten in critque sessions with other authors. Granted, it can take a while to find critique partners or groups who are a good match for you, but it’s entirely I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect that sort of thing from an agent.

    On the other hand, other authors can’t give you insight into the hundreds of story ideas that are floating around, and what’s actually unique and what’s not. So THAT’S what I think agents can offer that’s so valuable.

  6. jill said:

    All great idea. At Surrey last year they had ‘practice pitch’ sessions with a local author. It was very very useful to help get the butterflies out of the way, but some of her advice felt out of date so practicing with someone closer to the current slush/pitch market would be even better.

    I’d like the small group socials also, but us quieter ones might end up sitting back and listening more than talking – not always a bad thing, we learn a lot from listening.

  7. Just_Me said:

    I’m not sure if this is the same idea as a practice pitch, but an idea pitch session. Some authors want to get a feel for what ideas would be well received. When you look at the book store you see a book that was sold a year or more ago, and that’s hot now. It doesn’t tell you what idea will work in a few years.

    I do like that idea of some time to just meet agents and get a feel for their personalities. I have a short list of agents I would love to work with, but that short list is made of agents who blog or who I’ve found in other ways. There may be an amazing agent that’s a perfect fit for me and my work who I just haven’t had a chance to meet. And when I query I want to be able to put a name and a face together.

  8. Lucy said:

    I could really connect with a practice pitch session. It would be a great way to get coveted feedback without the pressure. Oh, please, conference organizers, take note!

  9. Ebony McKenna. said:

    I salute your attempt to be fair to all, but I’m not sure how it would work. You don’t want to be the bad guy, but by the same token, your time is very limited.

    I completely agree a writer needs to have a completed manuscript before pitching to an agent. Stick to your guns on that.

  10. Elissa M said:

    I think all the ideas are good. Since number 4 is so time consuming for the agent, the charge to the attendees should be significantly higher.

    My personal preference would be for numbers 1 and 2. It would be interesting to know if conferences try any of these and how well they go over.

  11. Leigh Anna said:

    Dear Kristin,

    I see your point about allowing unready writers to pitch. I hadn’t thought of writers expecting you to accept their samples a year or two later.

    I prefer door number 1, largely because it allows a greater number of participants, which makes it cost less.

    The problem with being a starving artist is the coffee for 6 people with the agent is probably beyond your price range.

  12. Anonymous said:

    I like all the options. The small group practice sessions, as well as the option of an individual practice session, would be nice. Many people do better in a small group, others in a on-on-one. I am one of those people who finds a group difficult, especially if there is a very dominant personality among the members.

    Would the various options appeal to different agents and editors? Maybe some of them would prefer to work one type of session, rather than another, or to work a mix just for the variety of it.

    I understand the problem of unfinished manuscripts, and it always amazes me how many writers don’t. However, were a conference to be held near enough to me that I could afford (time and money) to attend even though my work is not finished, I would love the opportunity to get it reviewed anyway. I wouldn’t even mind if the unfinished sessions were handled by junior agents/editors, that is still someone in publishing, and a level above a critique group (I would bet many others feel the same way). Even an agent’s slush reader might be nice, a kind of “can you make it past her” thing.

  13. Katie said:

    I think these are well thought out and positive ideas.

    I would also think it would be added value at a conference to offer / attend such sessions.

    The agents would have to be quite strong leads in ensuring no one participant hijacked all the discussion time and topics though.

    An advanced version may be a ’round robin’ or “agent dating” where groups get to go from one agent to the next for 30 minutes per agent (4 agents / two hours session)- and each agent could focus on a different subject – from basics to more advanced subjects – query letters, current markets, presenting your manuscript, how an agent works for a client,etc.

    I understand that agents are not interested in unfinished manuscripts. However, please could you clarify why you would be averse to authors “sending it a year later when it’s finally finished”. If they first query you, is that any different from getting unsolicited manuscripts the usual way?

  14. Anonymous said:

    Some reasons why an agent would be averse to authors “sending it a year later when it’s finally finished.”
    – market falls off for that type of book within the year
    – agent is already pitching two similar books for current clients
    – three of the editors/imprints agent thought would be perfect for book have been laid off/closed
    – after two years of reading books about flying pigs, agent can’t stand the idea of another flying pig book
    – several XYZ memoirs have been outed as hoaxes so no one wants to touch another XYZ memoir
    – etc.

    Two big issues here: 1. timing is huge in whether an agent thinks a project will sell and 2. an agent only makes money if she sells, and a fiction editor only wants a finished product from a new writer. An agent can’t sell an idea or partial story, and she can’t guage whether the market will be receptive to that story a year later. You’d have to query it again anyway, a year later.
    The options outlined in this post give opportunity for those with partial works to get feedback, and saves the pitch session for writers with ready-to-market manuscripts, and both writer and agent stand to benefit.

  15. Charlie said:

    I suppose having six or seven agents at a roundtable pitching for my novel is out of the question. 🙂

    I agree that an author of an unfinished manuscript shouldn’t attempt a pitch.


  16. Karen said:

    What if writers could submit a written pitch before a session, and let the agents or slush readers give their first impressions on a cold read? This would allow the shy writers to not get lost or overly nervous in a face-to-face session, and everyone would be able to hear the feedback for all pitches.

    I agree that there should be an option for new writers who don’t have a finished ms ready yet. Thanks for trying to find a solution!

  17. Susan Helene Gottfried said:

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I really like anything that includes a social aspect to it. Not because I’m some groupie who wants to hang with agents but because it’s a good way to see if you LIKE the agent. I’ve met agents in person who on paper looked like they’d be a good fit for me, but when I met them, I wanted to run the other way. FAST. And not care if I was rude about it.

    Of course, the danger in this is the flip side: I met an agent once who was like my twin. Working together wasn’t one of the better ideas in the world…

  18. AnnieJ said:

    I love your blog and read often but have never commented. But this is such a good suggestion and a great approach to dealing with a touchy situation, had to chime in and say so.

    My quick thought is that the onus needs to be on conferences and writers organizations to always remind writers that they are also small business people. And agent ‘pitch session’ is not unlike a job interview. You wouldn’t bring a person in to interview for a job you hope to have open in a year or so. But you might go to job fairs and network to meet prospective hires and to see what’s out there.

    Your solutions support that kind of professionalism so well.

    annie jones

  19. DebraLSchubert said:

    I like Charlie’s idea best.;-)

    But seriously, thanks for spending so much time on this. It’s brainstorming sessions like these that will add to the quality of everyone’s experiences in the future.

  20. Jolie said:

    I would prefer option 1, for sure. A session with a predetermined direction would be less stressful compared to the open-ended social gatherings, which might be more fun for a lot of people, but would be nerve-wracking for an introvert like me. I like to know what I’m getting into, especially when I’m surrounded by new people.

  21. ~Sia McKye~ said:


    I think you’re on to a great idea. All aspects of writing and getting published takes time and knowledge. Doing pitches is another aspect of learning. Something that authors need to be able to do.

    I agree, a Practicing Pitches worksop or social round table format would be good. Hearing from working agents and editors on what works and what doesn’t would be valueable. And, having CLEAR ground rules from the beginning would take pressure of you as an agent. You and whomever partners with you to do this, can reinforce those rules with the stating that this is only practice and there will be no requests for MS.

    A savvy writer can always remind you a year later, that they were in your pitch session in a query letter and introduce their work to you that way. 🙂

  22. Dara said:

    I like #1 personally. It would be nice to hear what tips I could get for crafting a pitch and not have to worry that I screwed up my one chance with an agent to pitch the actual novel.

    All the others are great too, though I do think #4 would be a great deal for an agent.

  23. Stephanie said:

    I think these are great ideas!!! And quite frankly, I am in shock that writers would try and pitch an unfinished story!!

    Good luck!!

  24. HeatherM said:

    I like ideas 1-3. #4 is too much work on the agent’s part for a manuscript that isn’t finished. That’s a very good point about expectations and you’re right, they need to be made clear right away. Agent’s shouldn’t have to take up their valuable time reading unfinished work and we as writers shouldn’t expect them to. Making the expectations clear in the begining may take a bit of stress off both parties and allow them to use the time for what it’s intended, Q&A.

    Love your ideas!

  25. Robin said:

    I’m disappointed to see the most obvious solution has not been mentioned.
    Forget the pitch. Let authors battle it out in a Roman Coliseum setting.
    Pitched battles to the death rather than boring pitches.
    Survivors can submit their manuscripts. It’s win/win all the way around. Survival of the fittest authors which will get people out of their desk chairs and into the gym.
    The competition is reduced and the agent gets some real entertainment.

  26. Betsy Ashton said:

    I agree that we writers should not waste time or set incorrect expectations by pitching a novel that is not complete.

    There is, however, a flip side to this argument. I recently met an agent at a writers conference, pitched my complete novel, and was pleased when she asked to review the first 50 pages. I sent everything off immediately with an SASE.

    And in the nearly six months that followed, nothing! No response. No form rejection. No return of my manuscript.

    I think agents should be equally screened for viability. If they are not looking for new authors, they should not attend and set up a series of meetings. As we all know, writers pay for these opportunities — in more ways than one.

    I suggest we all revisit the rules of pitching a book and accepting that pitch so that we don’t behave in ways that are just short of unethical.

  27. Anonymous said:

    I don’t understand why you’d have to read the subs beforehand for #4 — if you did it with two agents participating one of you would catch some things and the other would catch other things, wouldn’t you?

    I see this working very well for beginners, (the sign up sheet can denote only beginners, not ready for a pitch appointments, will be accepted) since they are the most apt to make easily spotted mistakes — too much backstory, info dump, unclear what the age of the MC is, too passive writing, unclear or overdone concept, a grating voice, etc… I think lots of writers just starting out would be pleased to get this kind of feedback for 20-30 bucks a pop.

    By listening in to others critiques writers will learn a lot even before you critique theirs, so they’ll get their money’s worth.

    Also, I REALLY agree with Besty Ashton’s comment above. I think the big problem at conferences is that none of the agents respond when they tell you you can send something, and most aren’t even looking for new clients anyway. Writers pay lots of money for pitches to agents who don’t actually care. Why agree to go to conferences, then?

  28. Anonymous said:

    Oops — (I’m the Anon above)

    Wanted to add that the reader reads the page/two pages of the first chapter out loud — that gives the others a chance to hear it and the agent a chance to scribble down their thoughts as it’s being read.

    Agents are used to quickly spotting first page blunders, yes?

  29. Anonymous said:

    The basic ideas sound fun, but I don’t think they are a good idea. They reward raw ideas, which is itself a really bad idea.
    First, you can pretty much bet on some ‘He Stole My Ideas!” lawsuits. Really, people who have never actually completed a manuscript have a hugely inflated concept of what an idea is worth, and will put up an irrational fight to protect ‘their’ idea.
    Second, a lot of writers need that added pressure brought about by just seeing the phrase ‘Completed Manuscripts Only’ on a convention flyer. Sticking to that guideline is a service to the writing community.

  30. jimnduncan said:

    I wouldn’t do #4. Agents shouldn’t have to spend a couple hours doing anything for a conference unless they are presenting or doing a workshop of some kind. I like the social things. I’d pay a bit extra to hang out and have coffee/pastries with an agent in a small group setting. This beats hell out of trying to catch the agent for a few minutes at the bar in the evenings. I’ve heard some agents say before that they have a hard time telling some people ‘no’ in pitch sessions, even when they know they have no real interest. This makes sense. Many writers equate pitch sessions with getting pages before the agent/editor eye. Getting told no at this point is worse than getting the form rejection letter. Makes sense as well. Pitch sessions should be set up on the premise that requests will NOT be made. Fact is, queries get rejected 99% of the time. Personal contact should not equate to an automatic read. Perhaps I’m wrong in this assumption, but it’s certainly the feeling I get about many pitch sessions. Tell me if I’m wrong here, Kristen, and I’ll change my tune, but it sure seems like writers go into pitch sessions with very different expectations over straight querying.

    I like option one. It seems that you could do these in groups too, instead of one-on-one. Make them pitch parties, of the elevator variety, not the full blurb sort. If these are from incomplete ms’s, then it’s really just bouncing your idea off someone with industry knowlege who can give some honest feedback about what the market might be and if you as the agent might be interested in the project IF it was written well.

    People could email in their elevator pitch (fifty words or less) if they wished to participate, and then one of the mornings or evenings of the conference, the participating agents/editors go through them. It would be more educational for everyone attending than one-on-one. Personally, I always like hearing agent/editor takes on various story ideas.

  31. Samantha Clark said:

    I think all of these are great ideas. For writers looking for agents and editors to work with, it’s great to be able to spend time with them prior to submitting so you can know if it’ll be a good match, and these ideas will give writers those opportunities. It can be difficult to talk to agents and/or editors at the big conferences simply because there are so many people there and so much going on.

    Also, a note on your idea #1, I think some unpublished writers might find this useful even if they haven’t finished their manuscript, so they can get an idea if they’re on the right track with their story idea. Critique groups are great, but writers can be insecure folks, and writing can often feel as though you’re in a vaccuum. As much as writers, especially unpublished ones, keep up with industry news, they’ll often have a second job. Agents and editors will always know more about what the industry wants, more than critique groups too. A writer might gain some confidence and encouragement if they can go into a practice pitch session, lay out their idea, and hear whether what they’re working on sounds like a viable story or whether they should maybe move onto a different story.

    The big test, of course, is offering these opportunities and see how many writers pay. If the price is right, I think they’ll be popular. I’ll be looking out for them at the conferences I go to.