Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

The Pitch Alternative?

STATUS: TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY by Donna Summer

What I’m looking for is a pitch alternative.

Hum… the problem is this. Most conferences charge a fee for a participant to do a pitch session with an agent or editor above and beyond the fee to attend the conference. This is often how conferences generate revenue to run the programs.

So right now, most conferences allow anyone who wants to sign up for pitch appointment to do so. There really is no monitoring of whether the writers have a finish project or even if their project fits with the agent they are pitching.

Most conferences assume that those interested in pitch appts. are doing their homework to sign up with the right person. We’d all like to think that writers would be in tune enough do that.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Examining the conferences I’ve done just in the last year, which was actually a lot because I freakishly agreed to something like 9 conferences last year, I can tell you this. On average, more than 60% of the conference attendees who pitched me were not ready to pitch as they didn’t even have a complete manuscript.

At one conference I did last year, I’d say that the percentage rate was higher. More than 80% of the people I had pitch appointments with didn’t have an even close to finished manuscript for me to look at.

And yet, the agent/editor appts. are the biggest money generators for the conference. I get the necessity of that.

I’m just trying to find some other way to accommodate writers without finished projects to have time with an agent/editor.

Jessica suggested more social events planned for the participants and the faculty. I’m certainly not opposed to that but those events usually are not something that will generate the much needed revenue the conference organizers need.

Not only that but at social functions, agents and editors often like to hang together (because we like catching up with each other as well) and very few attendees feel confident enough to break that “inner circle” grouping. Hey, I’ve been guilty of that and I’m willing to ‘fess up to it. It just happens because we have so much to talk about. The participant interaction is probably not as high as it should be at these mixers.
Now the Pikes Peak conference does an interesting thing with their agent/editor hosted table at the lunch hour (which is free) but the tables are too big and the room is often too noisy to really work well except for the few attendees lucky enough to sit closest to the agent or editor.

So I’m trying to find some kind of happy medium that could work, and I’m open to suggestions.

So bring it on. How could we solve this problem?


71 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Would an ‘experience’ survey by the conference organizers help? How long have you been writing, how many ms have you finished. Perhaps attendees could be ‘slotted’ – morning appointments are for experienced, manuscript in hand writers, afternoon for those just fishing and networking. It would allow both types of attendees satisfaction and allow the agent to focus/steer the appointments and requests in a more realistic fashion.

    I’m sure conferences are tough to organize, but would it be too much to ask that the agent had a sheet in front of her that summarized a writer’s progress.

    Just talking aloud as I’d like my own chances for success to increase.

  2. Anita said:

    Regarding conferences: I asked Sara Megibow about them and other issues in a recent interview…please see my blog, anyone who’s interested.

    Regarding Kristin’s conference idea: I like the networking hour, but it might have to be monitored/facilitated by a conference representative…so maybe there are six writers, an agent and a conference organizer at a table. Agent starts with an intro and then facilitator directs writers to intro themselves (bio and where they are in the writing process). Facilitator then directs agent to address a few common issues right off the bat. Afterward, facilitator goes around the table and directs writers to ask a question each. Then writers each get a few minutes of alone time with the agent…facilitator tells each writer when their time is up. Sounds a lot like babysitting, I know, but I’ve heard complaints about some folks dominating conversations (kinda like I’m dominating blog space:)).

  3. Anonymous said:

    This is just my butt talking here – I’ve never been to a conference, and hate the idea of having to pay to pitch. That being said, maybe you could start off every pitch like this:

    “Is the manuscript ready to put in my hands at the end of this appointment?”
    “No?”
    “Okay then, you’re not ready for this pitch, but we can talk about your career in general (or whatever).”

    Do it again and again – get a reputation. Be polite, be friendly, be the agent who won’t listen until the project is ready.

    Alternately, give up the expectation that desperate authors will follow the rules. Start with the same sentence, let the author know she’ll still have to send a query letter as if she wasn’t in this appointment, and let her build her network.

  4. Kathleen MacIver said:

    Hmmm…

    What if the meals alternated? Half of the meals were set up so that agents and editors could network with each other and authors could network with each other. But the other half would be arranged with round tables, and one agent/editor at each table. I’m picturing those round tables that seat six-eight people…so that’d be five-seven authors per agent/editor, and those round tables are usually comfortable to talk around.

    I’m also thinking that, if that high a percentage of authors with incomplete books are still willing to pay the fee for pitch appointments, under the mistaken idea of networking…then they’d probably be willing to pay the same fee to share an hour of networking with five other authors.

    So charge the same fee. $$ for either a 10-minute one-on-one pitch session if you’ve got a completed book, or $$ to share a five-author hour of networking with the agent. For this, they’d be encouraged to bring several questions (that AREN’T answered on the agent’s blog) and subjects they’d be interested in talking about. If something was needed to get the ball rolling, then each of the five authors could put a question into a hat for the agent to draw one. But I’m assuming that once the talking got started, it would flow pretty well…assuming you had polite authors who didn’t try to hog all the attention for themselves.

    The only thing is…would that satisfy the agent? I mean…would the agent feel that networking with authors who might never finish a book was worth an hour of their time? I honestly don’t know.

    But then, maybe authors with completed novels would still choose this option.

    I would. After all… if the agent would be interested in my book, then some time during that hour, she’d probably discover that interest, just in talking. And even if she didn’t, a simple query, after that hour of networking, would have the same chances of getting a partial request as the 10-minute pitch appointment would, I’d think. So I’d take the networking any day. If I pitch a book that just doesn’t interest the agent, I’ve gotten nothing out of it. But if I can network with the agent and learn more about the business and ask questions that pertain to my genre, etc., then even if my book doesn’t interest the agent and my later query letter is rejected, I’ve still received information that I can use to (hopefully) strengthen future queries and novels.

    (Oh…and forgive me if my comment on the “pick me” post was annoying. I think I took your challenge too literally. The truth is, I value your insight into the industry, Kristin. Go bless!)

  5. attackfish said:

    I liked your previous idea, but what about instead of pitch appts. aspiring authors were able to pay for a question and answer session about the publishing industry from an industry insider such as an agent or editor?

  6. kc dyer said:

    Hi Kristin,

    Something we started at SiWC this year was a Pitch Practice service. At SiWC, we do NOT charge attendees for the pitch sessions, but we also want to keep our agents and editors productively busy and not wasting their time. The person in charge of the pitch practice contacted all our editors and agents ahead of time to confirm the details of their preferred genres, so could help direct the pitch-ers to the right people. AND, they got practice with their pitches, to help ensure the time was practical and well-spent.

    We had a tonne of positive feedback and plan to expand the program for our conference this year.

    ~kc

  7. Kathleen MacIver said:

    That was supposed to be “God bless.” LOL!

    And I think the Anon right before me had a great idea, with starting your pitch appointments out that way. Or maybe you already do?

    I just sense that you find this frustrating, and I’m wondering what value agents get out of networking with aspiring authors.

  8. Beth said:

    I think most writers with only a WIP and no finished manuscript want to know three things:

    1. Can I write?
    2. Is my idea salable?
    3. Would I like to work with this agent?

    Since time at conferences is at such a premium, what if attendees had the option of buying five minutes of agent time to get an emailed answer to these questions — a WIP review so to speak?

    The agent could put a limit on how many he/she would review, per conference (say 50 tops — like the Secret Agent Contest you did for Authoress), attendees would sign up and via email they would send a short premise and the first page of their WIP to the agent and the agent would read and make and return via email a few comments about the writing, voice, and premise/salability (say wihtin 4-6 weeks of the conference).

  9. Leigh Anna said:

    Dear Kristin,

    I’d say don’t worry about it. Most of the people who query also aren’t ready with professional queries or manuscripts, right? Same thing. If the authors want to spend their money it is their nickel.

    That sounds cruel, but it isn’t. I’ve been there. Two years ago I attended a conference. I didn’t have a novel, I had a mess and I had no idea what to do with it. But I learned of the conference a week before it was held and showed up, pitching and all, completely unprepared.

    Did the agents think I was an idiot? Possibly. A few liked the idea enough that they said I should contact them when I finished it. Maybe they were just being nice.

    But it was a worthwhile experience to actually do the pitching. It made me start to think in terms of summarizing the mess I had. I talked to other writers pitching and learned from them. I got a look at some of the inner workings of this industry and it didn’t seem quite as scary. A long shot, but a makeable one.

    There is a learning curve to this. And of course it would be wonderful if every writer did their homework and got well into the curve before starting to pitch or query. But not everyone learns that way.

    Today’s awful query or unready pitch may be tomorrow’s professional and intriguing pitch and your next signed author. We just needed a few practice shots first.

  10. Kimber An said:

    It may be as simple as changing the definition and expectation.

    From what I’ve read, aspiring authors attend these events to *learn.* I suggest accepting that the pitch session is a learning session for, hopefully, a future bestselling client. Again, from what I’ve read, the aspiring authors often have little choice in what they get to do and with whom and they have to spend a lot of hard-earned money for it. As we all know, money is a heck of a lot tighter these days. Plus, they have to face the possibility of being ridiculed in person, rather than on Twitter which they can choose not to read.

    It’s no wonder to me aspiring authors have a hard time delivering on the expectations as they are.

    I’ll stick with writing the best doggone query letter I can, thank you very much.

  11. TheWriterStuff said:

    It seems to me the best way to make sure an agent gets pitched with the kinds of stories they represent would be for the conference organizers to include this in their the literature. An author could then chose the agent they want to pitch based on the criteria. Included in the agent’s criteria could be the need to have a completed ms. Tres simple.

  12. CDP said:

    This doesn’t directly answer your question about other alternatives, but I think it’s perhaps relevant, nonetheless:

    I attended one of the conferences you were at last year, and when I registered for it, I came to a page that asked me to list agents/editors I’d like to pitch to, in order of preference. This conference doesn’t charge a fee for pitching, and the registration form didn’t allow me to opt out.

    I was uneasy, because I didn’t have a manuscript ready to pitch, and knew it. But it was my first conference, and the fact that the registration form didn’t give me an option of declining confused me.

    Then, about the same time, you posted on your blog something to the effect of viewing such pitches as a waste of time and I was really freaked out — enough that I emailed the conference listserv asking for advice.

    It was interesting. Even when I could point to your blog as evidence that you viewed such pitches negatively, the response to my question was about 50/50 between people who immediately agreed that I shouldn’t pitch if I didn’t have a complete and polished manuscript, and people (including pubbed authors) who insisted it couldn’t hurt, was good experience, and that there were benefits to ‘networking’, regardless.

    The conference organizers simply asked me to let them know if I chose to bow out, so others could take my turn. Rather than take a slot from someone else, I immediately did so — and so did a few others who’d been following the discussion.

    (I’d signed up to be a volunteer, and the conference organizers made a point of assigning me to work as your assistant during the pitch sessions. Did that count as networking? LOL.)

    I guess my point would be that there really does seem to be a lot of confusion about what networking is, and where the line is between using a pitch session to ‘practice’ pitching, even if you don’t have a viable manuscript, and in not risking the agent or editor remembering you simply as someone who wasted their time.

    Perhaps part of the answer is simply more discussions, like this one on your blog, to get the word out. In some ways, the fact the conference organizers didn’t even allow for the possibility that someone might not want to pitch when they put their form together may be more telling than anything else in that respect.

  13. Kathleen MacIver said:

    Me again.

    I just went and read the comments that came in after mine on yesterday’s post, and I see that different people have a totally different outlook on networking. So I suppose that whether this would work well would be in the eyes of the beholder, so to speak.

    Me…I’m not worried about other authors hogging the time…and it’s not because I’d hog the conversation (despite the frequency of my posts here). I’m very much a hang back and evaluate everything first sort of person.

    BUT…I’ve learned that listening to other people’s questions and hearing the answers is sometimes more informative than asking my own.

    The everyone pitching the whole way through thing would mean down-right rude people…and I don’t meet that many. But maybe I’m lucky? I don’t know. All I know is I wouldn’t pitch unless someone asked what I wrote, and then I’d confine my answer to their question and not take it beyond.

    But I wouldn’t hesitate to ask market-related questions that would pertain to my writing!

    Maybe the success of it would all depend on how clear the organizers made the rules and the goal of it.

  14. Vacuum Queen said:

    I SO would show up and pay extra if it was organized something like…12-2 for those with complete ms and pitch ready and 3-5for those who want to pick agent brains and throw ideas out there for the 10 minute chat. ??? I guess the agent gets diddly-do out of that, but it DOES generate money for the better and could possibly pump a reluctant writer up enough to finish a project.

  15. Tsuki said:

    This is just my opinion, so take it for what little it may be worth, but it seems to me that the problem is that the pitch sessions are trying to kill two birds with one stone and not hitting either of them very well.

    I think what really needs to happen is to have the writers divided into two groups–those with a ready-to-pitch manuscript, and those who just want to ask some questions and get a brief appraisal of their idea and/or writing skill. For the first group, send ’em in to the agents. For the second, let them have a short session with a “writing coach”. These “coaches” could be agents, editors, or published authors–anyone who can give a reasonable evaluation of the writers’ work and answer questions about the publishing industry, writing techniques, career goals, etc.

    So in other words, let the pitch sessions be actual pitch sessions (finished manuscript/summary/sample pages/whatever required). Let the general writing/querying help sessions be just that. Mixing the two together and leaving it up to the agents to sort out the mess just seems like one, big, inefficient headache.

  16. Raethe said:

    What about a pitch appointment that was actually meant to workshop and strengthen the pitch itself, instead of actually trying to sell the book? That could potentially be useful to even someone without a complete MS in their hands, and presumably even an agent who doesn’t rep what they write could offer them some insight into how to strengthen their pitch.

    Would that be useful?

  17. DebraLSchubert said:

    “So right now, most conferences allow anyone who wants to sign up for pitch appointments to do so. There really is no monitoring of whether the writers have a finished project or even if their project fits with the agent they are pitching.”

    Why is this the case? I’m registered for the Backspace Conference in May (where I’m hoping to meet you, btw!) and it is not cheap. I attended a conf. in NYC last September that was also quite expensive (both around $600 not counting hotel, food, or transportation). For that kind of money, I don’t understand why more detailed screening is not done – simple things like:

    “Do you have a completed ms?”
    If YES – “Would you like to pitch it to an agent?”

    If YES “What is your genre?”

    It seems to me that from there the folks in charge of the conference could easily match up participants with appropriate agents, or at least give the participants the names of attending agents who represent their genres and let them decide who they’d like to pitch to.

    “At one conference I did last year, I’d say that the percentage rate was higher. More than 80% of the people I had pitch appointments with didn’t have an even close to finished manuscript for me to look at.”

    I’m sorry, but neither you or an attendee should be wasting time like this. People should not have pitch appts. if they don’t have a finished ms!

    As discussed in your last post, for writers who do not have a finished ms, I think a small group info session is enormously helpful. When you’re starting out you have so many questions and getting answers directly from a seasoned agent is priceless.

    Basically, I think the conference registration and events process could and should be streamlined in order for everyone (agents and writers alike) to get the most out of the experience. (IMHO)

  18. nkkingston said:

    Charge a small fee to submit a pre-pitch form? Name, genre, blurb, completed/not-completed, and so on. the agents then skim through these, and pick a promising few for a pitch session? That way the conference gets their money, and the agents do’t get swamped with irrelevant pitches.

  19. Anonymous said:

    People pre-register, and – no less than two weeks before the event – they send a sample chapter to the organizers, who send those chapters anonymously to every agent. The agents decide who they want to speak to and set up appointments. They set a deliberately low threshold – weeding out the crap, but talking to anyone who shows any promise whatsoever (I’ve done slush pile work for publishers, it’s a 90/9/1% ratio).

    It depends what your objective is as an agent – if it’s to walk into a room and magically discover a brilliant author with a completed manuscript that’s something you want to represent, you’re never going to find a system that’s perfect, for the same reason it’s easier to work for a living than wander around hoping to find a suitcase full of money.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I understand the practicalities of why you’d *want* a complete manuscript, but could you talk a little about why you *need* one?

    I’ve long-suspected it’s just another way of filtering people out … but it’s a silly way of doing it, isn’t it?

    I hold down a job and have a family. I’ve got sample chapters of a novel I like, and an outline, but I can’t afford to spend months working on something that might not end up as work. I’m a graphic designer – when I go for jobs, I don’t do all the work a client would want if he hired me, on the off-chance. I show them my portfolio.

    The ‘completed manuscript’ system is the only job in the world where you do the job first, *then* go for the interview.

    The thing is … if I had time on my hands and a delusional belief in my own talent, wouldn’t I be completing manuscript after manuscript?

    I imagine that you could tell if I was a good writer with a good idea from the first chapter or two. And if I was a rubbish no-hoper from the first page.

    So why not look at sample chapters, and say ‘yes, I like this. I think it’s worth X in the current market. If you get a completed manuscript to me within four months, I’ll be happy to represent it’?

  21. Amy Sue Nathan said:

    I don’t believe there could be a screening process unless authors had to submit completed manuscripts – and even then – many people have different ideas of what ‘finished’ means.

    I had an appointment with you at the Chicago Spring Fling last year, but canceled it way before the event (so someone else could get the spot) when I realized my ms would not be ready to be pitched — but I know many, many authors who want to pitch unfinished work in the hopes of figuring out if they should finish it at all.

    You can’t monitor mindset and perception – no one can. People will do what they want in the hopes of reaping the benefits. In a way I envy their moxie, but mostly I just shake my head.

    If you are interested in talking with unpublished authors to share information and answer questions, but if it were me, I’d want you all to myself. Or, I would sit in a workshop environment where no one would be allowed to say, “What if I had a book about…would that sell…would you want to read that?”

  22. Courtney Milan said:

    “I imagine that you could tell if I was a good writer with a good idea from the first chapter or two. And if I was a rubbish no-hoper from the first page.”

    But an agent can’t tell if you’re a good *plotter* from the first chapter. Can you build tension from one chapter to the next, over and over, and then bring the book to a satisfying resolution? Starting a book is not the same talent as finishing it. And having a good idea is not the same thing as having the talent to execute it.

    Once you’ve proven you can write a completed manuscript, then yes, you can sell on proposal. But think of it this way: As a graphic artist, who would hire you based on a mock-up, if they couldn’t see your prior portfolio and be assured you could do the job? If all you had was mock-ups, why would anyone ever trust you with business-critical work?

    You need a portfolio of finished work to get your foot in the door. Same system everywhere.

  23. Anonymous said:

    Q: What I want to know is why do agents continue to attend conferences, etc., but constantly complain that they’re too busy to read mss. or have too many clients?

    I get VERY frustrated when my REQUESTED mss. (partials and fulls) sit on agents’ desks for months without so much as a follow up or response. Why do agents try so hard to find new clients, then ignore the ones who they actually solicit?

    Yes, conferences are helpful and I’m not shy, but why pay to be ignored in person as well?

  24. Anonymous said:

    I second Anon 7:31’s comment.

    I have no idea why so many agents hit the conference circuit so hard when they aren’t even looking for clients.

    Conferences usually make it a requirement that agents do pitch appointments (which brings more revenue to the conference). Thus, you get bored agents who aren’t looking for clients, smiling politely, telling you to “send it,” and giving you a form reject three months later for something they weren’t interested in anyway.

    It’s kind of a terrible circle.

    As for Kristin’s dilema, I think doing read and critique (for money — twenty/thirty bucks) would provide extra revenue for a conference and also provide writers with feedback. Done in a group setting — writers take turns reading a page or two from their MS while you follow with a hardcopy. Then, you give an honest assesment of their pages, where you’d stop reading, where you were confused, etc… It’s more valuable that those inane Q&A panals where you have 20 minutes gobbled up by the dolt that wants you to define what “literary” fiction is.

    (Newsflash: if you have to ask an agent what literary fiction is, you are’t a writer of it, so don’t worry about it).

    With Read and Critiques, at least a writer has something solid to walk away with as far as some revision ideas.

    Other than that, resurrect Miss Snark, give her a bottle of gin, and clue stick, have the conference charge fifty bucks a pop to have her insult/help manuscripts, and that’s that.

  25. Madison said:

    I’d ask a very simple question:

    “Are you ready to query?”

    Some people think that by meeting the agent’s with a complete or WIP manuscript they are getting out of the dreaded query process. This is just not so. Reading an uncomplete manuscript wastes your time as an agent and I can’t believe that more writers don’t see that. Sure there’s a difference between talking about an idea the author has and actually pitching it. Discussing an idea for a story would be wonderful in my opinion, but pitching an idea is fruitless. It gets you and the author nowhere. I really don’t understand why people don’t do thier homework and research these things. Seriously, it’s not that hard.

    Anyway, I’ll bet that meeting an author at a conference with a completed manuscript that sounds interesting to you is just an amazing thing! I wish I could go to conferences, but when money isn’t there, it just isn’t there.

    Good luck in your seach for completed manuscripts at conferences, Ms. Nelson! 😀

  26. HeatherM said:

    Kristen,

    I like your idea in Thursday’s blog about an editors lunch. If conferences did a lunch and charged it would keep the attendance to a managable level. The lunches could be for those who haven’t finished their project and the pitches could be a completely seperate, one on one, just for those who have finished their projects. Agents could choose which they wanted to do, one or both. It may actually increase agent attendance.

    You’re wonderful for taking an active interest in this process!

  27. Angie said:

    Now the Pikes Peak conference does an interesting thing with their agent/editor hosted table at the lunch hour (which is free) but the tables are too big and the room is often too noisy to really work well except for the few attendees lucky enough to sit closest to the agent or editor.

    That’s just a logistics issue, and readily solveable.

    Separate room, with a nicer lunch than the free one so people won’t mind paying for it. Smaller tables, or given what most hotels have to work with, the standard ten-round set with fewer places. Six maybe? Whatever you think would be more workable.

    Each agent has their own table, and people sign up with the conference to have lunch with them, during which they could pitch, ask questions, whatever. Being there while other people’s questions are answered would probably help too, and save time for the editor, rather than answering the same question six times.

    If you do it every day of the conference, that’ll bring in some decent revenue and make the conference organizers happy.

    The separate room means that each group can focus on itself, agents won’t be interrupted by other writers or agents or editors wanting to talk “for just a minute, sorry,” and will help keep the noise level down to a dull roar.

    This could be a problem if the hotel doesn’t have a completely separate room which could be used (maybe a nightclub or a more formal restaurant which doesn’t open to the public until evening?) because then the conference would have to find a large enough function room they could sacrifice out of the programming track right before lunch, to give the hotel time to reset it for the agent lunch, and again after lunch to give them time to clean up and reset it for panels. So that’s two panel slots per day given up for the agent lunch.

    If it’s done in place of a good chunk of the pitch meetings, though, then that’d help; it’d be a substitution rather than an addition, at least in part. [ponder] Depends how the facility is laid out, how much of it the conference is using, that sort of thing. It should be doable, though.

    Angie, who’s worked a lot of conventions and conferences

  28. Anonymous said:

    ‘But an agent can’t tell if you’re a good *plotter* from the first chapter.’

    … which is why I said I have an outline.

    I suppose my question is this: when does an agent decide not to represent a book? And I think the answer is this: not after reading all 100,000 words of a completed manuscript.

    I suspect the vast majority get rejected just based on the cover letter or description of the idea, the vast majority of the rest by the end of reading the first page.

    Now … completing a manuscript demands commitment and persistence, but it doesn’t demand talent.

    An agent, presumably, would prefer to see a first chapter that’s exciting and shows promise than a whole novel that’s a heap of crap.

    Demanding a whole novel is greedy on an agent’s part: you’re asking a prospective author to spend – what? – six months/a couple of thousand hours performing a task so that an agent can then say ‘no thanks’ in a couple of minutes. So the ‘waste of time’ here is not the agent’s. The agent is not ‘wasting’ 0.0015% of the time, let alone 15%.

    Here’s an idea for a system: each agent works out, on average, when they decided to represent each book. If they find that they tend to *know* by the end of the first chapter if it’s worth taking it to the next stage, from now on, initially, just ask for that first chapter. Yeah, you’ll end up with promising proposals that don’t turn into books? That happens already, though.

  29. Anonymous said:

    Maybe someone said something about this already, but I think some people just want to know they’re on the right track before they spend months or years writing on a concept that would never sell.

    Maybe the pitches without completed manuscripts can just be looked on as a concept check. And if you like that part enough, maybe in a few months when their mss is complete, they can send it to you.

  30. Angie said:

    About whether a completed manuscript should be required, I was under the impression that an experienced novelist (that is, someone who already has one or more books on the shelves and selling) just used a partial? And that the full manuscript requirement was for newbies?

    Anyone can write three killer chapters. A lot of people can write 3/4 of a novel and have them look good. Finishing well, though — wrapping it up, having the conflicts resolved near each other but in the right order, tucking in all the appropriate loose ends, sticking the landing — that’s tough and a lot of newbie writers can’t do it. Whether they can’t do it at all, or just need more practice, either way you can’t tell from a partial whether a newbie writer has the chops (yet) to keep going and wrap it all up. Maybe they do. If so, they can prove it by doing it. If they don’t then pitching the project is a waste of everyone’s time.

    I have a number of stories up and selling, but no novels yet, and I don’t at all resent the requirement for a finished manuscript for a first novel.

    Angie

  31. Anonymous said:

    But Angie — at 9:29 per your comment, the conference is going to have to pay for the use of 20 separate “rooms” to eat lunch in. That extra cash isn’t going to make the conference money, it’ll cost them a bunch extra.

    The PPWC has like, 400 attendees? More? The huge conference ballroom is packed full and the lunches and dinners are also where the keynote speaker does his/her thing.

  32. Anonymous said:

    Anon 9:44 — the problem with your theory is that lots of people can come up with great concepts — but it is the execution of those concepts, i.e. the actual writing, that makes a book sellable or not.

    Also, what is constitutes a “good hook” or “solid concept” varies greatly between agents. One’s gold mine is another’s trash heap, and that doesn’t mean they’ll sell anyway.

    It’d be far more painful to specifically tailor your concept/book to ONE agents needs only to have them reject with a form reject, than to write the book how you want and wait and let an editor (after a sale) do the reshuffling.

  33. Angie said:

    [email protected]:03 — no, sorry, I should’ve been more clear with that. I meant one separate room for all the pitch lunches, not a room for each agent. The idea was to get everyone participating in the activity into one room, where they wouldn’t be interrupted by random people walking by, or eating their own (normal, non-agent) lunch at the next table.

    And if lunches are taken up with speakers, then the conference could do the agent pitch thing as something else instead — maybe afternoon tea? The basic idea is flexible. But SF conventions have been doing this successfully for years, taking limited-number sign-ups for fans to attend a coffee-klatsch with a favorite writer. Since people at writer’s conferences are willing to pay extra to see an agent then we can add more refreshments, snacks or a meal or whatever appropriate level, but the core idea still works.

    Angie

  34. stargazing said:

    The last conference I attended, the only people who actually got a chance to “network” with the attending agents and editors were the organizers of the conference and the people who had signed up for pitches and/or manuscript feedback. The agents and editors sat together, ate together, and came and went together. All the rest of us just sat helplessly watching, limited to the five minute breaks that we were cautioned not to abuse.

    I so understand not wanting desperate people clawing at your pantlegs, but it was frustrating. Perhaps separate casual times might help that.

  35. ORION said:

    I guess I’m all alone here when I say I’m a complete fan of the pitch sessions. They really helped me in the beginning to have to articulate my work. Sure my first three novels were not ready but they were good practice and sure my first paid pitch sessions were pointless for the agents and editors involved but I didn’t know that at the time. It was all valuable to me so that when I finally wrote a book that was sellable I recognized it.
    My advice is if the agents don’t like the frenetic pitch sessions and don’t like not finding a stellar client then they shouldn’t do them and they should decline the conference invitation.
    I know many at the Hawaii Writers Conference and Retreat go because of the “vacation” venue and maybe the pitch sessions are the penalty you pay. There have been several good alternative suggestions that may work for different conferences but I will say that individual pitch sessions really helped me in the beginning. They gave me hope and it helped me see writing/publication as a business.
    Kristen has a great blog that educates writers and as wearying as it may be those pitch sessions are educating as as well. I thank the agents like her who persevere and help new writers even if they are not ready…some day they will be…
    Much aloha!
    Patricia Wood

  36. Laure Kadrid said:

    As an author, I agree that having a finished manuscript is important for generating good relationships and better chances at getting an agent/publisher interested.

    As an author who is still rewriting a manuscript I’ve finished countless times, I also want to point out that we need advice and help from those in the know of this industry. I am so grateful for your blog, because it saves me the embarrassment of being turned down from asking for advice merely because my manuscript is still being worked on.

    But most importantly, as a POOR author (as I sure there are many), paying to pitch is out of the already small budget. What if the conference just charged a fee for attending and left it at that? I’m sure more revenue could be generated by pricing food and drinks, etc (if I’m thirsty enough I’ll shell out a few bucks for a good soda 🙂 same goes for food). That way it will feel less daunting for authors such as myself who often feel like my life’s work is only worth what I can afford, which usually is nothing.

    Thanks again for all your advice and thoughts! 🙂 Keep posting! 🙂

  37. Courtney Milan said:

    Anon @9:40

    You’re starting from the premise that an agent is doing something irrational by requiring a full manuscript. (Incidentally, you’re asking the wrong question. The question is not, when does an agent REJECT a manuscript; it is, when does an agent offer representation on a full.)

    Maybe Kristin or some other agents can shed light on this, but this just seems common sense: agents are flooded with work. If they didn’t HAVE to read full manuscripts to make good decisions, why would they insist on doing it?

    Why would Kristin request 88 full manuscripts and take on only 2 new clients, if those last 360 pages didn’t matter?

    Agents have no reason to gate-keep for nonsensical reasons. Agents are not your enemies. They do not want to keep authors from selling books. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They get paid when you get paid. Of all the people in publishing, the agents’ interests are the most aligned with yours: Agents want to sell books, for lots of money, and for the books they sell to do really well.

    Why would they invent a requirement that makes more work for themselves and their potential clients, thus standing in the way of making more money, if it did not matter?

  38. 150 said:

    What about a first-page critique? Or however many pages you can critique in the length of time of a typical pitch session.

  39. Kindle Joe said:

    Kindle… the invisible revolution. While Amazon boasts wonderful sales figures and fantastic projections for future Kindle sales (despite a rapidly tanking economy, one where Starbucks may become a thing of the past), a phenomena is now occurring in media circles about the nation.

    If Kindles are revolutionizing publishing, where the heck are they?

    They aren’t showing up in reading lounges, coffee shops or restaurants. They aren’t seen on buses or at train stations, and websites that sell downloads specifically for the Kindle reader have sold remarkably few publications in the Kindle format.

    Now, I know that the Amazon corporation (please add emphasis to ‘corporation’) would never do anything to boost their own stock prices by falsifying sales figures for a ‘revolutionary’ device like the Kindle. Surely not an American corporation. No corporation has ever cheated, lied or stolen to get ahead in the dog-eat-dog world they’ve created out of greed and lawlessness.

    Oh wait… they have. It’s why the economy sucks.

    Kindle on, kindler!

  40. Anonymous said:

    ‘The question is not, when does an agent REJECT a manuscript’

    It’s the same question. A manuscript that doesn’t get rejected is accepted.

    The vast majority of manuscripts are going to get rejected. The best system, for both authors and agents, is a system that rejects those that are going to get rejected as efficiently as possible.

    As it takes six months – say – to write a full manuscript, and six minutes – say – for the agent to realize it’s not their kind of thing, yes, it’s ‘a waste of an agent’s time’, but it’s wasting a lot *more* of the author’s time.

    And of course agents are gatekeepers. I’ve no doubt at all that 99% of everything every agent gets is complete rubbish and absolutely deserves to get rejected.

    Like I say, if an agent worked out, on average, what page they’ve worked they’re not interested, and asked for *that* much of the book, that would be more efficient.

    I’m guessing more get rejected because of page 1 than because of page 300. I’m sure there are books that have a lousy prologue, but suddenly from page 5 things come together … but I’m guessing not many books that are crap on page 10 are great by page 100.

    The ‘full manuscript’ thing is gatekeeping – it’s a great way of cutting down the number of submissions … but the problem is that you’re substituting quantity for quality.

    As *a first stage*, I think the sample chapter way has got to be best. *Then* you say ‘get back to me with a full manuscript’ or (in 99% of cases) put the author out of their misery.

    Agents are not on the side of deluded, unsaleable non-writers. 99% of the people they deal with are that. The best system would quickly get rid of them, so they can concentrate on the ones who show promise.

  41. The Great Anonymoe! said:

    Agents are the best, busiest people in the world, don’t you fault them for being busy bees, you anonymous hooey-throwers! You are sooooo lucky agent kristen has the time to share her stories and thoughts with you, and should thank her lots, because she doesn’t have a lot of time to spare in her day, and you are lucky she still deigns to talk with unpublished writers at pitch sessions- and how nice is it that she can still manage to deal with so many people who have good ideas but are poopy writers like all of you! anonymous types……….

    Aww, screw it, I’m out of practice. Imitating you butt-lickers takes too much energy. Just go back to chanting “Kristen is great, Kristen’s your pal” and fetch a cup o’ Kool Aid. Peace.

    Anonymoe.

  42. suelder said:

    At Boskone, in Boston, they have coffee Klatches. You sign up and have coffee with an author/agent/editor for an hour and it’s limited to about 10 people.

    We had coffee with Jane Yolen, who celebrated her birthday at the conference, and it was lovely. She had a lot of good advice and it was a highlight of the conference.

  43. Tsuki said:

    @ Anonymous the Graphic Designer:

    It really puzzles me why a visual artist, of all people, doesn’t understand the need for new writer to have a finished manuscript.

    For visual art, would you expect someone to commission you do to a big job just by looking at a few sketches? Of course not. You need a portfolio of finished pieces. The same goes for writers. Well-established writers CAN get contracts with just an outline (or less, in some cases). But if you’re querying, you’re obviously not to that point in your career yet. A painter just starting his career needs to finish a picture before he can sell it. A writer just starting out needs to finish a book before he can sell it. Portfolio-building premades first, commissions later–it’s basically the same system for both industries.

    I also think you’re confused about what the role of a literary agent actually is. An agent isn’t an editor or a writing teacher. Their job is selling your work and advising you on the legal and business aspects of your career–not critiquing your writing. If you can’t tell by yourself if your writing is good or not, you shouldn’t be bothering with an agent. Sign up for a writing class. Read lots of writing books and even more of the kind of books you want to write. Find an experienced writer that can be a friend and a mentor to you. Wait to query an agent until you’ve got the craft of writing under your belt and know what you’re doing.

    Last point–if you’re not willing to take the time and effort to finish a book that might never sell…well, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not cut out to be a writer in the first place. If you don’t enjoy writing enough to be doing it for its own sake, why are you writing at all? There are plenty of other hobbies that are easier and more profitable. You should be doing something you really like to do.

    If you DO enjoy writing but hate the investment of time and energy…well, sad news for you again. In “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell, he estimates that in order to be really, professionally good at anything–music, art, sports, etc–a person has to invest about 10,000 hours of practice. Ten-thousand. Four zeros. It’s a lot. But how many hours do most people put into writing practice before they think they can publish a book? Probably only a fraction of that.

    Writing can be a hobby–you can do it once in a while for fun. And if you keep at it, you might even sell something once in a while. Or writing it can be a serious career. If you want it to be the latter, you’d better be prepared to put in as much time as it take to become really good at it. You can’t become a professional artist by painting one picture, and you can’t be a professional writer by only writing one book. Especially a book you won’t even finish unless you know someone’s going to pay you for it. Some people write five or ten full novels before they get good enough to write one that sells. Sure, it takes a long time. But, like the old saying goes, “No deposit, no return”. If writing is really important to you, then it’s worth putting in the time and effort. If it’s not that important, just keep it as your hobby and stop worrying about whether an agent’s going to like your work or not.

  44. AR said:

    Why not let them be pitch/critique sessions? As long as the client it paying for the time, let them choose what they are getting out of it. They’ll get more if they have a project ready. If not, let them talk about their project(s) and where they are at, what the plan is, and get an agent’s perspective. Just let them know at the beginning that this does not imply a sale or anything like it.

  45. Anonymous said:

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but got to Debra Schubert’s and it made the most sense.
    Okay, so the pitch sessions are a money maker. I’ve got to believe enough of the attendees have a complete manuscript for some sort of screening and sorting to take place.
    I attended the Colorado Gold Conference this year, pitched Kristin for a completed ms, and got a request for a partial. She politely declined a few weeks later. (No worries, I’ve found an agent since then!!)
    Anyway, I met tons of other writers with complete works at that conference. It seems there are enough serious writers out there for both money making and making the pitch session worthwhile for the agents.
    The idea of a “viability hour” with an agent also sounds good. Though I wonder why anyone would fork out the $$ to attend a conference without a completed ms in hand.

  46. Kat Sheridan said:

    I was fortunate enough to attend a conference last year where Sara Megabow was a guest. At dinner the first evening, each visting editor and agent was assigned to a table of about 8-10, and attendees got to sit with the person of their choice (sorry Sara, I chose to sit with Deb Werksman, since a friend is publishing soon with her! Happily, Deb has also now requested the full of *my* MS!) The agents and editors each talked to their tablemates about what they were looking for and took informal pitches. This was the time to pitch concepts and ideas, though the first thing all asked was “is it finished”.

    Later, Sara provided a great workshop on queries, using actual query letters provided by audience members (wish I’d had mine ready to go at that point, since this was chance number 2 to pitch to an agent!) Meals were also buffet style, with the agents and editors in line with everyone else (I did an “elevator pitch”) to an agent in the buffet line and got a request to send a formal query).

    Then came the formal pitch sessions (being new and shy, I didn’t sign up for one, much to my later regret!) This was the time for a formal pitch of a completed work.

    In my office, we have a saying. You have to do the job before you get the job. It’s the same in writing. You have to prove you can produce a work that’s going to make everyone money, including the agent *before* you try to sell it. I agree with Tsuki. You’re selling a product, and it takes practice to make it the best it can be. An agent is not a critique partner, they are the partner you want when selling a completed work. I have great critique partners already. What I’m ready for next is a great agent to take my *completed* work to the next level. I don’t write to make a sale. I write because it’s something I love.

  47. Claire said:

    If you meant a product from Finland, I think it would be Finnish(graph 3; if you meant complete, it would be finished. I don’t think you would like it if I submitted something to you without proofing it.

  48. Kate said:

    I love this blog, Kristin. My group traveled at dawn to the Tulsa conference Saturday. Snow fell all day, 4-6 inches by the time we drove slowly and carefully back to Arkansas. Writers are intrepid!

    The practice at this conference is to accept samples for an agent or editor critique, but to mail them home after the meeting, not allowing any face to face time at all. Big Surprise and we weren’t happy. ALL of your suggestions trump this situation.

    For anyone out there interested in joining an online critique group for MG-YA mysteries and suspense novels, please check out
    HAVEN at http://www.katelacy.blogspot.com

    Thanks!

    Kate Lacy

  49. Bonnie said:

    Several years ago I attended a conference where (for that extra fee, of course) we writers could submit a manuscript section in advance (I think it was a query package, or 20 pages of a novel, or a complete short story) and then at the conference got a short session with the editor, agent, or experienced writer. I still cringe when I remember poor Anne Bernays trying to find a tactful way to tell me that my story idea was, er, not ready for prime time and neither was my brain, but as painful as it was, it was extremely useful information and not something my friends were ever going to be able to tell me. (I hope I get a chance to meet her again and thank her for that blunt truth.)

    Talking to the other writers, it seemed like having to submit in advance did at least weed out a lot of the wannabes who were more interested in saying they were writers than in actually writing something.

  50. Anonymous said:

    ‘If writing is really important to you, then it’s worth putting in the time and effort.’

    Yes, absolutely, no argument. But you invest that time and effort – and the best investment isn’t to race off down the wrong path, complete something that’s completely unsaleable and useless.

    The agent and the good writers are on the same side here, I see that. The ‘problem’ is the people who aren’t up to scratch, for whatever reason and to whatever degree, and to whatever level of self awareness.

    I understand what an agent is and does, and isn’t and doesn’t. I’m trying to solve a specific problem raised by an agent, how best to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    The system that’s needed is one that weeds out time-wasters. But by insisting that people send in a full manuscript, all you’d select for is *people with plenty of time on their hands*.

    A question for any agents reading: have you ever, or ever heard of, someone who submitted a 300 page manuscript where the first 100 pages were rubbish, then suddenly on page 101 it all clicked into place and from then on it was utterly brilliant?

    I’m guessing that *by definition*, you haven’t, because any novel is going to want to start strong.

    I suppose the next question for the agents reading is: ‘in your heart of hearts, do you think by insisting on a full manuscript you can demonstrate you are raising the quality of the stuff you get sent, or are you merely trying to reduce the quantity?’.

    The graphic design analogy isn’t ‘sketches’. It’s samples. If a company wanted, say, a slightly different logo for every US state, I’d *complete* two or three to as close as possible as the finished product. Not all fifty. The potential client would go ‘great’ or ‘tweak that’ or ‘go away’ … and if he liked them you’d do the rest in the same style.

    Great sample chapters and an outline, demonstrating awareness of the specific requirements of the agent, would show a lot more promise than ‘here’s 300 pages of rubbish’. The ability to write three good chapters is a better indicator that you can write a good novel than the ability to fill three hundred pages with words.

    The thing is … agents are in a buyers’ market. They get sent a thousand manuscripts a year, looking to find – what? – five saleable ones. The law of averages says they can manage that.

    The real agenda here is they want to somehow just walk into a room and find one of those five guys just standing there, book finished and ready to go. Well … you’ve set up a system that encourages chaff, not wheat, I think. By insisting on quantity, you’re going to cut quality.

  51. Anonymous said:

    Okay – here’s one for the more experienced folks.

    If the conference invitations still say 2-line pitch as they have for ages, what’s the penalty for having 3 sentences….dare I ask for 4? I like Kristin’s paragraph of 4-5 sentences–the essential details are there, followed by a tease.

    AND I understand the Hi-concept
    “man against the elements” one-liners. But 2-lines leaves a bit of this and a bit of that and lots of dangling bits.

    What do you (all) think?

    Kate

  52. Angie said:

    [email protected]:42 — the factor you’re ignoring, though, is staying power. It’s absolutely not true that anyone and everyone who decides to give this writing thing a shot can finish a novel. Maybe you can, and always could, and if so then that’s great. But I know any number of writers who have unfinished novels which will never be completed. They ran into some sort of roadblock — whether plot-related or motivation-related or whatever — which they could never get past. Those novels will never be finished.

    A lot of writers produce many false starts before they’re able to finish one; it takes time and practice for them to figure out how not to run themselves up into a blind alley, or to figure out how to back out and save the story if they do.

    It doesn’t matter how fantastic that first hundred pages is, if the writer can’t finish the book, and many can’t. That’s just a fact. It’s a complete waste of an agent’s time to do a pitch appointment and talk about marketability or minor tweaks on a book which will never be finished. So if you’re a newbie, if you’ve never finished and sold a book before, the first thing you have to do to get an agent’s attention is prove — by showing a completed manuscript — that you can finish the book. I realize that this frustrates you, but it’s true and it’s not at all pointless, and demanding a finished product will in and of itself weed out a lot of the completely unprepared newbies, no matter how wonderful and sparkly their first hundred pages might be.

    Also, if you’re really that new (and actually, if you’re anyone at all, but particularly for someone still learning the basics) no practice is ever wasted. Even if you’re running down the wrong path from a marketing POV and the finished book will be unsaleable in the current market for whatever reason, the experience of actually writing something novel length is valuable as practice. It’s like saying all the songs musicians play or sing while nobody is listening and there’s no recording equipment going are pointless. No, they’re not. They’re practice, and they’re valuable as practice, even if the musician never does perform that particular song at a paying gig.

    Same with writing. Most writers do have at least one or two trunk novels which they completed back when but were unable to ever sell. Some have a whole trunk full of the things. It might be frustrating to think about writing six or ten novels which never sell, but for the writers who do it, every one of those books was part of the process which eventually got them to the book they sold.

    Angie

  53. Treva said:

    Why a completed ms.? All of the other reasons are valid but let’s say the agent does take it because the agent knows someone wants that kind of ms. You think the agent is going to look good when he or she says — um, can you wait and see if the author can finish it first? I’m not sure when or if that will be, by the way.

  54. Jenny said:

    To Anon. 8:42 A.M.

    I would argue that the position of an agent is more along the lines of a sports scout. It’s the job of coaches (teachers/mentors) and teammates (writers groups/first readers) to make sure that the players learn the game–the scout is just trying to find the best players.

    I completely understand that you want a really streamline way of knowing whether or not time is being wasted–don’t we all? But your solution isn’t a whole lot different than what’s out there now. You send in sample pages and an outline in your set-up. Well, a query letter, synopsis, and sample pages are demanded from most agents anyway–if you want to see if your project has potential, why not give that package to a writer friend or teacher before you create it?

    But agents offering representation on a package alone would get a lot of agents into some knotty situations because a writer can spend a great deal of time on just a few pages and ignore the rest of the product. In order to know if a baseball player can play, you have to watch the whole game. Can they field? Can they catch? Can they hit? A finished manuscript shows that you can play all around. Plus, I imagine lit agents won’t request 300 pages from the duds.

    And I think requesting that a great story be finished goes beyond the wheat/chaff question to “Who has the finished loaf of really tasty bread?”

  55. Courtney Milan said:

    “The system that’s needed is one that weeds out time-wasters. But by insisting that people send in a full manuscript, all you’d select for is *people with plenty of time on their hands*.”

    The novel that sold, I wrote while working a hugely time-consuming day job that had me in the office 70-80 hours a week. The two books I wrote prior to completing that novel I wrote while working a job that was even more demanding–as in, in the office around 100 hours a week.

    It must have been the extra time I had on my hands that allowed me to write.

    Writing isn’t a great career choice for people who conduct rational economic calculus. You can always make more money another way.

    Even if you had an agent who thought your first two chapters were groovy and offered representation, she might not be able to sell your completed manuscript. Or she might sell the book that took you 500 hours to write for $2000, and then, when your book tanks, you might never be able to sell another book of yours again.

    That’s more likely than any other outcome.

    With the exception of bestsellers like Nora Roberts or Stephen King, under any rational economic calculus it is never going to make sense to write.

  56. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Anonymous Graphic Designer, You are confusing the agent’s role with that of one of your clients. It’s in fact quite the opposite. You would be the *agent’s* client, and you would choose to hire the agent based on *her* portfolio of work (i.e., the other clients she has sold). Just as you can’t go to your prospective clients with a completed project, a literary agent can’t come to you with her job completed either (i.e., a publishing offer).

    And, on the flip side, just as one of your clients can’t come to you and say “hey, can you design me something? Specs? gosh, I have no idea. It could be a billboard, or a website, or a bookmark, and I don’t know what the product is that I want you to design, either. Could be soda pop, or a book jacket. No idea. Just tell me if you can design something for it.” You can’t go to an agent and ask her to represent for sale something that doesn’t exist. How can she formulate a plan of action?

  57. Karen Duvall said:

    Kristin, I know you attend the Colorado Gold conference in Denver sometimes, and they don’t charge extra for pitch sessions. But they do charge extra for the critique workshops led by the attending agents and editors. For $30, you can be one of 8 attendees per group who get 2 1/2 hours with an agent or editor of their choice to discuss and critique 8 pages of an incomplete or complete novel the agent or editor received a month beforehand. This is by far the most valuable aspect of this conference, and to me, far more valuable than a 10 or 15 minute pitch session.

    I already have an agent, so last year I chose a workshop with the St. Martin’s editor and it was awesome! She was very helpful and is now in touch with my agent on that particular project. But what was cool was the networking aspect. Once the crits were done, she invited questions and discussion topics from the group and she was a wealth of information. She got together with some of us in the bar afterward.

    Another aspect of the Colorado Gold conference that I find valuable is the hospitality suite where attendees, agents and editors can hang out and party after the day’s festivities are over. Not all agents and editors go because they’re pretty beat at the end of the day, but a few do and we have a great time getting to know each other. No one pitches, but everyone shmoozes and chats about the publishing industry. It’s an amazing event.

    I’m attending the Colorado Gold again this year, and I think you’ll be there, Kristin. I thought I saw your name on the list. If so, I may see you in September.

  58. A said:

    I’m not sure how common my situation is, but I currently have a novel approaching the finish line (5th draft or so), which I know is still not quite ready but would definitely benefit from hearing an agent or editor’s take… how close is it from a writing standpoint, what kind of market is out there, do the pitch paragraph and synopsis I’ve already written sound promising? I’d love a chance to share, say, the pitch paragraph, a one-page synopsis, and a chapter with an agent or editor and get their realistic take on it.

  59. David said:

    The suggestion that I would do would be to set aside a scheduled block – 1 to 2 hours where and editor/agent or both host a Round Table discussionm for a specific genre. For instance at a Romance Conference you could have Round tables for Historical, paranormal, modern, cross genre, etc. These periods would have a set maximum and take place at the same time, so an author could choose the most approperiate grouping for thier upcoming work. At that time the hosts of the group can facilitate a discussion and the writers could benefit from a network opporunity. I would also suggest that the first five pages of each persons new project or project in process is brought for the group to review. So everyone reads a copy, the group disucsses, then they move on.

  60. Deb S. said:

    As a newbie, I’d love to see a blog post here on pitch sessions: Exactly how they work. Examples of good and bad.

  61. Robin said:

    Anon:
    “The system that’s needed is one that weeds out time-wasters. But by insisting that people send in a full manuscript, all you’d select for is *people with plenty of time on their hands*.”

    If this is how you look at writing I would politely suggest you stick with graphic arts.
    Novels don’t burst forth out of your head. It takes writing, editing, rewriting, honing, polishing and more than just a couple of good first chapters to know that someone can write a novel start to finish that is good enough to have a shot at being published.
    Instead of taking the time to complain that agents want a finished book maybe you should avoid being a time waster and actually sit down and produce a complete piece of work.

  62. Gabriella said:

    Sometimes people with an unfinished manuscript or just a basic idea of a story just want to know if they have potential. Could their idea work? Could this be a good book? Could they really make it out there? With an unfinished manuscript or just an idea…the answer to the potentiality question is always YES! Yes, if written, rewritten, polished and edited a few times….the unfinished manuscript and general idea could have lots of potential. No promises. But lots of potential.

    Just tell that to people. They want to hear that they are not wasting their time, and that their idea has potential. Then send them off to do more research on their subject matter, join writing groups, read some great writing books, and finish that novel.

    Tell them you do not accept ideas, or unfinished manuscripts, but that they should look you up on the internet when their manuscript is polished…and to check your submission guidelines just in case they’ve changed. And encourage them to try several other agent websites too.

    The key here is to be encouraging. That’s it. That’s all you can really do in 10-15 minutes.

    The writer will go away INSPIRED to continue writing. Inspired to read up on everything. Inspired to make it happen.

  63. Cat Moleski said:

    I attended SCBWI in Maryland last year and was lucky enough to have lunch with Linda Pratt of the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. She graciously allowed all of us at the table to pitch to her whether the work was complete or in process. I pitched a WIP and her comments have saved me years of work.

    I would happily pay to pitch a WIP to an agent or editor at a future convention and would love to have that opportunity again.

  64. David Eric Tomlinson said:

    If you’re trying to teach authors with an unfinished manuscript how to pitch, get them together and facilitate a session about “Pitching Basics.” Start with an agent, editor and a slew of authors with unfinished manuscripts, and get consensus from the group on which well-known novel you’ll be pitching. Then have them work through the creation, revision and performance of a pitch for that book … say “Twilight” or “Lolita.”

    The key will be illustrating how they should think about putting the puzzle pieces together for a successful pitch of their own once they’re ready with a finished manuscript. The workshop will provide them with the skillset to do that, and there’s still the networking aspect with agents and editors which will drive registrations.

    If you want to get really creative with the workshop, have a ‘pitch contest’ at the end of the session, where one author will get a guaranteed chance to have an agent or editor review their partial once it’s completed, based solely upon the creativity of their pitch. That would probably drive incremental registrations as well.

  65. jimnduncan said:

    The thing with pitching agents at conferences is that you can do that regardless. The only benefit it might get you is getting read a bit sooner, which is good with some agents but for others with rather quick turn around anyway, that doesn’t mattter either. Having the chance to just bs with an agent for 15 minutes would be far more interesting to me and probably more worthwhile in general.

    I recall from somewhere, and it might have been this blog, where at some conference, a panel of agents took a whole mess of query blurbs, read them aloud and made comments on whether they’d ask for pages or not and why. This sort of thing would be invaluable to most attendees I think, and as I recall, this panel thing was received very well. Folks loved it.
    Conferences should do something like this all the time. People sign up to have their blurb put before the panel. Four or five agents, twenty or so blurbs a piece, going through them just like you would pulling them out of your inbox. Couple minutes per blurb, 90 minute workshop. Query Shark 101.

    Socializing venues are good too because I think a lot of people go just for the chance to get a couple minutes to meet agents/editors they’d like to meet. Sure, many writers have difficulty in these kinds of social situations, but we need to learn how to make the most of those. That kind of learning is just as important as learning various elements of the craft of writing.

    Editors are another matter. Many of them you can’t just send a query too. Being able to get a request from an editor means more, and people should be required to have a completed ms to do these. No excuses. Have writers required to email the ms along with their appt request in order to verify.

    Writers and conference organizers need to remember to that agents and editors come for a variety of reasons, one of which is find that occasional gem. They shouldn’t be forced to waste their time because conferences want to make money off of pitch appointments. Not terribly fair in my opinion. Lots of other ways for writers to get their ideas validated.

  66. Michael said:

    I think the problem needs quantifying. It’s the writers who are misappropriating time. The question is, why are they trying to pitch something they haven’t finished? Do they understand a finished manuscript is needed? Perhaps the approach should be to survey the attendees without manuscripts to determine their reasons and expectations.

    Several have guessed at this, as they are writers and are trying to get published, and the idea of the pitch practice work shops could incorporate such surveying.

    Cheers

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