Pub Rants

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

Glazed Like Doughnuts

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STATUS: Back in Denver after a red-eye flight. A little bleary.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’LL THINK OF ME by Keith Urban

Last year it felt like I had done about 8 conferences too many. Big Grin here. So this year I was very careful on how many I actually committed to so truth be told, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do pitch sessions. I certainly got back into the swing of things this weekend with over 30 pitch sessions.

Because it’s so fresh in my mind, I have a couple of things I’d love to share with you readers—just in case you are doing a conference in the near future.

1. As hard as this will be to actually do, try not to be nervous. Agents are pros at helping writers through the pitch session. Even if you botch it to start, we’ll help save the session for you so do let us. In other words, don’t ramble on about your project. If you’ve missed, just stop, ‘fess up to it. Chances are we’ll be charmed and we’ll start asking questions to help you get it right.

2. This one is crucial. Limit your pitch to under 2 minutes and I recommend 1 minute if you can do it.

Why?

Because if you talk for the full 10 minutes, trust me, we’ll start glazing like doughnuts and our thoughts will start drifting. It really is hard to focus on someone talking straight for that amount of time without any interaction (and we really try not to glaze).

Luckily, this only happened once for me and when I realized I had lost my focus, I tried to get back into the session. I have no idea if the writer noticed or not. I hope not.

When the glaze is happening, I do look for an opening to see if I can interject and ask a question. Another good piece of advice? If the agent does that, don’t go back to your pitch! Let it ride and move forward from there.


26 Responses

  1. Jm Diaz said:

    Will definitely keep that in mind. Thanks! Question about the pitch, if you don’t mind. Should the pitch sound like the blurb at the back of a book, or more “personal”? (shall I say?)
    I’m okay with writing the blurb, its the “telling” that makes me feel a bit awkward.

    Thanks!

  2. Krista Phillips said:

    SO very timely, thank you! Pitching makes my stomach curl just thinking about it. I need to get over it, I know.

    I can almost promise my pitch will be one minute or less (going off to a conference in a week). I talk REALLY fast when I’m nervous so, said poor agent will probably be like, “huh?” when I’m done.

    In fact, that’s my goal. That my pitch actually last one minute and not just thirty seconds of rapid-fire Krista speech. Baby steps… Baby steps!

  3. Vacuum Queen said:

    do people only pitch once they’re done with a project? I’d love to bend an ear with my WIP and get good feedback. Already do it with my writing group, but would be fun to hear from an agent. But only if it’s not taboo to come in “unfinished.”

  4. Amber J. Gardner said:

    Is it bad to bring a small card with a one or three sentenced pitch to read during these sessions?

    I’ve never pitched verbally before, but if I did, I would definitely would like something to keep me focused and not ramble on from nervousness.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Vacuum,

    It’s typically bad form to pitch an unfinished project. A finished ms. is usually a prerequisite for signing up for a pitch session. If an agent likes the pitch, they ask to see a partial or full of the manuscript. The goal is for writers with polished mss. to get an agent, and agents to find clients with marketable mss.

    But many conferences do have agent/editor read & critique sessions for those brave enough to have a few pages of their work critiqued.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I wish writers would understand that pitch appointments are never going to get you an agent. They just aren’t. Even if you nail the sucker and the agent thinks you are smart, adorable, and wishes you were their client, THE BOOK IS WHAT MATTERS, and at some point, they will actually have to read it.

    At one conference I attended, I overheard two agents talking in the ladies room. They were on their way to slog through all their pitch appointments. BOTH of them were laughing at what a waste of time it was going to be because neither one of them were looking for clients AT ALL. This is the norm. If agents are looking for clients, hello, they’d sort through the hundreds of queries for finished books in their inbox instead of taking a tax-write off mini-vacation conference.

    On the other hand, you’ve got writers spending tons of cash they don’t have on conference fees JUST SO THEY CAN pitch an agent — that isn’t looking for clients.

    Why does no one see this but me? I cannot be the only one.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous 7:21 AM — You’re not the only one, but writers longing to become published writers keep falling for these things. If your book is what the agent’s looking for, they’ll find it in their own in-box. The author may also find an agent at a conference, but only on rare occasions. That’s why it makes news in the writerly world.

  8. kim reid said:

    Anon 7:21,

    I’ll defend conferences. You can get much more from them than a pitch session — learn more about the craft, make acquaintances who might mentor you or blurb a future book, get tips on the business of writing. Besides all that, for some, it’s just plain fun and motivating to hang out with writers for a few days.

    It’s rare, but finding an agent through a pitch session does happen. At PPWC, I pitched the book Kristin eventually repped and sold for me.

    A couple of years before my book sold, I met my future editor at a conference, though not through a pitch session because my book wasn’t finished at that point. It was just a quick conversation, but she remembered me when Kristin pitched the ms.

    At a different conference, during dinner, I happened to sit with an editor of The Writer Magazine. Months later, I pitched him an article idea that sold.

    I like networking. If it’s something you feel comfortable doing, you might make some useful connections at a conference. Even if you don’t like mingling, there’s still much to gain from a conference that has nothing to do with pitching — if you go into it thinking you might.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Kim — (I’m Anon 7:21) I wasn’t talking about conferences. I was talking specifically about pitch sessions. You should go to conferences if you want to. I agree, they are fun, and you come away having met other writers and feeling refreshed and eager to continue working on your book.
    No argument there.

    However, you probably do realize the other side of the PITCH sessions — that you have to sometimes have to pay additional money for — as being a large, large part of why writers go to conferences. And, in fact, conferences advertise all over the place what great agents editors are going to be there IN ORDER to dangle the lure of getting an agent from a pitch appointment — I feel that is greatly dishonest.

    I’ve talked to writers — some of whom had spent money they didn’t have, for conference fees, airfare, and hotel stays — that felt they were sold a bill of goods when it came to pitching someone who so very clearly had no interest in signing them (or anyone else.) I’ve sat in the audience at an agent panal where an audience member asked what kind of new clients the agent was looking for, and she responded, “I’m not.” Well, good for her for telling the truth (since most don’t) but then what about the uproar from the people that had paid an extra twenty-five dollars to pitch to her? THAT is when it is wrong for agents to participate in pitch appointments, because they are hurting writers by doing this.

  10. Blooming Eventually said:

    Kristin–I was at the Hawaii Writer’s Conference, too. Didn’t get a chance to say “Hi, I read your blog”, but I did attend your sessions. Great stuff, and thank you. Very valuable. You won’t likely receive an in-person book pitch from me, but you will receive an e-query eventually, when I am ready. 🙂 Wasn’t the pink hotel amazing?

  11. Anonymous said:

    Patience please — fair enough. I won’t comment anymore. Please feel free to continue under the assumption that a pitch appointment is going to sell your book.

    Good luck to you.

  12. lettersfromlordship said:

    Anonymous 10:06: I was at the Hawaii Writers Conference. One attendee pitched her book on Friday, and handed sample pages to the interested agent. The agent stayed up until 2:00 a.m. reading the partial (it’s fiction, and I think I’m correct that the book is not finished), and called the writer on Saturday to offer representation. That conference attendee, who paid $50 for that session, left with an agent — money well spent.

    I met with 1 agent and 2 editors. All were informative and encouraging, though not really the best folks for my book, a chick-lit memoir/online
    dating book. I didn’t realize how quickly the one-on-one slots would go, or I would have gotten up at 6:00 a.m. to sign up with Kristin. However, to a person, every agent I spoke to during the conference (usually just for a moment after a presentation) encouraged me to email him or her with a query, and often sample pages. They made the point that people who are serious enough to attend conferences — and shell out the money and the energy — are going to get an agent to read their material.

    Of course, it’s always the writing, in the end.

    I think the value of those one-on-one sessions involves the chance to get rare personal feedback and practice “selling” one’s book, along with the specific goal of interesting a particular agent. But of course you don’t have to go to Hawaii to do that. Smaller, more affordable conferences are all over the country.

  13. David Kearns said:

    Too rich, that last one about the lecturns. Boooya!
    Oy, I went to the Orlando writer’s conference years ago; had five minutes with a giant in the industry. The killer was the term “Men’s Adventure Novel” my fault for not being Tom Clancy. Damn me and my stupidity! When will I learn? I got another agent good and soused, then took him to Denny’s before he turned in. He not only didn’t represent me, he didn’t remember me: too much is too much, people. C’mon now, wize up. Maybe I went about this all wrong. I dunno. I did see a lot of cougars there at the writer’s CONference. One nice lady tried to shove me in the elevator, take me upstairs to see her manuscript. Maybe she thought I as an agent. (Married, sorry. Nice dress though.) Bob Morris was a fnny speaker, though. Got to meet him and just like his writing he is a funny guy who is a damned fine human being, gracious to the newbees like me. That was like 12 years ago; people still think of me as a newbee and hell, maybe I am. I sure liked this post and all the back and forth here. The “john” stoy was (SINGING) PRICELESS!
    Me? I’m just glad I didn’t pay frst class to go to Hawaii for the same experience. I would have been p.O ed.
    You want some more funny haha about the biz? Are you disillusioned enough yet? Go to!

    http://www.mybladderisfull.blogspot.com

    Dave,
    Palm Bay Florida

  14. Kourtnie McKenzie said:

    To the commenters that are discussing the value of conferences, I wanted to share my personal experiences.

    I was one of the few that pitched to super-awesome Kristin Nelson. Here’s some things regarding her post and about conferences in general:

    – She’s not kidding when she says agents will help you walk through it. I was totally nervous in my giant ball of introversion and it was much more conversational and productive than the eviler side of imagination built it up to be. It also reinforced my love for this blog, getting to meet her face-to-face!

    – Agents are going to ask you key questions during the pitches that might seem obvious, but you don’t consider them until they drop into your lap, and this is something for you to further think about beyond your 10 minutes with them. These are questions that you’d never run across otherwise if it weren’t for this one-on-one interaction with someone in the industry that you really respect!

    – These “pitches” not only give you the opportunity to talk about your book, but ask about the other books the agent represents–that you’ve hopefully read!–and this is a great, unique twist on the learning process.

    – The conferences aren’t just about the pitches! There were also awesome classes at this conference I attended, and lots of notes that I took home with me. Conferences have taught me that different agents have different preferences for queries, for starters!

    I have zero regrets going to both the conferences I have attended so far. Talking one-on-one with people in the industry, and listening to the sessions they have there, has brought me a wealth of knowledge I might have taken much longer to stumble upon otherwise.

  15. Imelda said:

    I think, for someone who wants a career in the industry, doing pitch sessions is a useful exercise, whether or not it produces a contract, or representation. Even if you sell your book by email or mail, at some point, if you become successful enough, someone is going to want you to talk about your work. Being able to do that succinctly, under pressure, is a very useful skill. And there is no better way to learn than to do it.

    I have been a storyteller (as in getting up in front of people and telling stories) for 20 years and am perfectly comfortable speaking publicly. Yet it took me four pitches, over four conferences before I was able to pitch without dribbling. In the process I learnt much about getting to the point and controlling nerves (the latter something I didn’t realise I needed to learn).

    If an agent or editor comes to a conferencee with no intention of signing anyone, that is unprofessional; but so is pitching an unfinished work, or a work unsuitable for that agent, and I am sure writers have done that, too. Pitching is a little like entering a lottery, for both sides. There is an investment (of time, or money) and a relatively small chance of success. But there is also the chance of cutting through a lot of tedium to the good stuff. Both sides need to determine whether the cost is worth the risk and the return.

    If you are too skint to go to the conferences, don’t despair. You just need to remember what the wonderful Anne Gracie says in her workshops [my additions in square brackets]: “Winning competitions [or pitching] will get you in front of an editor [or agent]. But so will postage.”

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