The Sweetie Chronicles

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

Pitching at Conferences

Pitching face-to-face with an agent or an editor is one of the best ways to get your material on their desk. With the experience fresh in my mind, I thought I would share some tips about how it works, what you should wear, whether or not you should be nervous, and whether the stress is worth it.

First things first. Before you even sign up for an appointment, do your research! Make sure the person you are meeting with represents or publishes the type of novel you are pitching. Also, make sure your book is finished. Pitching an unfinished book about a serial killer to an agent who only represents sweet historical romances is only going to waste her time and will get you nowhere in your goal to become published.

How does a pitch appointment work? There are probably lots of different kinds of pitch appointments, but so far in my experience, a one-on-one pitch lasts about ten minutes and is given sitting down at a table with the editor or agent. Like in this photo of last week's pitch room at RWA's National Conference, pitches are often given in a room full of agents and editors, rather than in a private room. Be sure to arrive at least fifteen minutes early in order to sign in and find your seat. At RWA, a volunteer was there to line up all of the people who had appointments at a specific time so that we could walk in an orderly way to our respective agent or editor's table. Personally, I like to sit in the waiting area for about thirty minutes thinking about my pitch and getting my mind in the right place. (Translation = giving myself a pep-talk and saying things like "you're awesome" and "everyone wants to read my book!")

Once you sit down with your agent or editor, you have about ten minutes. It's a good idea to introduce yourself and ask how their conference is going or if they are having a nice morning. Compliments are always nice, especially if you have done your research about this particular agent and you love some of their client's books or have been following their blog for the past year, just be careful not to ramble! A lot of times, the agent or editor will then ask you what your project is about, at which point you should launch into your pitch.

"The Pitch" is best kept to around a minute. That way, the editor or agent has plenty of time to ask questions about your novel and to judge whether this particular project sounds interesting to them or not. Having notes in front of you doesn't seem to be a problem most of the time, just try to remember to look up from time to time and make eye contact. As far as what to say in your pitch, I personally have had a lot of success with simply telling them about the inciting incident that pushes the story forward. What's the hook of your story? What's that first thing that sends your character into a new world? A pitch appointment is not the time to tell the agent or editor the entire story all the way to the end. Think back cover blurb or query blurb, not synopsis!

As far as what to wear, keep it professional. Be comfortable and most importantly, be yourself. Jeans and a tshirt is probably not the best choice for a professional meeting, but in the end, what really matters is your story. Write the best book you can. Period. I just think that dressing nice shows an editor or agent that you respect them and that you take the opportunity seriously. This is a first impression scenario, so make the most of it!

Try not to be too nervous! I know, this is a tough one! I get nervous too, of course, but try to remember that editors and agents are people too. The reason they are taking pitch appointments in the first place is that they are looking for new authors. They want to find a book that they can sell or publish. They are rooting for your book to be the next story that touches their heart or keeps them up late at night turning pages. Deliver your pitch, answer questions slowly and speak clearly, and chances are, they are going to ask to see something from you. Most of the time, it's a partial - like the first 30 pages or the first three chapters and a synopsis. Sometimes, they might even ask for the full manuscript! Outright rejections at a pitch appointment are rare unless you didn't do your research and are pitching your novel to someone who simply isn't interested in your genre or sub-genre.

Most importantly, follow up. If someone requests your manuscript, send it! This is your chance to bypass the slush pile and get your work in front of someone who can potentially change your life! Don't let that opportunity pass you by simply out of fear of rejection or because you weren't prepared. One question people ask a lot is how much time after the pitch do you have to submit? I think the answer is different for everyone, but my advice is the same no matter what - send it in as soon as possible. An editor might still look at your partial manuscript six months down the road, but by then they might have already acquired a book like yours and no longer have room on their list. An agent might have truly been interested in your hook and excited to read your pages, but if you wait three months to send it in, you're allowing that interest to cool and pass away. Send your pages as soon as you can, preferably within the first week after the request was made. That alone will put you way ahead of the game.

Pitch appointments are always worth it as long as you are ready to submit and are looking for an agent or an editor. It's great experience talking about your novel and answering questions, and it's the fastest way to get your work on an agent or editor's desk with the words "Requested Material" on it. Take the chance to pitch every single time you have it, just make sure you aren't wasting anyone's time by pitching something you might never finish or send. Now, I'm off to finish reading through a final polish of my novel so that I can send requested pages to both an agent and an editor I met at RWA last Saturday! Wish me luck!


Kelly Gay August 4, 2010 at 10:18 AM  

Very cool! Good luck, Sarra! It was so great to see you at the conference. Loved the pics! :-)

Elena Solodow August 4, 2010 at 8:36 PM  

Thanks for the run-down. Very thorough. I totally agree about dressing nice. For any meeting, it always shows you put the thought in.

Seems like you had a successful trip.

Sarra Cannon

Young Adult Indie Author

I always secretly wanted to be a cheerleader. And a witch. Now, I write about both. The first five novels in my Peachville High Demons Young Adult Paranormal series are available now in ebook!

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Beautiful DemonsThe Time Traveler's WifeLoveroot: PoemsFear of FlyingWe the LivingAnthem

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