Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Can I Get a Ruling on Pitch Sessions?

Friend of the blog Linda C. McCabe is soliciting input on what people like to see at writer's conferences, and this got me to thinking about the mainstay of writers conferences: the pitch session.

I'm sure many of you have sweat through one or more of these events, in which authors speak for a couple of minutes about their project as the agent tries to follow along.

Personally I find pitch sessions extremely challenging, and not just because I'm often listening to pitches for hours on end. Just about everything sounds good to me when someone is pitching it in person, but ultimately I don't find them terribly insightful because, of course, everything depends on the writing. I always wonder if we'd be better off spending that time discussing questions the author might have about the publishing process and their work.

On the other hand, maybe it's a valuable exercise for people to be forced to summarize their work in a compelling fashion, and maybe it helps to make that personal connection with an agent. Perhaps there are some benefits that I'm not seeing on my side of the table.

So what do you think about pitch sessions? Yes? No?







70 comments:

Other Lisa said...

A lot of the time on these questions I find myself sitting firmly on the fence. But as a person who works in the film industry, can I underscore my "loathe' choice with a few hearty "UGHS"? And maybe a Skywalkerian "NOOOOO!!!!!!!!"?

Being able to pitch is not the same thing as being able to write, not even close.

Travis Erwin said...

I like them because I feel like I can get my enthusiasm about the project and the true nature of the piece out there better in person. I get to watch the agent ans see which phrases and descriptions make them pay closer attention and which ones there eyes glaze over thus knowing what to use in my queries.

Though I understand it being about the writing. Nathan have you ever seen a venue where the agent reads the first page or so even before th author pitches? Seems like that would work though I understand how that would put the agent on the spot, but they offer the writer a bit of feedback. Too passive. To slow. Or whatever and same both parties from pitching when the writing wasn't strong enough regardless of how good the idea is.

Nathan Bransford said...

travis-

Yeah, I definitely would be willing to look at the writing and offer some thoughts.

Annette Lyon said...

I recently attended a conference where we had a 10-minute critique session with an agent, who read the first 5 pages of our work beforehand. It was a great experience and far more productive, I'd think, than a pitch session ever would. And the agent asked for a full after seeing my five pages, so that's something.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

I used to be excited about pitch sessions because I thought they were great opportunities to actually speak to agents about my writing, and if possible, the publishing process in general. Since then, I've read so many agent blogs where agents have said they hate pitch sessions and either A) never ask for pages at all or B) ask for them more often just because they feel bad saying no to a writer's face. Having heard that many times, it makes me feel reluctant to attend the pitch sessions. I was already nervous to begin with, but it makes the process even more daunting when you feel an agent is reluctant (or hates) to participate as well.

Nathan Bransford said...

Miss Viola-

Just to clarify my own position, I definitely don't hate them, although I struggle to come up with an actual position -- yea or nay -- just by listening to the pitch.

pjd said...

At SFWC, I got to sit with four different agents for three minutes each. I had very low expectations of results but high expectations of learning something. My expectations were met.

One of the biggest gripes authors yap about is the form rejection letter; they want a reason for the rejection. The pitch session is an efficient way to run a smell test on your concept and execution. It's not fool proof, of course, but if you're attentive, you can gage body language and engagement. I came away with three requests for partials. Although two of the three declined the project (the third is pending), I had a far better understanding of why and now feel well armed to revise and submit elsewhere.

I doubt I'll do many more pitch sessions, but probably when I have my Next Big Project ready I'll do it again.

Liz said...

I paid a total of $80 ($40 each) for 2 ten minute sessions with two agents in which they both requested a partial, only to find out later that they usually request the material cause they don't want to say no to your face.

Then I got sent form reject letters a few weeks later. I would have rather sent a query and gotten the rejection and saved myself the $80.

Carly said...

Annette, the procedure at the conference you attended was the same as that for a conference I attended a couple of years ago. I thought it was phenomenal. The editor/agent has a chance to read the material beforehand and actually think about it and process it, and since it's a critique session of those first 10 pages only, there's no pressure on the editor's/agent's part to ask for more pages. AND there's (theoretically) no disappointment on the author's part at not getting a request for more pages, because the author got a great critique of the work.

Pitches--the kind where you actually have to talk--terrify me so much that if I had to pitch, I probably wouldn't go to my dream conference even if tuition were given to me as a free gift. It's not fair that authors who can speak with a smooth, interesting, and engaging style should get their work requested over authors whose writing is just as good or better but who can't speak as well.

JES said...

Never attended a pitch session. It sounds excruciating, in the same way that speed dating used to sound to me (not that I ever did any of that, either).

I'd kill for a chance to sit across a restaurant table from an agent while spending, say, an hour talking about a work in progress (or ready to go). Yet that too feels like putting the cart before the horse. As a highly compressed version of same, a pitch session just strikes me as, umm, sitting in the buckboard seat and yelling -- as charmingly as possible -- "Giddyup!"

[This comment brought to you by the Department of Excruating Metaphors]

Anonymous said...

While I have never attempted one, I doubt if I would given the opportunity. Mainly, because an 'idea' pitched is nowhere near what the actual written product might be. I've known plenty of people with great ideas but couldn't write worth a lick. The writing is the key. A pitch session is merely verbal masterbation. No one really gets totally satisfied.

cc said...

I'd prefer the agent/editor to read 2 or 3 pages and then chat about it only if it interests them. (I'm a writer, not a used car salesman).

Though, because so many writers go to conferences specifically to pitch to agents/editors, it'd lower attendance drastically if the agents only had to listen to those whose writing they wanted to see more of.

jjdebenedictis said...

With woe I admit I've forgotten which blogging agent said that pitch sessions are a weird import from the movie industry and they're not appropriate to the publishing industry. Her logic followed Nathan's: an agent can't tell from the sound of someone's voice whether they've written a good book or not.

Travis: You might want to consider the Surrey International Writer's Conference, which features both pitch sessions and "Blue Pencil Cafe" sessions--the latter being a meeting with an editor, agent or published author who quickly reads your sample pages and then comments on them.

All conference attendees get one agent pitch session and one "Blue Pencil" session, and can sign up for more as space allows, and there's no extra charges for any of it.

Oh, yeah, and if you go to Surrey, you can meet me there. :-D

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Thanks for the clarification, Nathan. I wouldn't be reluctant to sit in a pitch session with you because I read your blog and now understand your position on pitch sessions as well as the publishing process. I'm certain I would still feel nervous with other agents though simply because I've read so many negative comments about conferences as well as pitch sessions.

I will say though, that I sat in a pitch session with Scott Hoffman from Folio Lit at a conference once, and I was a nervous wreck, sitting there like Charlotte from Sex and the City with my perky smile and pretty little manuscript in hand, ready to babble away. I'm certain he sensed it, and thankfully, he smiled and said nothing as he pointed to a little sign on the other side of the room that said, "Remember: agents are people too." Maybe that's what we should remember when talking to agents, whether it's in the hallway at a conference or in the pitch session. Just to be kind, professional, informed, and of course, prepared.

Keri Ford said...

my last conference, I was in a cold read session and I LOVED it. We (a group of six of us) handed in the first 2-3 pages before hand and the moderator took them, mixed them, and handed them to the editor. The editor then read them aloud and offerend comments verbally as she went, as if she picked those pages up from her desk. If she wanted to stop after the first paragraph, then she should stop. The moderators are there to keep the writers in place and understand the editor/agents is just giving their opinion.

very, very interesting. Nathan, I would wager that if you asked to do reads (of anything like that's already been listed) instead of straight pitch sessions, the coordinators would be all for it.

Ulysses said...

I've never been to a pitch session, and I think I'd avoid them. Not only am I more interesting on paper, but I have a great face for radio and the perfect voice for mime.

Melissa said...

I loathe them. Were I designing a writer/agent interaction, I'd have the writers sign up ahead of time and submit a query and first page. Then the agent and writer can discuss the idea based on the WRITING.

pjd said...

The irony I see in these comments is that people are saying, "Judge my writing, not my [looks|voice|personality|etc.]." Just as frequently, however, I hear the lamentation (not necessarily from the same people) that "my book can't be judged from just a query" and "my writing can't be judged on just one or two pages." I'm not pointing to any conclusions. I'm just sayin', is all.

L.C.McCabe said...

Nathan,

Thank you for putting a link to my blog. Hopefully I shall get a lot of feedback from your readers which will help our conference organizers.

In regards to the question you posed, I like those sessions because it forces you to articulate your project in a succinct manner.

Another aspect of the face-to-face conference sessions is that it you can get a sense of whether or not you think the agent is someone you can work with and would like to guide your career. To take your POV, it would be trying to suss out whether or not someone might be a joy to work with or the dreaded Client from Hell by having a chance to talk with them in person.

Thanks again,

Linda

JohnO said...

As a writer who already has a grooved query letter, and a synopsis, I found coming up with a one-minute pitch kind of wearying. Especially since it does come down to the writing.

But I have to think there's a benefit to face to face pitching, since I'm forming an impression of what this agent is like to deal with, and they're undoubtedly doing the same about me.

I'm inclined to believe that it's a different experience if an agent knows who you are when reading your stuff. The ones who passed on my work did take the time to tell me why they did, which was beneficial. And one requested a full.

Adaora A. said...

I've never been to one (they're never in my area and I can't financially afford to go), but I know myself. I can be very timid and nervous when 'everything' is riding on making a good impression. I'm the biggest klutz of the century - I trip over air - and I'd likely end up tripping on any said agent's pant leg, I might knock over the coffee they might be holding...anything. I might stutter....who knows what could happen. I like letter's because you can think carefully about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and I think I present myself much more strongly in this manner. Perhaps not so strangely, once everything is 'in the bag' I'm not so nervous.

Kate H said...

What I greatly prefer over a pitch session is an agent critique--where I get to submit my first 20 pages for the agent to read in advance of the conference and then give me his/her feedback in a 15-20 minute session. That way I know the agent has seen something really representative and has had time to consider it carefully. Verbal quick pitches are the bane of my writerly existence!

William Womack | Words for Writers said...

Ugh, I squirm at the mere thought of another pitch session. I attended a few at a conference a year ago, and for the life of me I'm not sure of why they exist. Isn't judging a piece of writing by hearing a pitch a bit like listening to a radio program about painting? Sure, I get it. You want to make sure the author is coherent, intelligent, and presents themselves well. It does seem like a bit of cart/horse inversion.

Margaret Yang said...

I have done 12 pitch sessions over the years, with three different projects. NONE of them got me an agent or editor. None of them got me past the first three chapters.

Here's my problem: It is really, really hard to say no to someone's face. Almost all agents will ask for 3 chapters if your ms. sounds even halfway interesting. So, you send it, and then your ms. is tied up because you've pinned your hopes on the outcome of this pitch session.

You went to a conference and pitched one, maybe two agents. Much better to stay home and query widely and reach many agents. That's how I got my (fabulous) agent--through a query.

Best pitch session ever: when the conference organizers allowed people to send sample pages ahead of time. Then, the agent and I had something productive to talk about. Otherwise, it's just an idea. Who buys an idea?

A Paperback Writer said...

They sound really ghastly -- from both points of view. I'd hate to give one, and I'd hate to listen to a string of them.
I like Other Lisa's comment of the "Skywalkerian 'Nooooooo!!'" Nicely put.

Anonymous said...

The Two Minutes Two Pages concept used at the Backspace conferences works very well. Participants provide the first two pages of their manuscript to be read aloud to a small group (also participants) with the two or three agents reading along from their own copies. The agents say when they'd stop reading and why. Or, happy day, if they'd ask for more. You get a quick sense of what each agent looks for and you get some good feedback on your pages. It's not humiliating at all. Plus, it's fun when the agents don't agree.

I'd think it would work great for queries, too.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm one who used a pitch appointment to ask questions about the industry. Over a year later, we're discussing other things. Good things.

I think because we came at my project from a more roundabout path, we had a better discussion than if I'd just started babbling.

Utah Savage said...

Nathan, this is off topic, but I just got your name from another blogger. I have an unpublished novel sitting on my blog. The novel is called "Maggy." If you want to take a look please drop by.

Sam Hranac said...

other lisa wrote: "Being able to pitch is not the same thing as being able to write, not even close."

True. And I didn't take part in the last conference I attended. But I sure as hell did in my 1st conference. I got to see a real, breathing, red-eyed agent. At the end of it, she wanted to see my stuff. Of course, I was jumping the gun back then, and sent her a draft that needed more work. But I still live off of the encouragement. It was a key step forward for me in taking my writing seriously.

That said, I think conferences should have more sessions on preparing to approach and approaching agents and editors. Maybe in small groups, like 5 to 1, with real agents and editors discussing the process in a round-table format. Maybe that would do more good.

joycemocha said...

I stopped going to writers' conferences years ago and started spending my money on science fiction conventions instead. I can go to entertaining panels on the writer track, maybe have a chance to meet some pros in the bars or at parties--and it costs a lot less than going to a writer's conference.

Yeah, I hate pitch sessions. I'd much rather have a less formal meeting with an agent or editor, chat for a while and get to know them, then perhaps run a one-sentence concept and ask if they're interested in seeing the first three chapters. Or even just say--hey, I have something, can I send it to you? then going into another discussion that has nothing to do with what I'm trying to sell them. I'd like to create a possible relationship, and pitch sessions have no good sense of doing that.

Linda said...

UGHHHHHH... pitches are dreadful BUT they more often lead to a request for partials than cold queries. So they're worth the effort - and anxiety.

MUCH more useful are manuscript reviews. I got more out of a 20 minute manuscript consultation (first 20 pages) with an agent at The Muse and the Marketplace in Boston this past April than all my querying and pitching combined. The agent gave me fabulous feedback, as well as advice on how to position the book AND myself as a career writer. Peace, Linda

Anonymous said...

I've done it at one local conference. 2 for $75.

The agent told me she wasn't accepting new clients.

The editor love the premise, asked if he could change the title, took my sample pages, and I never heard from him again!

Polenth said...

I voted loathe for pitch sessions, but it'd be more accurate to say I don't like the sound of writer's conferences. If I could afford conventions, I'd rather go to the sci-fi/fantasy ones. You can dress as a Klingon for those without anyone caring (I suppose it would make an agent notice you in the pitch session though).

Nikki Duncan said...

Maybe it makes me strange, and it wouldn't be the first time I've been accused of it, but I enjoy pitch sessions. As you said, it allows for a face to face meeting with an agent or editor, which is never a bad thing. Yes, I think a lot of agents and editors request pretty much everything that is pitched to them at conferences, so in that regard people put way to much stress on themselves, but at the same time it's been an invaluable lesson for me to learn how to condense my story down to a one liner.

My favorite of all pitches though is when I have a chance to do thorough homework on the person I'm pitching to. If I can walk into a pitch knowing what books they've purchased, who their clients are, and that sort of thing then we havemore to talk about. I've actually found in those situations that over half of my appointment is spent talking about their books, their clients, who on their list I've read and liked, and a very brief portion of the time is spent talking about my own work.

So, I guess the short answer is that if you're an agent who is going to make a request anyway, then I'd like to know that up front and then we spend the time of our appointment chatting about books, even if it's you recommending books to us that you represent or have read and think we might like or appreciate.

Erin Richards said...

I think your odds of getting an agent to look at your material are greater from a pitch session than if you cold queried them, especially if the agent can't say no! This would work well if that particular agent only takes queries without sample chapters. Having said that, I hate "public" speaking especially when I'm on the clock, and I'm cringing at the thought of the pitch sesson I have scheduled at RWA nationals in July.

On the other hand, I have a relaxed "coffee" date with a top agent who I get to send my proposal to in advance. This will be much more beneficial to me that a 10 minute pitch!!!

It's a great idea if an agent will read a few pages before a pitch. Then they get to see a writing sample (which is more important) and not based their response solely on my verbal stuttering.

Dave F. said...

Oh no pitch session please.

It's not that I can't pitch an idea. It's not that I can't do public speaking.

But what I would pitch is not what I would write. A verbal pitch is not writing. It has no tone, no style. It's like the trailer for most movies - hot, immediate and (for most movies) a big letdown.

Take the trailer for the movie "CLOVERFIELD" that seemed do spooky, so mysterious and when people finally got to see the movie, most theaters had to stock "air sickness" stations because of the way the movie was cut and shakily shot with that ever-moving, motion-sickness inducing hand-held minicam.

Read five or ten pages from a novel and you'll know if you can represent the novel.

Chumplet said...

I've never attended a pitch session, but I get the feeling a good course in stand-up comedy would help settle the nerves.

I'm such a talkative person I think I'd do okay, as long as I don't drift off topic.

Bringing up my book in a casual setting seems more palatable to me.

Susan said...

I personally hate them because usually they are running behind schedule and I don't want to be rude and cut in so I just stand around getting increasingly anxious and wondering if I'll even have time to explain my story before the next person barges in and says it is time for their slot.

Dr. Dume said...

I've never been to a pitch session - heck, I've never been to a writer's conference. People would see me, and that won't be good for anyone.

It does sound more like a test of oratory skills than writing skills though. Maybe I'm being unfair, but wouldn't a better test of writing ability be a one-paragraph summary passed around agents, who can then talk to the author if it grabs their interest?

As a near-recluse, I'd prefer that, but I make no claim to normality here!

CindaChima said...

I think there are easier and cheaper and less stressful ways to learn to condense your novel to an elevator speech.

I think the idea of pitching tends to downplay craft and reinforce the notion that writing is all about coming up with a cool new idea.

Lupina said...

I went to a pitch session at a vast BEA conference a few years ago and found it extremely entertaining but sadly unenlightening. I didn't participate because the crowd was too large for everyone to fit in the allotted time. And afterward, it seemed the event's main purpose was to fill time and provide the panelists a chance to crack wise.

As long as readers are still choosing which books they will purchase by sample pages and written reviews, I think that is where agents can best focus their own efforts. But if videos of writers' oral pitches ever become the main sales tool for readers, then agents will have a much stronger reason for judging a writer by her pitch.

Anonymous said...

I do think that to be a successful author, you have to be able to sell yourself and your work. That said, I happen to be autistic and even though I am able to do an effective presentation, I have to exercise beforehand because strangers stress me out bigtime and repeat what I'm going to say dozens of times so it sounds smooth. But writing takes a lot of dedication and so I'm also willing to imitate what everyone else is doing presentation wise until I get that part down too.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have agents sit in on first chapter readings. Nathan--you could be the next Simon Cowell.

Kimberly Lynn said...

Making a verbal pitch to an editor or agent feels forced, it’s not part of a natural conversation. I totally can not do it . . .

And I actually paid for a pitching session once at the San Francisco Writers Conference but got all discombobulated and decided not to attend.

(I’m so glad they weren’t keeping score!) Grin.

I’d much rather do like what you mentioned and spend the time discussing specifics about my work.

Adaora A. said...

^
You're comment totally had me picturing Curtis Brown Agent's sitting on a pannel (on a North American - because Canada count's too!- world tour, trying to find the next "North American Writing Idol." I can picture Ms. Ginger, Anna Webman, and of course Nathan Bransford. I don't know what those two ladies look like, but the question I put to you is: is Nathan Simon, Randy or Paula?

Lorelei Armstrong said...

I'll give you a loathe and raise you. I go to my favorite conference to work on writing. Before they added agents and pitches, so did everybody else. Now people work on their pitches and talk about agents. The only consolation is that agent day is halfway through the week, and many of these "sell it!" writers bail on the rest of the conference. I see it as a commercial draw to attract attendees and give agents a free vacation. So one vote from me for "ruinous waste of time."

Goblin said...

Utah Savage:
Lucienne Diver, another blogging agent, posted a list of dos and don'ts today. She included the following in it:

-Do not send a letter encouraging an agent or editor to go visit a website to read your submission. We have too many queries awaiting our attention to go looking for work.

Wade said...

This is a timely topic for me: I'm going to my very first writer's conference this weekend (in Austin) and meeting my very first flesh-and-blood agent in a ten-minute conference to pitch a literary first novel. (What do people wear to these things?)

Hope Clark said...

These pitch sessions do little for either party, IMHO. The point is the writing, and a verbal pitch is not going to show the agent the talent. To speak well is not to write well. When I go to conferences, I choose to avoid these sessions, using my time to network instead. I'd rather polish my pitch letter perfect on paper and the agent read it where he is most comfortable.

Hope Clark
FundsforWriters.com

Anne said...

I just went to the BEA, it was a lot of nervous build up to the last few hours where you stood in a cattle line waiting to spend three minutes speaking to an agent. In all I spoke with four agents, three asked for a partial. (I probably could have scored four if I would have actually untied my toungue to speak with the first one, did I mention nervous?)

The goal of a writter is to get someone to READ what we've written, it's almost a battle cry. In the end, at least three partials made it in the door. Even though I loathed it, it met it's purpose and I felt a connection with two of the agents.

Kimberly Lynn said...

Good one, Adaora! Grin.

I think pitching sessions are great opportunities for writers who feel confident in taking this approach; it’s just not something I have the courage to do.

Anne, congrats!

Nick Travers said...

Silly question, Nathan, but how does a pitch letter help you any better than a pitch session?

Bethanne said...

I've never done a pitch...never been to a writers conference. That being said, I'd rather an agent spend 3-5 minutes reading my first and last chapters of the book I have ready to sell. They have to be okay with my writing or it's just a waste of everyone's time...bottom line anyway.

I mean, yeah, you could meet the man or woman of your dreams at a pitch session. It could be love at first sight...an email here...an email there. The first phone call. A night out... The possibilities are endless, but really who am I kidding? I already found the man of my dreams so...yeah, pitching seems pointless. :D

There are very good arguments for them here, though. And I'm riding the fence. *shrug*

I can't believe people are paying for a pitch session. That seems to be bad form. Am I right or is this part of the practice?

L.C.McCabe said...

Bethanne,

Having to pay extra for pitch sessions is standard. Some conferences, especially ones which last for several days will also have different meals be an additional price such as keynote speaker dinners.

Not everyone who attends a conference will want to participate in those things, so it helps to control attendance and serves to raise additional funds as well.

One aspect of the pitch sessions which I do not believe has been raised in this comment trail is demonstrating to prospective agents your public speaking ability.

:Ducks tomatoes:

Yes, yes, writers not only need to be able to write well, but we also need to be able to speak well. For the all important post-publication marketing.

You need to be able to speak to reporters, talk radio, and the general public at book signings.

The author is the best advocate for their book. Period.

If you cannot string a few sentences together to fill three minutes of time in a compelling fashion to a publishing professional such as an agent, how will you be able to promote your book?

If you think that all you have to do is write a good book and then the publicists at the publishers will do all the rest in order to make your book a success, your expectations are unrealistic in today's marketplace.

emeraldcite said...

I guess I view a pitch as a verbal query, although I'd rather lead with my ability to write rather than my personality or enthusiasm. Every author has enthusiasm for their project, otherwise we'd all sputter out and never finish anything.

I'd only want to do pitch sessions if I could have my first five or ten pages handy to say, "here, take a quick look. See if you like it."

I prefer the query process. I'd hate to watch an agent cringe as they read my work in front of me (or, perhaps agents work on their poker faces through back-to-back WSOP satellite tourneys for the week before).

I guess I'd hate pitch sessions for the same reason I prefer to use the self check out line at Walmart...

nymeria87 said...

I'm not sure and since I've never been to a writers' conference I'd probably just attend a pitch session and see how well I'm faring there. For some reason I'd find it hard to compare the pitch of a written query with that of a verbal performance.

L.C.McCabe said...

Nathan,

I wanted to thank you again for posting the subject about feedback on writers conference on your blog. I have gotten some great ideas from your comment trail and from those who stopped by at my blog and left their thoughts.

Nymeria87,

Actually there are a lot of similarities between your verbal pitch and the written query. Because if you are lucky enough to get a request for a partial (and no, not all agents ask for everything just to be polite!), you need to include the content of your verbal pitch in your cover letter.

Because that will jog the memory of the agent as to why they were interested in it in the first place.

That pitch/summation of your story or nonfiction book will pretty much accompany every single cover letter/email that you send to that agent. It will preface your partial, and -- if you are lucky -- the subsequent submission of your full manuscript.

It may wind up being the gist of the agent's letter to prospective editors, it may in turn be used inside the publishing house to generate support to sign the book, later it might be used by the marketing department in promoting your book, and then some version of your pitch may wind up appearing on the back cover or inside jacket of the published book.

All that can come from a dynamite pitch whether it is written or verbal.

The question Nathan raised was how writers feel about delivering them in person to prospective agents at writers conferences.

To me, I believe it is imperative for writers to have strong public speaking skills. If you don't currently, it is one more thing you need to work on if you want a career in writing. That is unless you become a journalist or a staff writer on a televised series and can rely solely upon your writing.

Even screenwriters have to be able to verbally pitch their stories.

Kimberly Lynn said...

l.c.mccabe,

You have raised very valid points in regard to the importance of an author and his or her public speaking skills, and I completely agree. But I also think there is a huge difference between doing a radio interview and throwing a pitch to an agent. The thought of it conjures up images of a vacuum cleaner salesman knocking door-to-door and tossing out some three minute spiel . . .

pjd said...

The difference is that the vacuum customer and the salesman have both come specifically to make the connection. The customer may or may not be interested, but it's far more like setting up a booth at a trade show than going door-to-door on cold calls.

Kimberly Lynn said...

True. True.

For those who are about to participate in a pitching session, just make sure the agents you approach represent your type of work.

pjd said...

And, unlike with vacuum cleaners, make sure your work doesn't suck.

nancorbett said...

A few years ago, at the Whidbey Island Writers' Conference, I stayed in a huge house with around fifteen other writers. The appointments were set for agent meetings, and the writers in the house were toiling puddles of sweat and tears. They wrote out their pitches, read them to each other, critiqued one another's voice inflection and delivery and turned the entire house into a giant stress knot. "What the heck is the big deal?" I thought to myself. But I had recently finished my YA novel and wanted to run it by someone who represented YA. The agent said that the premise of my book sounded intriguing and asked for a partial, which arrived back in return mail less than a week later with a standard rejection slip.

The one thing they did at that conference I found infinitely more useful was a series of ice-breaker activities. They had open mic readings at a local pub and board games at a local bookstore. I opted for the board games and sat around a table with a group of agents, editors, and writers of every description, playing a scrabble-like game. The activities allowed us all to relax and let our guard down a little. We grouped into teams and just played this game. Between rounds, conversation took place in an atmosphere that wasn't charged with expectation. Too many conferences spoil the potential good that could happen when they fail to erase that line between "The Professionals" and the other talent.

Jason R. Clark said...

I've pitched once and found it quite useful. It didn't get me an agent, but like Nathan suggests it forced me condense my novel until it could fit into the five minute pitch. With that done, crafting a query letter became much easier.

It did net a few partial requests. Whether they were "can't turn-down-in-person" requests or not, it did encourage me to keep working.

Turned out it helped for determining whether I would want to work with the agents too. One of them was a clear "no" from the start. It would have been hard to find that out short of in-person interactions.

Kimberly Lynn said...

pjd, good one!

Susan said...

Also, if you can't tell someone in 5 minutes or less what your story is about, maybe you don't really even know yet and it needs to be rewritten...

LindaBudz said...

"Extremely challenging." Such a gentleman.

Kimberly Lynn said...

I can say what all nine of my manuscripts are about in less than three minutes, some in two sentences, even the ones I'm not finished with yet. Yet, I have no clue why pitching them to an agent terrifies me. Having a critique one on one would be fun, though.

Anonymous said...

For most writers who wish to be published this is an important and money-investing issue. Opinions by those who have never pitched an agent are of doubtful value. One should bear in mind, "spend a buck to make a buck," it costs money to break into any profession.
Its worth reading all the agents' blogs and available data; some are "specialists" in everything, some aren't interested in "xyz," so choose the agent wisely. Whether an editor or an agent is a better choice is arguable -- an editor is not going to represent you, but might give you better advice on your writing in progress. Alternatively, an agent is unlikely to be interested if you have just started your book.
My own experiences have been instructive. I first took a three day course on "pitching" which was not exactly wasted, but neither was it necessary. The impressions I have gained through several sessions are:
1) The agent is summing you up, deciding whether he wants you as a client. So don't be hyper-aggressive and demanding.
2) You will want to know, "do I wish to enter into a business contract with this person?" Sometimes the agent's attitude is condescending, sometimes bored -- one yawned in my face!
3) The agent doesn't need to be sold. He wants to know a) The genre; b)"What's it about?" to be answered in one sentence; c) How many words? to be answered in one number; d) is it ready to send? If it isn't then the discussion is abour general issues and not representation, and such issues will be covered in the general program, so your money is wasted.
4) If he says "Send me 5 pages" he's being polite; but may well return these with notes on why it's rejected. If he says, "Send the first 5 chapters" he's probably interested. If he says, "Send the entire manuscript," he's either genuinely interested or very cruel.
My summary opinion is: "face to face" is probably the best way to get an agent, it'll cost money, so spend your money wisely by doing the grounwork first.

Yat-Yee said...

Can't say I feel strongly enough to use either "loathe" or "love". Granted I've only done one. I was nervous, but of the three times I put my work "out there" at the conference--read and critique where each participant reads and then listens the agent/editor's reaction; critique by a panel of one page read by a moderator, ie the author is annonymous; and an actual pitch.

At the pitch, there was a back-and-forth between two people. The connection is what I think made a difference for me. A face-to-face helps both parties decide if the fit is right, especially if the guy who wrote "Blink" is right, and we know far more about a person in a short time than we realize.

I didn't have to pay for the pitch session, which may have influenced how I feel about the experience.

I appreciated the pitch session but I understand how someone talking about an idea may not be a terribly good gauge for how the person writes. The idea of providing the agent/editor with sample pages of each author who pitches sounds good in terms of giving the agent a better idea of whether the person can write, but I don't think it solves the problem of how difficult it is for some people to say no to someone's face.

Yat-Yee said...

Oops.

I meant to say: "of the three times. blah, blah, blah..

I found the pitch session to be the most satisfying."

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