Thank you so much to all of the wonderful people at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference — it was a great weekend full of friendly people, useful publishing information, and repeated pleas that everyone drink enough water. (To avoid altitude sickness. Colorado Springers are militant about the importance of hydration.)
The conference included pitch sessions. I honestly have somewhat mixed feelings about these, mainly due to the fact that I’m fairly terrible at listening to a pitch and having any idea whether or not it’s something I’d be interested in. It’s all about the writing.
I can tell someone whether their project sounds viable to me or not and give them suggestions for how best to characterize it in the query letter (e.g. “Don’t call it a Western, call it a historical thriller!”), but beyond that, my experience of pitch sessions is often a matter of listening politely, asking them to send it to me if it sounds reasonably up my alley, and then wait for the query to arrive in my Inbox (which people are free to send anyway).
I think what most people who participate in pitches don’t realize is that they’re not going to get an agent from the pitch. They may make a personal connection with the agent and the pitch may well be impressive, but the agent doesn’t really know much until they actually see the material. Ultimately: how well you do in a pitch session has extremely little to no bearing on whether or not you’ll get published.
Here are some suggestions on how authors could maximize their pitch sessions:
1. Spend as little time as possible talking about your project. Honestly, beyond a bare bones description, I don’t need to hear much about the project. I’m going to need to see the writing to have any idea about whether the project is up my alley.
2. Go in with questions. A pitch session is the author’s time. You have an agent’s undivided attention. Pick their brain, get targeted feedback, show them your query. Whatever you think would be helpful.
3. Focus on making a personal connection. This is an opportunity for you to put a face and a personality with a project. I definitely remember the people I meet with at pitch sessions, and if you seem professional and cool, I’ll remember that when I see your query.
4. Listen to feedback. I really tried to help some people with their projects, but quite a few authors bristle at the faintest suggestion that they change their work or approach. You don’t have to take my suggestions, and, in fact, you shouldn’t if you disagree with them. But the last thing I want to see in a prospective client is someone who is not open to any suggestions whatsoever.
5. It’s okay to be nervous. Heck, I’d be nervous too. I’m not holding it against you.
Just remember: a pitch session is your time. There is no rule that says you have to spend the time talking about your project. Think outside of the pitch session box and make that time work for you.