How to pitch your novel to an agent

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Most of the time, authors must impress an agent with a query letter. At a writer’s conference, a new (and nerve-wracking) avenue for getting your story idea heard crops up. They call it a pitch session.

I might rename it “An exercise in stressing out without giving in to the urge to vomit or run screaming from the room.” Whatever works.

All conferences are not created equal. Different groups organize these events with different priorities in mind. Attending a conference hosted by a group of writers? You can expect opportunities to pitch and improve your work.

I experienced my first one-on-one agent meeting on August 2, 2014. In the process, I learned a few things to help writers prepare.

Months Before

I scoured the page of prospective agents attending the conference before I even registered. (I signed on the first day registration opened, but that’s a different story.) I read the brief bio provided and followed the link to their agency webpage.

Some people I spoke with at the conference did likewise and still ended up pitching to someone who said they didn’t represent that sort of project. Thus, research and research again before investing your money to sit across the table from an agent and pitch in a genre they don’t accept.

Still online, I surfed well-known writing blogs for advice on how to make the best of this pitching session. I’ll admit, I learned the most profitable tidbits from those articles and posts written from an agent’s point of view. Go figure.

A pitch:

  • Should be short (100 words)
  • Include your protagonist and their desire
  • Include the major conflict in the story
  • Showcase your logline (more on how to develop one here)

So few words, really? You will say more, but as far as the story goes, those four elements will get the job done.

Days Before

I wrote and rewrote my pitch. I practiced my top choices on my friends and family to weed out the things that didn’t work. Then I combined those voted “most likely to hold the agent’s interest” and read the result aloud several hundred dozen times.

Whatever it takes for you to embed the essence of your “elevator pitch” in your mind – do that.

Practice saying it aloud. I tried the mirror presentation, recommended by many articles on the subject, and it distracted me. I got distracted by how big my teeth look and how I move my hands when I’m talking.

In the end, I found sitting in a chair and staring at an invisible person worked best for me. Again, whatever you find eases your tension and helps you imagine speaking to a real purpose – do that. Over and over.

Eventually, the words will run through your mind like a live broadcast. This is a good thing as long as you can spill them with an ease that sounds unrehearsed. Rehearse so I sound unrehearsed? Yes, that’s the ticket.

I also prepared a One Sheet on my novel, which includes the log-line, a short synopsis and the character’s journey. It also has a short biography, photo of the author and contact information.

Minutes Before

Read over the pitch. Recite it in your mind.

Pace – because sitting with the others who are waiting raises your nervousness factor exponentially. Or maybe you’re a sitter and that will relax you.

Try to relax. Visualize yourself strolling confidently up to the agent. You are a professional. They want to hear about your story.

Do not throw up. I felt like throwing up while waiting the first day. Then I found out I had to reschedule the appointment for the next day. All that terror wasted.

During

Most of the time, a herd of pitchers will enter the pitching arena at the same time. I was (un)fortunate enough to be the only person scheduled to present to anyone when I made my pitching debut.

I strode over to her table, keeping eye contact. Reaching toward her, I shook her hand and introduced myself. I handed her the One Sheet and sat across the small table from her. So far, so good.

I asked how the conference was going and told her I enjoyed her workshop on the perfect pitch the day before. “I hope I can demonstrate I was paying close attention.” Laughs. Laughter conquers nerves for me.

Introduce your novel: title, genre and word count. Give an idea about what your writing is like: “Lord of the Flies meets Survivor.” I used two authors who write in the same genre as my book for my comparison.

Now it’s time to deliver your 100-word pitch. I started with my premise question “What if…?” The second sentence was my logline. The rest of the words included what the protagonist wanted, what stood in her way and a hint about the journey she would take.

Stop. Breathe. The hardest part is finished and you did it.

Let the agent ask questions. They will. Answer each question with simplicity and clarity. If they don’t ask for pages, ask them if they want you to send pages. (Thankfully, I didn’t have to ask that.)

After

Dance a jig, jump up and down, or, at this point, feel free to vomit if the urge persists.

Now, you’ll be thinking about how to prep your manuscript pages. If they ask for a synopsis as well, you might find yourself researching how best to write one.

Send what they requested as soon as it represents your best work. Within a week or two is probably best. In the query letter (yes, they still want one of those hideous beasts introductory pages), mention the meeting at the conference and remind them they requested to see your work.

They should have given you an address that will bypass their towering slush pile (up to 2,000 manuscripts per week). Check their website to find out how long before you might hear back from them (usually 4-8 weeks).

If you want to polish the rest of that manuscript in hopes they will be requesting to see it, that’s a great use of time. Write something new. Don’t sit by your computer staring at your email inbox.

What is your experience with pitching a project? Your words of wisdom are welcomed.

3 thoughts on “How to pitch your novel to an agent

  1. I have actually no experience with pitching and might not, at least in the traditional sense, if I decide to self-publish. Although I would argue I’ll have to pitch more frequently and to more people if I want anyone to read my book…just another side of the same coin, possibly?

    The funny thing is, as I read your post I might as well have been pitching myself because I felt the anxiety right along with you…although the physical manifestation of my nervousness usually involves the basement not the attic if you know what I mean.

    It sounds like you nailed it, especially since the agent asked for pages. Fake it ’til you make it, right? Congrats!

    1. Kelly-
      I’m not confident the pages I sent will land me the agent’s admiration, but they are the best I can do at this point in time. I’m still on the low end of the learning curve.
      I think the one-minute pitch is something like the back blurb of a book. I’ve read some pretty lame ones on Amazon, so I guess that means you will be pitching your book to your readers if you self-publish.
      Part of me would like to go that route just to see if people would buy my books, but I don’t want sub-par writing out there for public mockery.
      Thanks for following, commenting and linking back to my blog. I need all the author love I can get

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