Last Saturday I attended Michigan Writer’s Workshop, which just so happened to be only 25 minutes away from me. I pitched to four total agents (plus two informal pitches) during the conference‘s pitch sessions, and here are my takeaways.
1. Agents Are People Too
Being nervous is a given when you pitch to agents, but remember: they are only people. They sit in on presentations, they eat lunch, and they wander around the conference just like you do. They also understand that you’re nervous in your session, and no matter how “bad” you flub it, they’ve seen worse. Just pretend you are making conversation with a stranger, not that this is a once-in-a-lifetime job interview. Even better, at this smaller one-day conference, I noticed the agents were much more present and available for short conversations outside pitch sessions than at the three-day conference I’d previously attended.
2. Ten Minutes is Plenty
Different pitch sessions are different lengths, but the one at MWW was ten minutes long. It was so much easier than the 5-minute session I had at Chicago Writer’s Conference two years back. Ten minutes may seem like nothing, but you should be able to get your pitch off in five minutes or less without a problem, after which the agents usually jump in with questions to cover the rest of the time. This makes it end up feeling like a conversation, not an interview.
3. If You Write Diversity, Be Prepared
I’m a blindingly white cisgendered straight person trying to write a character that’s… not. If you write #ownvoices, you should be set on this issue, but if you’re writing characters outside your own box, be prepared to defend yourself. Not every agent will ask you to do this (only one of six did for me), but if they do, you’ll want to be ready with information about the research, sensitivity readers, et cetera that you have put into writing your book.
4. Bring Questions
You know all those questions you have about the publishing industry? A pitch session is a great place to ask them. If your pitch ends at five minutes, and they finish asking questions about it at seven minutes, then seize that opportunity to milk your pitch slot for all it’s worth and learn something. Have a list of questions ready, just in case.
5. It’s All Subjective
I pitched to six agents (two of them informally), narrowing down from eight or nine total agents after doing research to find likes that paired well with my work. And even after all that, only three of the agents got visibly excited about my work. The sad fact is that not everything will appeal to everyone, no matter how much their bio might match up with your book, and there’s nothing you can do to predict or prepare for this. The good news is that quite a few of the agents will request more pages anyway, on principle, so you’ll get that second chance to wow them whether you’re a supreme pitcher or not. And just having the words “we met at this conference” in your query automatically gives you that much more of their attention.
6. Pitching Takes Away From Session Time
If the conference you’re attending has any sessions that you’re super excited about, do your best to notify the staff that you would prefer not to be scheduled a pitch time during that presentation. Three of my four pitch sessions happened during the presentation I most wanted to attend. Don’t be like me. Be smart.
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