On Pitching To Literary Agents

Some advice from someone who has pitched successfully before to help you as you prepare for the Books Alive! Conference.

On Pitching To Literary Agents

Your job during an agent pitch is simple: pique the agent’s interest in your work, and you as a potential client, sufficiently so that they ask you to send them part or all of your manuscript. Step one in this process is ensuring you’re pitching to the right agents. Do some research beforehand to understand the genres agents are interested in representing to make sure you’ve got a good match.

A pitch is like a sales meeting or work presentation. Be: 1) professional (including looking professional and perhaps even making business cards), 2) organized (including bringing copies of your work, just in case), and 3) prepared (which, if nothing else, will keep you from being terrified).

The success of your pitch is not a commentary on your writing. However, it might tell you something about the way you are framing your book. Even an unsuccessful pitch is an opportunity to network and a chance to learn about literary agents and receive feedback on your work from people in the know. If you get a lot of manuscript requests but don’t get any further with the agents, that’s a good indication your manuscript needs more work.

Your pitch should be two to three minutes in length, or perhaps even less (at the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam, the three minutes includes the time after you stop talking when the agent responds). Even if you have a longer time-slot, keep the pitch short. If you talk for two to three minutes, around 250 or 300 words may come out of your mouth, which – not coincidentally – is about the length of a query letter. Indeed, you can use your query letter to help frame your pitch.

Much like a query, the objective is to briefly distill the essence of your book. Talking too long will confuse/bore/irritate the agent and not give them time to ask questions or offer feedback.

Key to the pitch is a one-sentence summary of your book to kick it off. Nathan Bransford recommends preparing one-sentence, one-paragraph, and two-paragraph pitches. That one-sentence pitch can come in handy in other contexts, as well.

It’s important to walk the line between rambling and being too business-like. Rachelle Gardiner has a great post about what to include in a pitch. Kristin Nelson has genre-by-genre advice in this series of posts.

For my own pitches, I prepared by writing my pitch out, word-for-word, and then memorizing it. A few things that looked good on paper but sounded silly coming out of my mouth were changed. Also, I practiced my tone so it didn’t come across as canned.

My pitches consisted of about ten sentences:

Introduction: “My name is [your name], and I wanted to meet with you because I thought you’d be interested in my book, a work of [genre] called [title], which is complete at [approximate word count].”

One sentence summary: “It’s a book about…[the one-sentence summary].” This is the most important part of the whole thing.

Short plot summary: A few sentences describing the major plotline, with the introduction of the protagonist and perhaps one or two characters.

Theme (optional, but I think it helps): One sentence that describes what the book is about in terms of theme. It shows you’re thinking about your work beyond plot.

Hook back to agent (very optional, but great if you can do it): Reference something the agent said (say, in an online interview or on Twitter) or some work they represented and connect it to your work.

Comparisons: “My book bears similarities to [one or two other books].”
In the best case scenario, these are books where the agent represents the
client. If not, try to choose books in the same genre that the agent may know
but aren’t so well known you sound ridiculous (e.g., “My book is Harry Potter meets Crime and Punishment”).

Wrap It Up: “I hope this has given you a sense of my book and piqued your interest.”

Using this formula, I managed to generate one full request (out of two pitches) at the AIW Conference in 2010, and around a dozen full and partial requests at the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam in 2011 (with only two or three outright rejections of my pitch). I hope this is helpful, and I wish you the best of luck on Saturday at
Books Alive!

comments powered by Disqus