How to Pitch to a Literary Agent

For both nonfiction and fiction, the biggest question to answer in a pitch is: “Why you?” What in your background gives you a platform for this book and a subsequent speaking tour? Publishers want authors who can draw a crowd to the stack of books for sale in the back of the room. An example: “I was the only woman on the firefighting team at the biggest fire this year in California, where half the team died, including my boyfriend.” This hypothetical author would get attention.

Your goal in pitching is to have the agent hand you their business card and say, “Send me...” Write down what they say. Send them what they ask for.


What is your dramatic question? A premise needs to be turned into a dramatic question you can ask in one simple sentence.

Can you capsulize who you are and what your book is about in one sentence? Try it in private. One of our volunteers went from zero to 100 percent success in pitching with one sentence that began: “My hero shares my background of...”

Don’t read your pitch. It’s deadly. Instead, get your voice going with, “Hi, I’m [your name]. My hero is...” Or, “What makes Vladimir Putin tick is...” and make your book sound interesting quickly. So quickly that the agent wants it after 44 seconds or less. In fact, truly great pitches succeed in about eight seconds.

Only pitch to agents who want the kind of book you are proposing or have written. Annoying an agent by pitching something they don’t want is unhelpful all around.

Remember: Your book, like your pitch, has to be emotionally appealing to an agent before that agent can make it appealing to a publisher.

What to expect at the conference:

At the beginning of the conference, get your personal pitching schedule at the Pitch Room’s front desk. A line forms near the Pitch Room for each starting time. Our volunteer will open the door at the scheduled time and usually say, “Okay, [time], go, go, go! Sell, sell, sell!” The conference volunteers WANT you to succeed. That’s what we’re here for. Make it so.