Conference 101: If You're Going to Pitch to an Agent

I just got back from the Emerald Coast Writers' Annual Conference in Fort Walton Beach FL where I took pitches on Friday and Saturday mornings.  And it occurred to me, some of the writers could have used a rundown of "What to do" vs. "What NOT to do."

So here it is.


Introduce yourself and say your name when you meet an agent.  (One of the advantages to meeting an agent is that you're getting to know them.  Your name is important.)

Prepare.  Just like a query, start with what your book is about - who's your character, what happens to them.

Write your succinct pitch down on paper and bring it with you.  If you're nervous or have a brain drain, pull it out.  (Reading from a piece of paper is way less embarrassing than staring at us blankly and going "uh....")

Come prepared.  With possible questions.  If you finish the pitch early, you can ask anything - if you can't think of anything, ask about good book recommendations.  We love talking books.


Corner an agent somewhere strange - like the bathroom or a locked car - and launch right into a pitch.  (If you have the opportunity, like you're in the car or a bathroom with an agent, talk to them first - as a person - and then mention your book.)

Pitch to any available agent - research which agent is right for you and your project.  If you have a slew of pictures books and an adult thriller, try to pitch to an agent who handles both genres.  Or when you pitch to the agent, ask them for query recommendations.

Just not show up to a scheduled pitch session.  If for some reason, you've decided you're not ready to pitch or the scheduled agent isn't right for you, go anyway.  You've got the chance to talk to someone in the industry - ask them questions!

Be nervous!  We're love hearing about books!

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Mary Gray said...

Great list. I get a great visual in my mind when I think of writers hunting you down and launching into a pitch. Makes me think of Fun with Dick and Jane with Jim Carey (all the men in suits competing for a single job).

Unknown said...

Great and timely post. I'm doing my first pitch to an agent at a conference in a few weeks and will definitely use these tips - thanks! :)

Janet Johnson said...

Thanks for the run down! I could just seem myself forgetting to say my name. :) And it's good to remember that you actually like hearing about books.

Shelley Watters said...

Thanks for the tips! I can't imagine someone actually having the nerve to pitch a book while in a bathroom!

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm sorry, but the mental image of some poor agent trapped in a locked car made me LoL. I see it like a warped scene from an old sci-fi movie. The agent calls for help from On Star, only to hear "I can't do that, Dave." piped in from the speaker.


Shannon Messenger said...

Okay, where was this list back in January when I had five pitches at the SDSU Conference? :)

Amazingly enough, I actually did most of the "do's" and none of the "don'ts"--but Sarah Wylie helped me with my pitch so I can't take all the credit. And I met my agent there so I owe her bigtime!

Great information though. And I agree with the 'not being nervous' part. I still was, of course, but it was pretty silly. Every agent was very nice and polite. You guys really aren't as scary as we think you are. :)

Candyland said...

I got a stomachache just thinking about pitching face to face.

Lisa Desrochers said... I have that maybe you like... =)

Hope you had a great trip!

Unknown said...

Great advice. I'm going to the LA SCBWI conference this summer. They don't have pitch sessions so I don't have to stress about it.

As a former drug rep, I saw what happened when other drug reps cornered physicians in the washrooms at conferences. It wasn't pretty. Entertaining, but not pretty.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the great advice. I'm going to be meeting with an agent in a few weeks and I'm nervous.

Christina Farley said...

Great list. I've never attended one of these, but they sound so interesting.

Do you find these sessions are helpful to you as an agent in finding clients or have you found email queries to be more helpful?

Sarah Whitney said...

I'm attending a writers conference this weekend where I'm giving my first pitch. Your list calmed my butterflies. Thanks!

Cynthia Reese said...

I still remember the first time I pitched at a conference. I'd rehearsed and rehearsed, but I was eternally grateful to the person who told me to write the pitch down in BIG letters on an index card.

Of course I blanked out, so I read the pitch from the card.

That editor was wonderfully nice. And you know? I eventually did sell a revised copy of the book -- my first sale!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I am pitching this weekend and this helps.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

Not anywhere close to that stage... but it's great to know what I should be practising in my mirror every morning!


lotusgirl said...

Great advice. I keep hoping to get to go to a conference. Then maybe I can use your advice.

Rachel Heston Davis said...

I've heard multiple times that you shouldn't corner an agent in the bathroom at conferences. I hear it so often, in fact, that I can only assume (with horror) that it DOES actually happen sometimes. Yikes.

Thanks for the advice, and for reminding us that yes, agents and editors are people just like the rest of us.

Rachel Heston Davis

Mechelle Fogelsong said...

It's REALLY HARD to not be nervous, Suzie. I mean, last summer I drove 600+ miles to a writer's conference. I had one, five-minute pitch appointment with an agent.

How could I NOT be nervous? The future of my novel rides on a five-minute pitch! Egad!

BTW, I've signed up for the same conference again this summer. Any advice? Meditate before the pitch? Yeah, I tried that actually. It only made me heady. :)

Maybe I'll try dressing more casually this time. That might give me the right mind set.

Eeleen Lee said...

thanks for the list, it really helps

Suzette Saxton said...

Love this post! Will definitely link to it.

Dave Cullen said...

Great list.

The bathroom comment made me laugh, because I've been touring the past year and occasionally been cornered there right before an event. But more often, the guy has just looked surprised and said hi, and chatted first, then asked a question or requested an autograph. It's OK that way.

(Oddly enough, I've found that the mens room is one of the safest places to go right before I go on. It seems all the mothers out there have trained us well about going to the bathroom before leaving home, because the room is busy after, but deserted before. I need about two minutes of quiet before I go on, so I often retreat there, and close myself off in a stall. No one has ever intruded there. Yet. Haha. And so much for the glamor of a book tour.)