Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference

Pitching a literary agent with your book
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GIVEAWAY: Chuck is giving away a copy of his latest writing book, Create Your Writer Platform, to a random commenter. Comment within one week to enter! (Must live in US or Canada to win.) Good luck! (UPDATE: Maria won!)

Pitching literary agents and book editors is one of the best parts of attending a writers’ conference. This is a great opportunity to speak with professionals face-to-face about your book, so it’s important to have your pitch rehearsed and ready.

However, there are some tricky issues around the in-person pitching process. Here are some Conference Pitching FAQs to prepare you for your next opportunity.

Should I bring materials with me to a pitch?

Ideally, no. You shouldn’t bring any sample pages because the agent will almost never want or take such materials.

The exception is if it’s a visual aid. For example, if you’re an author-illustrator or an author-photographer and want to bring a piece of your art, go ahead and show it off during the pitch.

How long should my pitch be?

For a novel, under 90 seconds. For nonfiction, under 120 seconds. (Nonfiction pitches and queries trend longer because there is so much discussion of the writer platform.)

Remember that pitching is equivalent to simply reading your memorized query letter out loud in a conversational manner. A concise pitch is better than a sprawling, unfocused ramble.

Can I bring notes with me to the pitch?

Hopefully, you won’t have to. It’s impressive to speak about your book without notes.

But if you really feel like you are going to pass out from nervousness if you don’t have something with you, then bring some notes. Just try to reference them as minimally as possible.

If I pitch agents at a conference and four reps ask for the same manuscript, is it appropriate to send the same work to them all simultaneously? If so, should I tell each that I have also sent it to other agents?

You can send it to each of them whenever you like, and yes, you can submit simultaneously.

You do not have to tell them that you’re submitting to other agents. They will assume that. You only need to mention it’s a simultaneous submission if the agent or editor requests in their guidelines somewhere that you do so.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

I pitched two very different manuscripts (different genres) at the conference, and each generated interest. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any agents that were interested in both. What do I do if an agent for each manuscript offers me a contract? Is it possible to be represented by multiple agents if the genres are different?

It is indeed possible to be represented by multiple agents, but Agent #1 must first clear that decision.

In other words, simply pitch your books, first and foremost. If an agent offers you representation for a project, be upfront about what you’re writing. They must be completely aware and supportive of you finding another agent for other books. Who knows — they may even offer to rep the second type of book even though that’s not typically their bag.

Any other tips on how to pitch at an event?

Let me throw out two tips no one discusses much.

1. Be a conference volunteer and transport an agent or editor from the airport. That gives you some personal time to meet the publishing pro and discuss your work. Plus, the speaker will feel indebted to you for the ride, so they’ll remember you if you write to them later.

2. Pitch by not pitching. Do you have any idea how many pitches an agent hears at a conference? I’d say 25 to 50. That is a lot of information that all blends together in their mind.

Consider trying to get on an agent’s radar in another way. For example, if you sit next to them at dinner, try talking about something memorable or make them laugh. After all, if you write them afterward and say, “I pitched you at dinner,” they may not remember the discussion. But if you say, “I was the woman who agreed with you in that Back to the Future is the best movie of all time,” there is a good chance they will remember that fun conversation, and think of you warmly — and then read your pitch. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)

If you’re pitching an agent or editor at an upcoming writers’ conference, good luck! I am a huge proponent of conferences, and think such events are great places for writers to get educated, meet agents, and find writing friends for life. I myself am a conference success story, having found my agent, Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary, at a conference in 2007.

Don’t forget to comment to be in the running for Chuck’s book giveaway! You could win a free copy of his latest book, Create Your Writer Platform(UPDATE: Maria won!)

By the way, if you’re looking for a conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2015-2016:

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Chuck Sambuchino is a staffer at Writer’s Digest Books, best-selling humor book author, and freelance query/synopsis editor. He is the editor of the Guide to Literary Agents and the au... .

Writer's Digest | @chucksambuchino

Traveler and blogger Chris Guillebeau

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Comments

  1. An author’s pitch is an agent’s first impression.

    At my first conference I stumbled over myself getting out my pitch. Thank God I gave it to agents I didn’t think would be interested in my work. By the time I had embarrassed myself completely, I had also gotten rid of my talk-to-agent jitters knew what to say in front of the agents that meant the most.

    Great topic, and would love to have a copy of your book.

  2. Thanks for this post and these great tips. Now, to finish my WIPs—and get to a conference. I have young kids and no help, so it’s a tricky thing. I guess I have more time then to hone my pitching skills!

  3. Martin Pigg says:

    Chuck,

    Thanks for the great information. I recently finished my first book, a memoir, and look forward to honing my pitching skills for upcoming conferences. So your post is very helpful at this stage of my development as a writer.

    Tailwinds,
    Martin

  4. I am going to my 1st Writers Conference this year, and really appreciate your tips.

    You have provided excellent guidelines for me to practice my pitch in under 90 seconds.

    Wish me luck!

  5. I like your idea of pitching by not pitching. I’m still working on my WIP – not ready to pitch it yet. When I attend writers conferences or other events the speakers and I guess VIP’s are constantly surrounded by people who seem to want to get something out of them. Guess it’s understandable in a way, but I suspect it wearies the recipient. A fun conversation or smile or complement probably goes further. Also, consider pitching by not pitching if you volunteer. Most speakers and agents are probably trying to get their act together before an event and afterwards are exhausted.

  6. Chuck, thank you for this useful information. I like your suggestion of volunteering to help at a writers conference. When I did so at the 50th anniversary of the AARP National Event and Expo in Washington, DC, I was free to attend sessions of my choice when I wasn’t helping attendees find seats at the session to which I was assigned.

    A volunteer may not be needed to bring an agent from the airport, but the opportunity to attend an agents’ panel on pitching might result in the chance to take a seat when the room is still empty. When that favorite agent is situated and looking out over the room, one might go and stand in front of them, and when appropriate, ask them what they liked best about a debut memoir author’s initial pitch.

  7. The pitching part has always made me a little nervous. Thanks for the tips and I’ll try to out them to good use!

  8. Good advice to leave the manuscripts in your room.

    I remember the look on one agent’s face when I handed her a carryall full of my many and sundry manuscripts. (Most were short pieces, but still …) She liked the carryall. I doubt the contents made it past the first wastebasket. 🙂

    I think it’s wise to have a few pages of material at hand, though, in case the agent/editor requests it, which happens in about half my conference appointments.

  9. Thanks for the great advice. Pitching can be so stressful. Your note about “make them laugh at dinner” had me thinking back to bad blind dates. I do think that some dating advice my mom once gave me applies though – if it’s meant to be it will be. Relax and enjoy the food!

  10. What a great article and thank you for the tips! I am in the middle of polishing my manuscript and will be ready to pitch very soon! I loved the tip about not pitching to an agent but making an impression. I will have to try that when I go to my first writer’s conference! 🙂

  11. Joanne Huspek says:

    Good tips! And you’re right, I made the most lasting impression on an agent during a luncheon. We veered off from my book (I’m leery about mentioning it too much to agents during LUNCH!) and onto the business in general. Later, I used her quotes in an article I wrote. (With her permission. She remembered me.)

  12. I was trying to squeeze one conference out of the budget this year and I’m struggling. What a great idea to volunteer.

  13. I am still dreaming about being able to attend my first conference. The scary part of the dream had always been about how to approach an agent. I’ve saved this info to review when my time finally comes. Thank you for the tips

  14. I am attending WIK in October and originally did not put myself down as a volunteer, but you convinced me it is time well spent. I wanted more time to smooze, but the opportunity to spend more time with a presenter would be wonderful. Thanks!

  15. Excellent advice. I especially like the “don’t pitch” pitch. That’s much more my speed.

  16. Michaelle Wilde says:

    I just recently decided that I really did need to attend a conference. Not being sure how to go about the mingling while pitching situation, I find your advice helpful. Thank you for taking the time to help!

  17. I would like to add one thing:

    One way to free yourself from the anxiety at a conference (especially if it’s your first time) is to seek out people who look lost, confused, or anxious, and start a conversation with them. See if they need any help. Not only are you helping a fellow writer in need, you’re empowering yourself. Plus it helps to be reminded that even as a newbie you don’t stick out as a sore thumb, since there are other first timers at the conference.

    And if I may suggest, coffee drinkers, consider having tea in the morning and not having coffee until the most nerve-wracking part of your day is over. Caffeine will make you hyper-alert and jittery, which you may mistake for anxiety and begin to freak out even more. My public speaking presentations improved dramatically when I realized that I needed my mind to be calm and clear rather than alert and hyper.

    🙂 best wishes to everyone

  18. Kristi Saare Duarte says:

    Thanks! You made me interested in going to a writer’s conference and I’ve never thought of it as an option before. I’m still trudging through the second draft of my future bestseller (you have to shoot for the stars, right?), so I’m not ready to pitch yet. But I might check out a conference just to eavesdrop on others and get a hang of the atmosphere. And who knows what might happen…

  19. Hello, and thank you for the great tips. I’d like to mention that there are exceptions to the “rule” about not bringing your document along in case the agent or editor wants to see it. At one conference, an editor of a respected publishing house asked to take my book proposal with him and phoned me a few days later to say he wanted to champion it to the decision makers, which he did after I made the changes he wanted.

    At another conference an agent asked me to give him the proposal I had with me, which was roughly seventy manuscript pages.

    I didn’t offer it to either person; they asked for it!

    My book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, is being published by New World Library and will be available as a trade paperback and as an ebook.

    Thank you for all the great ideas, and I also thank those who commented. Pitching is a great topic. Agent Katharine Sands wrote a fine book called The Perfect Pitch.

    Platform is very important so I’m glad you’ve written a book on that topic.

  20. Candace Zahnzinger says:

    As a person who sort of dreads speaking in public, I guess I need to find was to overcome this if I want to make it in the writing world. Not just for pitches, but promoting and every other step seems to have some sort of verbal skill set required.

    Are there any tips you might have for those of us out there, who like me, would break into a cold sweat thinking about trying to get a professional interested in my work face to face?

    Thanks

    • Seek out a local Toastmaster’s group. We practice prepared and impromptu speaking at every meeting.
      If you land with a group that you don’t quite ‘mesh’ with after a few meetings, try a different group. Each one seems to have its own dynamic or personality. One thing I’ve found at all of them, though, is people who genuinely want to help each other be great speakers!

  21. I haven’t attended a writer’s conference but it’s on my To Do List. I completed the first two books in my children’s picture book series and would like to find a literary agent who handles this genre. I need to go back and re-outline my middle grade book and rewrite. After having read a couple of middle grade books, I can see where I went off course.

    Thanks for the tips!

  22. Great tips! I’m headed to my first conference in two weeks and I’m gleaning all I can for making that pitch. I’m fairly certain this will be a learning curve for me, so keeping my expectations low but my efforts high is my goal. I signed up to volunteer as well. More than just meeting the well known authors and agents, I want to make connections to other writers and grow my experience in general.

    Thanks for an encouraging and helpful post!

  23. This is great advice Chuck. I love the non-pitch, pitch idea. That works very well when making media connections as well.

  24. Thank you for the great advice! I am fairly new to generating ideas that I want to have published, and, therefore, have not attended any conferences (plus, I’m still in college). I was curious if you had any advice about pitching ideas to, say, a magazine or newspaper, to be a freelancer? I have another job that is taking up the rest of my free time between classes, which means I don’t have the time or placement on the school paper to write for them. However, I would love to freelance for some publications in town, but have no idea where to even start. Is it similar to pitching a book idea? How do I keep it short and to the point? Help!!

  25. I’ve got a newly self-published English cozy mystery, and another almost ready to go. Would it be de rigeur to use the first as an intro to seeking representation on the second?
    BTW, for those having trouble with public speaking nerves, try a local Toastmasters club. The training and practice costs less than any I know of, and you improve among friends. Works for me.

  26. I fussed and fretted over what materials I may nees to bring to my first writers conference this summer. Manuscript? MS on flash drives? Resume? Sample chapter? Well, I went with busomess cards: my book title, front cover image, my name amd contact info. Glad I had those! Nut mothing else was needed.

  27. Thanks for this post. I was at WDCW13 and saw this post prior to my very first pitch, it was the final push I needed to get me over the nerves. I pitched and received 3 partial manuscript requests from agents. Thanks.

  28. Thanks for the timely, insightful article on “pitching”. I’m headed to the Southern California Writer’s Conference in February, hoping to have a “pitch” opportunity.

  29. Michael Hartnett says:

    In this enormous ballroom of dancers looking for partners, it’s vital to remember to step up, trust in your ticker, and enjoy the music. Sure, it’s about survival, getting eyeballs onto your words; but as Chuck reminds us with his pithy tips, agents are just folks too, eager for a thrilling, profitable boogey on the dance floor. Good luck everyone!

  30. That idea at the end is brilliant and sublime.

  31. I loathe the self-selling aspect of this whole thing. Absolutely hate it. I feel like hiring someone to do the pitch for me because it all feels so bloody pushy. That being said, thank you – as always – for the helpful tips on how to get through it without medications or barf bags! 🙂

  32. Ardelle Holden says:

    In Ajijic, I will be attending my first Writers’ Conference next month, with my first book. I gained the confidence to take this step from the Writers’ Group here in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. Alejandro Gratton, the Editor of the Ojo del Lago, and the rest of the rest of the authors in the Group gave me great encouragement at my reading of Chapter One. Your tutorial buoys me even more. Thank you.

  33. I’m a complete neophyte. Got a lot to learn. Whew! Sounds like a full time job getting a book to a publisher. A completely different set of skills from writing the book in the first place. Should be an interesting ride. I’ll have to hold on by the seat of my pants.

  34. http://dfwcon.org/ The 2016 DFWcon will be Saturday, April 23-24th at the Fort Worth Convention Center

  35. Thank you for your insights. Getting ready to go to my first one next month!!

  36. Approaching agents is probably one of the more difficult task for me as an aspiring writer. The knowledge here will help me as I collect more confidence and techniques. Thank you.

  37. So Chuck, I drove you from Navasota to the airport and l look forward to seeing you Saturday 2/6 at the Houston Writers Workshop.
    Best,
    Deb Walters,
    http://www.heplikeme.com

Trackbacks

  1. […] Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference […]

  2. […] of the most common questions I get at writers’ conferences is this: Can I query multiple literary agents at once? My answer is that not only yes, but yes, […]

  3. […] Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference […]

  4. […] your work is polished and the only thing on your mind is pitching, then you’re looking for an event that has not only a sizeable number of agents and editors […]

  5. […] Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference […]

  6. […] Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference […]

  7. […] Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference […]

  8. […] Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers Conference […]

  9. […] on Monday 16th June. Here is our chance to find out what agents look for in a book. You may need these? 7. Dear Kampala  importers of smart phone covers, skins and cases, can you get some cool covers […]

  10. […] Perhaps the most widely known activity at a “big” conference (one that is perhaps nationally or internationally known) is the “pitch”: during seminars, happy hours and social times, writers are pitching their books to agents in the hopes of possible representation. There are actual “pitch lists” you can sign up for as well, which allot around 10 minutes for you to meet one-on-one with an agent or editor and discuss why they should want to represent your book. For tips on how to pitch literary agents at conferences, read this post at The Write Life. […]

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