Monday, May 12, 2008

Adina Kahn advises on the do's and don'ts of pitch sessions

Recently I attended the Maryland Writers’ Association Conference and met some wonderful aspiring authors. One thing many writers take advantage of at conferences is the agent pitch session, where you have the opportunity to discuss your material, gain advice and ask if they’d be willing to accept a submission. The only problem is that in many cases you have only ten minutes to explain to the agent who you are, what your project is about, and why your book will undoubtedly be a success. The following are some recommendations on how to make the most of your ten minutes with an agent:

Don’t bury the lead. Don’t hold off on boasting about how you’re considered an expert in your field, or about the awards you’ve won, or how well your recent interview with Ann Curry went. Agents often have back-to-back meetings scheduled and we meet a lot of people at these conferences, so you want to make sure you share all the information you have that would make you stand out from the crowd before your time is up.

Practice reciting a succinct synopsis of your work. You should not take this valuable time to share every single plot point or divulge information about each minor character in your novel. If your story is too complex to explain in less than ten minutes, then agents will lose confidence that they will in turn be able to convey to editors what the story is about. Same goes for non-fiction: your idea should not be so convoluted as to make it impossible to express what you’re writing about.

Do your research. It’s a good idea to know a little bit about the agent you’ll be meeting with before your pitch session. There’s no point in wasting your time talking about your self-help book if the agent you’re meeting with only represents fiction. It’s also a good idea to know what books their agency has represented in the past. I was impressed at the conference I attended at how many people had taken the time to check out our website before meeting with me.

Ask questions. Most conferences will have a variety of panels, lectures, and seminars to choose from that are aimed at guiding you through every stage of publication. But not everyone gets called on at the panels, and not every subject can be covered in the lectures, so you will most likely have some questions that will remain unanswered. Now is your chance to get these questions answered so don’t be shy!

Relax. If an agent has taken the time to attend a conference that means that they are eager to meet new authors and share their insider knowledge about the publishing industry. We are not there to criticize your work, we are there to give you honest and helpful answers and feedback.

Well, I guess my ten minutes is up. Do any of you have additional tips to share about attending pitch sessions with agents?


  1. Tip #1 for authors: Don't bring pages with you to the appointment. Do have them available just in case.

    Tip #2: Don't keep talking to the agent when your time's up. There are probably authors waiting for their turn.

    Tip #3: Thank the agent(s) for their time--for coming to the conference and for taking appointments.

    Tip for the agents: Be tough during this face-to-face time. If you're not interested, please tell us. Saves time, money, effort for everyone.


  2. Tip for authors: No matter the context of meeting an agent, do your best to relax and let your true personality out. I don't have tips for agents because I can't imagine having to sit across from potential clients and having to say no! Yikes that's a tough position to be in.

  3. I do believe I'd need a whole bottle of beta-blockers before I could go through with a pitch session. I sincerely admire anyone who can manage this sort of extemporaneous verbal surgical strike, but I'll stick to query letters and the comfort of written rejections.

  4. Katie, I agree it's a tough position to be in, but look at the advantages for both sides if the agent did say no.

    The poor author won't spend time, money, and effort on sending something the agent really doesn't want. Not to mention the nailbiting and sleepless nights of waiting and wondering.

    And the poor agent won't have to deal with responding later with a form rejection. The form rejection the author probably wasn't expecting.

    Nip it in the bud at the onset--during the appointment.


  5. Paula, I agree the fast "No" is better than any other scenario (except a yes, of course). I just meant that it must be hard to deliver the no sitting there across from the person. It's not easy to get the no, even if you understand most of the time it will be that way. The good thing about being face to face is that the agent may have some feedback...maybe???? I can't say for sure since obviously I'm not an agent. But I imagine it could be a good experience even if it's a short one.

  6. A tip for authors: Don't make an appointment with an agent or editor if you don't have a completed manuscript. I once talked with an editor who sat through a day's worth of conference-attendee appointments and had met only one author with a completed manuscript to sell.

  7. Can I bring notes? (for me, I know you don't want them :) Like maybe an index card with the points I'd like to cover?
    When I get nervous my brain goes blank. Will you think me an idiot if I need notes? I'd hate to leave that room thinking; I should have said...
    Believe me, I'm a good public speaker but when face to face with the gatekeeper of dreams...well, I might stumble.

  8. Oh, good one, Judy! I imagine that editor felt his/her time was pretty much wasted.

    Kathie, that would be a good experience. I wonder if it (getting feedback) ever happens.