Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Chasya's Questions Corner: On Pitch Sessions

by Chasya

Another excellent question from one of our readers:

What are the biggest mistakes writers make when pitching their work at a writers' conference?


I asked around to several other agents here to find out what sorts of things make writers stand out to them during pitch sessions--and not in a good way. These were some of their replies:

I think the biggest issue I have is when people over-rehearse. It sounds so phony and it's not engaging. I want people to talk naturally about their work, and while they should be able to do so easily, I don't want it to sound like they're reading from cue cards (or even worse, ACTUALLY reading from note cards).


I don't know that I'd classify it as a big mistake, but I don't like it when pitches go on too long, they need to be concise, and it's hard to be objective when the pitcher gets really emotional, so I'd say keep it professional.


I’d say the biggest mistake is pitching a book that isn’t done: not complete, not revised, not read by a critique group or trusted friends and then revised again. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. An author that has a pitch session lined up before figuring out that they should have been further along in the process is better off taking the time to ask more general questions than pitching a book the agent can’t consider that the author might never complete—or that might be a very different book by the time they do finish.


I’d say being completely and utterly terrified. Or too reliant on a script. People trip themselves up and forget that all they really have to do is talk about their book. It’s better to be enthusiastic and calm than it is to be super-precise. Oh, and don’t bring props.


We need more of your questions! Please send inquiries to news@dystel.com.


  1. What? No props? Okay, next time I'll leave them at home :)

  2. Okay, I guess my eyes are tired. I read Jim's last sentence as "don't bring poops." I promise NEVER to do that.

  3. What's funny about the props thing is that someone must have actually done that to prompt Jim's comment. I'm keeping my eyes open at my next conference for props.

  4. This is very helpful. I presume that begging and hysterical crying are also no-nos. Just guessing.

  5. Hi!

    Excuse me while I put away the finger puppets. Ahem.

    Thank you for this post. Very helpful, especially Lauren's advice.

    What about if pitch is done in iambic pentameter sonnet form?

    Don't worry. I know the answer.

  6. The comments here are as funny as the advice is useful.

    I can't see myself over-rehearsing, but the other three (going on too long, being utterly terrified) make me think it's a good thing I've never attended a pitch session.

  7. As for over-rehearsing....

    When I did a pitch festival for screenplays a few years ago. I over-rehearsed, and then I kept on rehearsing. I did it in funny voices (I highly recommend pitching a heist plot as Queen Elizabeth II as a way of getting a whole new take on how it sounds. Although only pitch it this way to your cat, not to an agent or editor. They may not understand.) I kept going until it was so natural, that I could change it at will.

    And by the time I got to the pitch festival, I was actually able to just _talk_ about the story, and I was able to adjust my pitch quickly as I saw which bits were boring the audience and which were engaging them. If you are going to rehearse, do it until you can freely speed it up, skip or expand on things without a script.

  8. Whether pitching hay or pitching woo,
    pitching is what you must learn to do.
    It's not the steak, it's the sizzling
    that gets that agent all a'wigglin'.
    What? No steak after the pitching?
    Then that haggard agent will be a'--


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