Friend of the blog Linda C. McCabe is soliciting input on what people like to see at writer’s conferences, and this got me to thinking about the mainstay of writers conferences: the pitch session.
I’m sure many of you have sweat through one or more of these events, in which authors speak for a couple of minutes about their project as the agent tries to follow along.
Personally I find pitch sessions extremely challenging, and not just because I’m often listening to pitches for hours on end. Just about everything sounds good to me when someone is pitching it in person, but ultimately I don’t find them terribly insightful because, of course, everything depends on the writing. I always wonder if we’d be better off spending that time discussing questions the author might have about the publishing process and their work.
On the other hand, maybe it’s a valuable exercise for people to be forced to summarize their work in a compelling fashion, and maybe it helps to make that personal connection with an agent. Perhaps there are some benefits that I’m not seeing on my side of the table.
So what do you think about pitch sessions? Yes? No?
Kimberly Lynn says
Good one, Adaora! Grin.
I think pitching sessions are great opportunities for writers who feel confident in taking this approach; it’s just not something I have the courage to do.
Nick Travers says
Silly question, Nathan, but how does a pitch letter help you any better than a pitch session?
I’ve never done a pitch…never been to a writers conference. That being said, I’d rather an agent spend 3-5 minutes reading my first and last chapters of the book I have ready to sell. They have to be okay with my writing or it’s just a waste of everyone’s time…bottom line anyway.
I mean, yeah, you could meet the man or woman of your dreams at a pitch session. It could be love at first sight…an email here…an email there. The first phone call. A night out… The possibilities are endless, but really who am I kidding? I already found the man of my dreams so…yeah, pitching seems pointless. 😀
There are very good arguments for them here, though. And I’m riding the fence. *shrug*
I can’t believe people are paying for a pitch session. That seems to be bad form. Am I right or is this part of the practice?
Having to pay extra for pitch sessions is standard. Some conferences, especially ones which last for several days will also have different meals be an additional price such as keynote speaker dinners.
Not everyone who attends a conference will want to participate in those things, so it helps to control attendance and serves to raise additional funds as well.
One aspect of the pitch sessions which I do not believe has been raised in this comment trail is demonstrating to prospective agents your public speaking ability.
Yes, yes, writers not only need to be able to write well, but we also need to be able to speak well. For the all important post-publication marketing.
You need to be able to speak to reporters, talk radio, and the general public at book signings.
The author is the best advocate for their book. Period.
If you cannot string a few sentences together to fill three minutes of time in a compelling fashion to a publishing professional such as an agent, how will you be able to promote your book?
If you think that all you have to do is write a good book and then the publicists at the publishers will do all the rest in order to make your book a success, your expectations are unrealistic in today’s marketplace.
I guess I view a pitch as a verbal query, although I’d rather lead with my ability to write rather than my personality or enthusiasm. Every author has enthusiasm for their project, otherwise we’d all sputter out and never finish anything.
I’d only want to do pitch sessions if I could have my first five or ten pages handy to say, “here, take a quick look. See if you like it.”
I prefer the query process. I’d hate to watch an agent cringe as they read my work in front of me (or, perhaps agents work on their poker faces through back-to-back WSOP satellite tourneys for the week before).
I guess I’d hate pitch sessions for the same reason I prefer to use the self check out line at Walmart…
I’m not sure and since I’ve never been to a writers’ conference I’d probably just attend a pitch session and see how well I’m faring there. For some reason I’d find it hard to compare the pitch of a written query with that of a verbal performance.
I wanted to thank you again for posting the subject about feedback on writers conference on your blog. I have gotten some great ideas from your comment trail and from those who stopped by at my blog and left their thoughts.
Actually there are a lot of similarities between your verbal pitch and the written query. Because if you are lucky enough to get a request for a partial (and no, not all agents ask for everything just to be polite!), you need to include the content of your verbal pitch in your cover letter.
Because that will jog the memory of the agent as to why they were interested in it in the first place.
That pitch/summation of your story or nonfiction book will pretty much accompany every single cover letter/email that you send to that agent. It will preface your partial, and — if you are lucky — the subsequent submission of your full manuscript.
It may wind up being the gist of the agent’s letter to prospective editors, it may in turn be used inside the publishing house to generate support to sign the book, later it might be used by the marketing department in promoting your book, and then some version of your pitch may wind up appearing on the back cover or inside jacket of the published book.
All that can come from a dynamite pitch whether it is written or verbal.
The question Nathan raised was how writers feel about delivering them in person to prospective agents at writers conferences.
To me, I believe it is imperative for writers to have strong public speaking skills. If you don’t currently, it is one more thing you need to work on if you want a career in writing. That is unless you become a journalist or a staff writer on a televised series and can rely solely upon your writing.
Even screenwriters have to be able to verbally pitch their stories.
Kimberly Lynn says
You have raised very valid points in regard to the importance of an author and his or her public speaking skills, and I completely agree. But I also think there is a huge difference between doing a radio interview and throwing a pitch to an agent. The thought of it conjures up images of a vacuum cleaner salesman knocking door-to-door and tossing out some three minute spiel . . .
The difference is that the vacuum customer and the salesman have both come specifically to make the connection. The customer may or may not be interested, but it’s far more like setting up a booth at a trade show than going door-to-door on cold calls.
Kimberly Lynn says
For those who are about to participate in a pitching session, just make sure the agents you approach represent your type of work.
And, unlike with vacuum cleaners, make sure your work doesn’t suck.
A few years ago, at the Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference, I stayed in a huge house with around fifteen other writers. The appointments were set for agent meetings, and the writers in the house were toiling puddles of sweat and tears. They wrote out their pitches, read them to each other, critiqued one another’s voice inflection and delivery and turned the entire house into a giant stress knot. “What the heck is the big deal?” I thought to myself. But I had recently finished my YA novel and wanted to run it by someone who represented YA. The agent said that the premise of my book sounded intriguing and asked for a partial, which arrived back in return mail less than a week later with a standard rejection slip.
The one thing they did at that conference I found infinitely more useful was a series of ice-breaker activities. They had open mic readings at a local pub and board games at a local bookstore. I opted for the board games and sat around a table with a group of agents, editors, and writers of every description, playing a scrabble-like game. The activities allowed us all to relax and let our guard down a little. We grouped into teams and just played this game. Between rounds, conversation took place in an atmosphere that wasn’t charged with expectation. Too many conferences spoil the potential good that could happen when they fail to erase that line between “The Professionals” and the other talent.
Jason R. Clark says
I’ve pitched once and found it quite useful. It didn’t get me an agent, but like Nathan suggests it forced me condense my novel until it could fit into the five minute pitch. With that done, crafting a query letter became much easier.
It did net a few partial requests. Whether they were “can’t turn-down-in-person” requests or not, it did encourage me to keep working.
Turned out it helped for determining whether I would want to work with the agents too. One of them was a clear “no” from the start. It would have been hard to find that out short of in-person interactions.
Kimberly Lynn says
pjd, good one!
Also, if you can’t tell someone in 5 minutes or less what your story is about, maybe you don’t really even know yet and it needs to be rewritten…
“Extremely challenging.” Such a gentleman.
Kimberly Lynn says
I can say what all nine of my manuscripts are about in less than three minutes, some in two sentences, even the ones I’m not finished with yet. Yet, I have no clue why pitching them to an agent terrifies me. Having a critique one on one would be fun, though.
For most writers who wish to be published this is an important and money-investing issue. Opinions by those who have never pitched an agent are of doubtful value. One should bear in mind, “spend a buck to make a buck,” it costs money to break into any profession.
Its worth reading all the agents’ blogs and available data; some are “specialists” in everything, some aren’t interested in “xyz,” so choose the agent wisely. Whether an editor or an agent is a better choice is arguable — an editor is not going to represent you, but might give you better advice on your writing in progress. Alternatively, an agent is unlikely to be interested if you have just started your book.
My own experiences have been instructive. I first took a three day course on “pitching” which was not exactly wasted, but neither was it necessary. The impressions I have gained through several sessions are:
1) The agent is summing you up, deciding whether he wants you as a client. So don’t be hyper-aggressive and demanding.
2) You will want to know, “do I wish to enter into a business contract with this person?” Sometimes the agent’s attitude is condescending, sometimes bored — one yawned in my face!
3) The agent doesn’t need to be sold. He wants to know a) The genre; b)”What’s it about?” to be answered in one sentence; c) How many words? to be answered in one number; d) is it ready to send? If it isn’t then the discussion is abour general issues and not representation, and such issues will be covered in the general program, so your money is wasted.
4) If he says “Send me 5 pages” he’s being polite; but may well return these with notes on why it’s rejected. If he says, “Send the first 5 chapters” he’s probably interested. If he says, “Send the entire manuscript,” he’s either genuinely interested or very cruel.
My summary opinion is: “face to face” is probably the best way to get an agent, it’ll cost money, so spend your money wisely by doing the grounwork first.
Can’t say I feel strongly enough to use either “loathe” or “love”. Granted I’ve only done one. I was nervous, but of the three times I put my work “out there” at the conference–read and critique where each participant reads and then listens the agent/editor’s reaction; critique by a panel of one page read by a moderator, ie the author is annonymous; and an actual pitch.
At the pitch, there was a back-and-forth between two people. The connection is what I think made a difference for me. A face-to-face helps both parties decide if the fit is right, especially if the guy who wrote “Blink” is right, and we know far more about a person in a short time than we realize.
I didn’t have to pay for the pitch session, which may have influenced how I feel about the experience.
I appreciated the pitch session but I understand how someone talking about an idea may not be a terribly good gauge for how the person writes. The idea of providing the agent/editor with sample pages of each author who pitches sounds good in terms of giving the agent a better idea of whether the person can write, but I don’t think it solves the problem of how difficult it is for some people to say no to someone’s face.
I meant to say: “of the three times. blah, blah, blah..
I found the pitch session to be the most satisfying.”