Friday, November 11, 2011

Pitching To An Agent

One of my favorite clients is a professor at one of the best Masters Programs in writing. She recently asked me for tips that she can offer her students when pitching to an agent in person. In preparing my answer to her, I realized that this would be useful to others as well. So I decided to post it here.

When I attend a conference or listen to someone's pitch, I want to hear about a finished manuscript that is ready to be submitted. The author needs to be ready to tell me about the plot in a concise and organized way as if they were reading a blurb from the jacket of a book.Of course you don't want to actually read it, or worse, give it to me to read it.

Michael Palmer and I just did a 'What if' workshop at the Hampton Roads Conference in Virginia to help authors prepare their 30 second pitch in about 25 words. The pitch needs to tell the listener about the plot and characters in a catchy creative way. The plot, of course, should be composed of the set up, the conflict, the climax and the resolution. Its ok to ask the listener if they want to hear about plot twists, surprises, and cliff hangers. Most of us want to know all of this to know how good the read will be. We don't really read submissions for pleasure (usually and unfortunately- though we do often finish only what we enjoy). We are looking for something worth selling... So pitching should offer a hook to want us do just that.

I like the pitch to begin in a friendly, not mechanical manner. Sit down say hello, very shot chit chat, etc. Unless you're pitching at a pitch slam like Writer's Digest in NYC, where the pitches are only 3 mins- in that case, say hi and get right to it. Otherwise, you can show some humanity. This may be your chance to be remembered as a person. When ready, or on queue from the listener, begin by telling her that you have a finished [genre] MS of [# thousand] words that you believe will appeal to [target market- sex, age, other]. Then start with the plot, or character if it is a character driven story.

I'm sure that I'm not alone when I say that we don't want to hear a disorganized regurgitation of facts from the book that we need to piece together. When someone comes to me nervous, or gets started on the wrong foot, I usually stop them and tell them to relax. I tell them to pretend that they are sitting with a friend at a cozy coffee shop and they are telling me about a wonderful story that I must read. Tell it to me in a way that will interest me. Remember that it's about making me want to read it.

What someone wears is important to a certain point. Being groomed and clean is a must. Do not have food in your teeth, bad breath, soot in your eyes, or bed/hat hair. When you're sitting in front of me for ten minutes I notice all of these things. I also notice scents a lot. So body other is not acceptable. It will distract me. Clothing is important in way of making you appealing and creating a good first impression. Wear business casual clothes. Don't try too hard though either. If you're over or under dressed I may wonder about where you fit. Having said that, I would never judge your uniqueness or sense of style. We are not all fashionistas. And if you're goth, go goth. After all, you are who you are.

Needless to say that the work always speaks for it self. Ultimately we make our decisions on the saleability of the work. However, if we love a book but the author is gross or intolerable, or just plain weird, we do take that into consideration because we will have to work with this person. We need someone who is presentable and who can handle themselves in public. True, that many authors are introverts. But I don't think that that is true for the majority, and unfortunately, given today's need for marketing, having an author that can put themselves out there to create sales is imperative.

Hope that this is helpful. Please feel free to post questions here that you'd like answered.

Happy Pitching!



  1. More good advice - thanks! (One agent blogged recently that she didn't mind being handed a written pitch, figuring writers are better at that than speaking. But she may be in the minority. And if we're going to eventually market our work, we need to be able to talk.)

  2. Thanks for the post Charley. I couldn't agree more. Also, if you're going to give me something written just e-mail it to me. Why pay money to sit and talk to me if you're going to make me read it.

  3. Thank you Marisa. This was truly helpful to me. Crazy at it might seem, I would be less intimidated giving a five minute talk to a crowded room than to sit face to face with a single person and pitch my book.
    I'll work on it!

  4. Dressing much like you would for a job interview.

    Pitching is one of the more difficult things I've had to do as a writer.

  5. As a published author and former Toastmaster, this all makes sense. It's almost in checklist form, so anyone should find it useful, at least to confirm their plan of attack.
    Still, the difficult part is the succinct presentation, the pitch, the sizzle of the steak, whatever you want to call it. Pitching live or in print, I can safely say that this is the hardest facet for most any author.
    Considering how most authors pitch via written communication, perhaps we can see a version of this for them?

  6. I notice all the things you mentioned about people. I can't help myself. Interesting post.

  7. Nice post about pitching ma'am! Regarding your request to post here about 'topics of interest' here's my two cents worth. I think that one of the things I found most frustrating about writing wasn't the process itself but, once I'd written my first book HHU, the search to find an agent who actually CLICKED with the topic/writing. Finding an agent you trust is tough, but, if you're patient and don't give up, ultimately rewarding. I'm sure there are many MANY writers out there with fascinating stories to tell and topics to offer for your blog. Incidentally....great idea!

  8. One simple truth about a face-to-face pitch is that the single most important skill a writer possesses, aside from writing, is the ability to "sell" the book. Book signings, radio promotion (talk shows), internet marketing--all the author-necessary activities required to make a book successful--demand marketing skills. I would like to hear your thoughts, Marisa, on how aspiring authors can develop such skills if they are lacking in experience or confidence.

  9. I think nervousness is also amplified by the way a writer is welcomed to the pitch. I've pitched a few times and the most difficult one for me was one where the agent didn't shake my hand or introduce herself - she just sat and waited. I realize that agents are unique in their approaches, but that approach froze me for a few seconds. Lol. You set me at ease immediately by saying your kids would like my hair, rofl.

  10. I'm glad you mentioned the personal hygiene issue, I notice these things about people too. I take care not to assault my own friends with bad breath, food in my teeth, or body odor so I would never dream of being careless of these things when planning to approach any person professionally.