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.