We here at Spring Fling central want you to be prepared for your meetings with our agents and editors. To that end, participating agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf has this to share with you:
On Pitching an Agent
I pitched an agent once. I was 18. I’d written 3/4s of a “literary” novel and was attending my first writer’s conference. (The quotes are there because my version of a literary novel was pretentious and purple and awful). The pitch was disastrous. I did everything wrong. The agent was short with me and I left in tears and feeling stupid. I did all the classic Don’ts:
- I had 3/4s of a novel.
- I had unrealistic expectations. Sure, I know it was unlikely that an agent would fall head over heels for my manuscript and sign me right there, but maybe I’d be a special snowflake!
- I brought my manuscript with me. Printed. In a three-ring binder. I just didn’t think about how agents flew to the conference and wouldn’t want my manuscript when there was this thing called email.
- I had nothing prepared.
- I was so nervous that I shook, my voice cracked, and then I teared up when things weren’t going my way.
- I used ridiculous comp titles. “It’s told similarly to The Unbearable Lightness of Being but the syntax is more in the realm of The Great Gatsby.” (Um, seriously? Who did I think I was?)
- I didn’t know my genre or age group.
- I talked a lot about backstory and theme instead of plot. (Probably because I didn’t have one).
The only thing I can say with pride is that I didn’t get mad and burn any bridges, which is why I’m able to say that ten years went by and I became an agent. Still, I’ve never forgotten that experience and it’s given me a little added perspective into the pitching process.
I can only speak for me, but here are some secrets you might not know about pitching:
The first and most important secret: Your pitch should be fun.
This is your chance to sit down and talk to an industry insider. It’s not your only chance to get an agent, though. Maybe back in the day before the internet, this kind of face time was more important. But the truth is, you don’t need an “in” or a connection. The majority of my clients come to me through the slush pile. Only one I met at a conference before I signed her–and she queried me before the conference. Now that’s not to say you can’t meet your agent at a conference. Joanna Volpe met Veronica Roth at a conference. (*ETA: And C-N Member Erica O’Rourke also met Joanna at a conference… Spring Fling 2010!) But my point is that your pitch session is not the be-all and end-all. There are like 368395 literary agents out there and if your pitch sucks, even if you make all the mistakes that I made back when I was apparently a moron, it’s okay. Your career is not over before it began. No matter what happens in your pitch you’re practically in the same position as you were before. (You’re still a writer looking for an agent).
Here’s another secret: I request almost everything that’s pitched to me.
If you have non-fiction or something I don’t work on, I’m not going to waste either of our time, but otherwise I ask for a query and some early pages. Because there are people who can give great pitch but can’t actually write. And some amazing writers can really struggle with talking about their book. In the end, the most important thing is the writing and the truth is i want to be able to read it in order to make a decision.
Here’s another: I’m shy, and introverted, and kind of awkward.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked really hard and putting on a show and pretending I’m totally comfortable and not anxious about meeting new people at all. Hopefully you’d never know that I’ve practiced talking to people in front of a mirror, but I’m a book person. I like to curl up on a couch and read. I like talking to people via the internet.
All of this means: You shouldn’t be nervous.
The most valuable thing you’re going to get out of a pitch is face-time with an agent. Sit down, introduce yourself, and be a real person. Your goal is to make an impression. You want me to remember you and look forward to your query and pages. Because here’s another secret: even if it’s not right for me, I’m more likely to give you some feedback if we’ve made a connection.
Come prepared. Tell me about your book (Stick to the basics: who’s your main character? what’s your main conflict?). Ask me questions–about the industry, about the market, about books I’m excited for, etc. Feel free to show me your query if you want some quick advice. You’ve got my undivided attention for a few minutes, use it to your best advantage.