Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference

Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference

GIVEAWAY: Chuck is giving away a copy of his latest writing book, Create Your Writer Platform, to a random commenter. Comment within one week to enter! (Must live in US or Canada to win.) Good luck! (UPDATE: Maria won!)

Pitching literary agents and book editors is one of the best parts of attending a writers’ conference. This is a great opportunity to speak with professionals face-to-face about your book, so it’s important to have your pitch rehearsed and ready.

However, there are some tricky issues around the in-person pitching process. Here are some Conference Pitching FAQs to prepare you for your next opportunity.

Should I bring materials with me to a pitch?

Ideally, no. You shouldn’t bring any sample pages because the agent will almost never want or take such materials.

The exception is if it’s a visual aid. For example, if you’re an author-illustrator or an author-photographer and want to bring a piece of your art, go ahead and show it off during the pitch.

How long should my pitch be?

For a novel, under 90 seconds. For nonfiction, under 120 seconds. (Nonfiction pitches and queries trend longer because there is so much discussion of the writer platform.)

Remember that pitching is equivalent to simply reading your memorized query letter out loud in a conversational manner. A concise pitch is better than a sprawling, unfocused ramble.

Can I bring notes with me to the pitch?

Hopefully, you won’t have to. It’s impressive to speak about your book without notes.

But if you really feel like you are going to pass out from nervousness if you don’t have something with you, then bring some notes. Just try to reference them as minimally as possible.

If I pitch agents at a conference and four reps ask for the same manuscript, is it appropriate to send the same work to them all simultaneously? If so, should I tell each that I have also sent it to other agents?

You can send it to each of them whenever you like, and yes, you can submit simultaneously.

You do not have to tell them that you’re submitting to other agents. They will assume that. You only need to mention it’s a simultaneous submission if the agent or editor requests in their guidelines somewhere that you do so.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

I pitched two very different manuscripts (different genres) at the conference, and each generated interest. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any agents that were interested in both. What do I do if an agent for each manuscript offers me a contract? Is it possible to be represented by multiple agents if the genres are different?

It is indeed possible to be represented by multiple agents, but Agent #1 must first clear that decision.

In other words, simply pitch your books, first and foremost. If an agent offers you representation for a project, be upfront about what you’re writing. They must be completely aware and supportive of you finding another agent for other books. Who knows — they may even offer to rep the second type of book even though that’s not typically their bag.

Any other tips on how to pitch at an event?

Let me throw out two tips no one discusses much.

1. Be a conference volunteer and transport an agent or editor from the airport. That gives you some personal time to meet the publishing pro and discuss your work. Plus, the speaker will feel indebted to you for the ride, so they’ll remember you if you write to them later.

2. Pitch by not pitching. Do you have any idea how many pitches an agent hears at a conference? I’d say 25 to 50. That is a lot of information that all blends together in their mind.

Consider trying to get on an agent’s radar in another way. For example, if you sit next to them at dinner, try talking about something memorable or make them laugh. After all, if you write them afterward and say, “I pitched you at dinner,” they may not remember the discussion. But if you say, “I was the woman who agreed with you in that Back to the Future is the best movie of all time,” there is a good chance they will remember that fun conversation, and think of you warmly — and then read your pitch. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)

If you’re pitching an agent or editor at an upcoming writers’ conference, good luck! I am a huge proponent of conferences, and think such events are great places for writers to get educated, meet agents, and find writing friends for life. I myself am a conference success story, having found my agent, Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary, at a conference in 2007.

By the way, if you’re looking for a conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2019:

  • Feb. 23, 2019: New Orleans Writing Workshop (New Orleans, LA)
  • March 2, 2019: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
  • March 8, 2019: Alabama Writing Workshop (Birmingham, AL)
  • March 9, 2019: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
  • March 9, 2019: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • March 29, 2019: St. Louis Writers Conference (St. Louis, MO)
  • March 30, 2019: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
  • April 13, 2019: North Carolina Writing Workshop (Charlotte, NC)
  • April 27, 2019: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
  • May 4, 2019: Michigan Writing Workshop (near Detroit, MI)
  • May 4, 2019: Writing Conference of Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
  • May 11, 2019: San Diego Writing Workshop (San Diego, CA)
  • May 18, 2019: Cincinnati Writing Workshop (Cincinnati, OH)
  • June 8, 2019: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
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52 comments

  • Michele Cacano says:

    I fussed and fretted over what materials I may nees to bring to my first writers conference this summer. Manuscript? MS on flash drives? Resume? Sample chapter? Well, I went with busomess cards: my book title, front cover image, my name amd info. Glad I had those! Nut mothing else was needed.

  • Mande' says:

    Thanks for this post. I was at WDCW13 and saw this post prior to my very first pitch, it was the final push I needed to get me over the nerves. I pitched and received 3 partial manuscript requests from agents. Thanks.

  • Diane Dettmann says:

    Thanks for the timely, insightful article on “pitching”. I’m headed to the Southern California Writer’s Conference in February, hoping to have a “pitch” opportunity.

  • Michael Hartnett says:

    In this enormous ballroom of dancers looking for partners, it’s vital to remember to step up, trust in your ticker, and enjoy the music. Sure, it’s about survival, getting eyeballs onto your words; but as Chuck reminds us with his pithy tips, agents are just folks too, eager for a thrilling, profitable boogey on the dance floor. Good luck everyone!

  • Edward Kowalski says:

    That idea at the end is brilliant and sublime.

  • Julie Hoover says:

    I loathe the self-selling aspect of this whole thing. Absolutely hate it. I feel like hiring someone to do the pitch for me because it all feels so bloody pushy. That being said, thank you – as always – for the helpful tips on how to get through it without medications or barf bags! 🙂

  • Ardelle Holden says:

    In Ajijic, I will be attending my first Writers’ Conference next month, with my first book. I gained the confidence to take this step from the Writers’ Group here in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. Alejandro Gratton, the Editor of the Ojo del Lago, and the rest of the rest of the authors in the Group gave me great encouragement at my reading of Chapter One. Your tutorial buoys me even more. Thank you.

  • Marita says:

    I’m a complete neophyte. Got a lot to learn. Whew! Sounds like a full time job getting a book to a publisher. A completely different set of skills from writing the book in the first place. Should be an interesting ride. I’ll have to hold on by the seat of my pants.

  • Allen says:

    http://dfwcon.org/ The 2016 DFWcon will be Saturday, April 23-24th at the Fort Worth Convention Center

  • Tonya says:

    Thank you for your insights. Getting ready to go to my first one next month!!

  • James says:

    Approaching agents is probably one of the more difficult task for me as an aspiring writer. The knowledge here will help me as I collect more confidence and techniques. Thank you.

  • Deb Walters says:

    So Chuck, I drove you from Navasota to the airport and l look forward to seeing you Saturday 2/6 at the Houston Writers Workshop.
    Best,
    Deb Walters,
    http://www.heplikeme.com

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