My advice? Be prepared!
One of the highlights of a writers' conference is getting to meet agents in person to pitch your book. The workshops are great and so is meeting new friends, but the pitch sessions are why most writers spend hundreds of dollars to go to conferences.
Mistakes writers make in the pitch sessions: 1) Not being concise, 2) not being prepared, and 3) failure to read the agent.
1) Be concise: If you are pitching to an agent at a conference, it is understood that you have a completed novel or non-fiction proposal. The pitch should be a brief, and I mean brief, summary of your project. You get ten minutes with the agent usually, but ten minutes is a long time to listen to someone prattle on about their book. Really. Put yourself in the agent's shoes. I've heard several agents say the same thing in workshops: Keep it short and let the agent ask questions. This way, they are engaged and can find out things about your project or you that interest them.
2) Be prepared: Distill your book into a pitch well before the conference. Don't wait until breakfast the day of the appointment.
I spent a great deal of time at the last conference I attended watching other writers pitch. I was amazed how many were unprepared. Some went on and on, speaking in circles about their project while the agent looked around the room trying to stay awake. Others had memorized an intricate and detailed five-minute summary of their book. While some made it through with robotic precision (yawn), others became flustered and had to start over several times, like a kid reciting the Preamble to the Constitution. The pitches that had the greatest result with agents were the ones that were brief and conversational. Some of these writers were more at home speaking to an agent, but most of them had a natural, conversational pitches because they had spent a long time preparing and practicing the pitch.
You can have the greatest pitch ever, but if you don't practice out-loud, it will sound stiff. Find someone to practice with. Have them ask questions about your book. Practice! Practice! Practice!
3) Read the agent. This is the hardest part. You are so nervous you can hardly see straight, much less read someone's body language, but you need to be aware of your audience.
I watched while agents politely endured ten-minute monologues about projects while shifting in their chairs, covertly sneaking peeks at their watches and gazing longingly at the door. The writers didn't even notice--they droned on and on, oblivious to the reception their pitch was receiving. In one case, the agent tried to interrupt a writer to ask a question, and the writer was so engrossed in his recitation, he didn't notice she wanted his attention until she tapped him on the shoulder.
The pitch is about describing your project and having a conversation about it. There is a live person across the table from you--take advantage of that. A full one-sided description can be done in a letter.
Okay, so why is it called an elevator pitch? Because it should be short enough to deliver on a standard elevator ride. Brief.
Everyone should have an oral pitch for their book whether they plan to pitch to an agent at a conference or not.
I'm asked all the time what my book is about. I have several versions of my pitch that I apply in different situations. One is about a minute long, which would be good for a conference pitch. I have a 30-second pitch I use in situations where I am with someone who is genuinely interested in my project. Another is a one-liner I use when someone is asking to be polite or trying to make conversation. I call it my "party" pitch. I love my books, but most people don't want to hear me go on and on about them. The one-liner discharges the duty on both sides. I recommend you create one.
Now for an example of a 30-second elevator pitch!
THE HOLLOW is a modern day ghost story that follows sixteen year-old Abigail Browning in her struggles to deal with the sudden death of her best friend, Kristen. A death that people say might not have been an accident. When Caspian, a mysterious and gorgeous stranger, shows up out of nowhere at Kristen's funeral, he encourages Abbey to look further into the situation.
Just when Abbey feels like she might be able to deal with everything, a hidden diary makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. Torn between her grief and anger, Abbey sets out to uncover the truth behind the secrets Kristen was keeping from her. Along the way, she'll stumble upon the buried past of her famous town and learn that some secrets are kept for a reason, when she inadvertently comes face to face with the real Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Now, if I were an agent across the table from Jessica, I'd be asking questions at this point, wouldn't you? The oral pitch is concise, informative and intriguing. I want to hear more.
Here is Jessica's "party" one-liner:
A dead friend, an old grave, and a local Legend haunt a sixteen year-old girl.
The challenge! I'm going to post my 30-second pitch in the comments and encourage you to do the same. It should be under 150 words. Jessica Verday's word-count is 149 and my pitch in the comments is 119. Feel free to post your one-sentence pitch also.
Seeing other pitches helps us improve our own, which is what QueryTracker.Net is all about--helping writers improve their craft and make the quest for an agent less complicated.
Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.
Mary can also be found on her website.