QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pitching to Agents: A Survivor's Story

We welcome back to the blog Shannon Messenger! She's got it goin' on, because well, just read what she has to say about pitching agents at a conference. Face-to-face. Yikes.

I went to my first writer’s conference in January, and because I was determined to walk away with as much feedback as possible, I signed up for five pitch sessions. FIVE. All to agents I was dreaming of querying in the near future. Yeah…it was terrifying.

I’ll end your suspense now and tell you that I ended up with page requests from 4 out of 5 of those pitches—believe me, no one was more surprised than me. And I really can’t take the credit. I did a lot of research before I prepared my pitch, and I found some pointers that were invaluable.

The first ones seem basic, but you’d be amazed how easy it is to forget them when you’re in the moment:

1) Always start by introducing yourself. Not only is it the polite thing to do, it helps you relax, and find your voice.

2) Smile. Most of us do not smile when we’re nervous. Try to find your smile.

3) Remember that the agent knows you’re nervous. Now, I can’t speak for all agents, but I can say that every agent I’ve met has been very nice. They know they intimidate us. So don’t freak out if your voice starts out squeaky or your first words come out like mush. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that they understand, and keep going.

As far as preparing your pitch, I followed these simple suggestions:

1) Keep it short. Just because you have ten minutes doesn’t mean you should talk for ten minutes. You want to give them time to ask questions. My pitch timed out around three minutes—and even though there was a big part of me that was panicking, wondering what would happen if they didn’t ask me any questions, let me put your mind at ease. They ALL asked questions.

2) Start with your title and main character. As fantastic as your plot may be, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens to your character. That’s what makes people care about your story. Sell them on your character.

3) Follow with two or three concise, captivating sentences and end on a cliffhanger. This is where you’re trying to catch their interest. Make it snappy. Push yourself to write some awesome sentences. And stop at a point that makes them have to know more.

Above all else, remember, you’re not there to get page requests (not saying they aren’t nice). You’re there to get honest feedback about your book so you can make the necessary adjustments before you query. Give the agents a chance to talk. I guarantee you’ll learn something. You may even meet your agent there. I did.

Shannon is represented by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She runs a popular blog you so should be following, or find her on twitter. She is amazing, and you'll wanna keep up with what she has going on.

Thanks for dropping by, Shannon!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, that was excellent. I think many of us freeze up and might forget the simple normalcy of introducing ourselves. And I like that we should start with the main character. Great advice.

Corey Schwartz said...

Love this. Going to Tweet about it now.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Great advice! I can see where it really helps to remind yourself that they understand you're nervous.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

This was so helpful! Best, most succinct advice on pitching I've seen yet. I think it also applies to queries. Start with the title and character. End with a cliffhanger. Perfect!

Theresa Milstein said...

Great advice. I've only gone to conferences to get ten-page and query critiques, so I've never had to formally pitch. The idea frightens me because I assume all my rehearsing, and the words will evaporate when I need them. I'll keep this in mind if I get the opportunity to pitch in the future.

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks to Shannon! Isn't she made of awesomesauce?? Yes, yes she is. :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Yay, Shannon. She's filled with awesome advice. The LA SCBWI conference doesn't have pitch sessions, but I'll apply this advice to the professional crit. I'll especially be 'smiling' when I know the version the critter has is seriously out of date. Okay, make that grimacing. ;)

Paul West said...

Great advice. Thank you for posting it.

Eric W. Trant said...

Great list for any presentation, not just pitching to agents.

You didn't put a number on it, but you said it. Let me say it more explicitly, and remind you that ~this~ is the biggest reason you succeeded:


- Eric

Stephanie said...

I went to my first conference in march, The Write Stuff. It was a very small conference, so I only had 1 pitch session. But the agent I pitched gave a talk about how to pitch the night before. She said to relax and let your enthusiasm for the book shine through. Keep it casual...like two friends talking about your book. I was still a ball of nerves, but it went well...she asked for a partial!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Thanks for the tips Shannon!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Wow, everyone--thanks for the comments!

Tricia: Yeah--you do sort of feel like you forget your own name. That's where breathing helps--and remembering that they know you're newvous.

Corey: Aw, thanks for spreading the word!

Lisa: Yes--it's all about realizing that they understand. As long as you're sincerely trying, agents are very sympathetic and understanding (or the ones I've met, at least.

Katrina: Wow. Best. Compliment. Ever! And you're right, it can definitely apply to queries. Queries are basically just a written pitch.

Theresa: That's another reason why keeping it short is so important. The less you have to remember, the better.

Elana: *blushes* You are way too sweet!

Stina: Ooo, you're going to SCBWI LA??? Me too, me too!!!

Paul: Aw, thanks. Thanks to QueryTracker for letting me post it.

Eric: You're right, I suppose that is what I was trying to say. Way to sum it up better than I could!

Stephanie: Awesome on the partial request! *Tosses confetti* Go you!

Erinn said...

Awesome post... where were you a month ago when I went to my conference. My goal... don't puke on Mary Kole's shoes.

Goal completed!

Excellent post!

Carolyn V. said...

Great advice. I'm glad they knew we are nervous! =)

Lydia Kang said...

Wonderful advice! I'll have to remember this if I go to a conference...

Shannon O'Donnell said...

As a former speech and debate coach, I'd say you nailed it, #1! Great advice. :-)

Diane J. said...

I'm beginning to look at pitch sessions so this is perfect timing. Wonderful advice.

Suzette Saxton said...

Shannon IS awesomesauce - 100%.

Thanks for arranging this, Elana! I adore you both.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great advice Shannon. You make it sound so simple.

Julie Musil said...

This idea TERRIFIES me. I must get over it! Thanks for the great advice.

ali said...

Great advice Shannon! And congrats on snagging Laura Rennert!

Silke said...

Cool idea for a blog post. :)
I think most of us clam up when it's crunchtime, but yes - Agents are people too.
One of my critique partners (who happens to be an editor) took pitches at a conference recently and said she was sitting there and kept thinking "It's only me. I don't bite. I do laundry, my car breaks down and the dog makes a mess on the carpet. My kids don't think I'm awesome and talk back to me, but I'm a nice person. BREATHE."
It gave us a chuckle, but she has a point. :)

Wicked-Sassy said...

I have an agent crush on Laura. I swear, we are meant to be together ;)

All the best to you!!!

Corra McFeydon said...

Oh, I'd be so nervous!! Thanks for sharing thses tips. :-)

- Corra

The Victorian Heroine

Sunny said...

Thanks for such an insightful post. I would not even know where to begin if I had a pitch. I am new to the writing world and just starting to get my feet wet with information. That's wonderful news about page requests as a result of attending the conference. I wish you the most success! Again, thanks for sharing your experiences!