Pitching at Conferences

This article first began as a February 9, 2007 writer blog post.

Writing Essay: Pitching At Conferences

Without further ado, here are my pearls of wisdom / unsolicited advice regarding conference pitches to agents and editors.

1) Have a 30 second pitch.

This does NOT have to be 25 words, as dictates popular opinion. But you should be able to tell the POINT of your book very quickly.

Ex: It’s about an ogre helping a princess to escape marriage to a… It’s about a boy and his little sister who discover an extra terrestrial in their shed and decide to… Etc.

If this is tough, try it my “modified GMC” way:

[Heroine] wants [goal] because [motivation] but [conflict] leads to [disaster].

[Hero] wants [goal] because [motivation] but [conflict] leads to [disaster].

Ideally, their conflicts intersect and their motivations clash. (or vice versa)

2) Know your story.

By this, I mean know the story’s details that are going to matter to the agent/editor. They need genre. They need wordcount. They need hook. They need to know whether it’s completed. If the agent doesn’t get this info, she can’t pitch it to editors. If the editor doesn’t get this info, she can’t pitch it to her sales/marketing team.

Ex: Ewoks Gone Wild is a completed, 90k word romantic comedy.

Casper the Friendly Ghost Writer is a completed, 60k sexy paranormal with romantic elements.

3) Ask the editor/agent

After you’ve given them the basic details (which, if you’ve been reading closely, should cover the first, say 45 seconds) then ASK them what else they want to know. And be prepared to answer. They might say:

  • Tell me all about your heroine

  • What makes her different/stand out?

  • Tell me all about your hero

  • What makes him heroic?

  • What’s keeping them apart?

  • What makes them perfect for each other?

  • Tell me all about your antagonist/conflict

  • How does it end?

  • What is the heat level?

  • I don’t like that name. Do you have other ideas?

I have gotten all of these questions at some point. No, you won’t get them all at once–usually the editor/agent just asks one or two pointed questions to try to get at the meat of your story. And also no, this is not a definitive list–they surprise me with something new every time. =)

4) Get to know the agent/editor

If it’s an agent, remember that YOU are hiring HER. If you don’t hit it off as PEOPLE, then there’s no point pursuing a contract where you’ll give someone you don’t like/trust/whatever 15% of your income. You might ask things like:

  • How do you communicate with your clients? (email, phone, etc)

  • What is your process for submitting books to editors?

  • How involved are you with plotting/editing before submission?

If it’s an editor, this is the person who will make or break whether your book goes to print and how it looks when it gets there. This is the perfect time to start compiling a mental list of her pet peeves, so that you DON’T MAKE THEM. Some are legit. Some are personal preference. It doesn’t matter. You will have to adhere. This is also a good time to find that editor’s soft spot, so you can tailor to her desires.

Ex, Anna Genoese, formerly of Tor:

  • big fan of serial commas (legitimate professional preference)

  • not fan of princesses after love (personal preference)

  • sucker for sexy scientist heroes (personal preference)

5) But ABOVE ALL, before you do any of this, do your homework.

All of the agents and editors are listed on conference web sites–any legitimate conference you go to.

  • Read the bios

  • Visit their web sites

  • Check out their client lists

  • Have you heard of any of their authors?

  • Have you read any of their books?

  • Have they sold/published any recently?

  • What are they looking for?

  • What are they NOT looking for?

Also, many conferences ask participants to list their top 2 or 3 agents/editors so that they can try to match them right books with the right buyers.

Make your choices based on the above “homework” so that you go in there with a “OMG, I gotta have it” mark in your favor, not a “god, what would I do with a story like this?” mark against you.

This article first began as a February 9, 2007 writer blog post.

Erica Ridley