I'm shaking it up today with a guest agent instead of an author, so join me in welcoming the ever delightful Sara Megibow to the blog. She's here with a different view (and thoughts) on something most of us dread--the pitch session--and some ideas on how to make it more effective.
Sara has been with Nelson Literary Agency since early 2006. Her first responsibilities included reading query letters, sample pages, and full manuscripts, and she was promoted to Associate Literary Agent in 2009. From sexy romance to epic fantasy, Sara has loved reading since picking up her first copy of The Hobbit. Sara earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a B.A. in American History from Northwestern University. She loves to ski, hike, kayak, and hang out with her beat-boxing husband, adorable son, and fuzzy cat. You can find her on Twitter and on Facebook.
Take it away Sara...
Pitching your manuscript to an agent at a conference feels like a time honored tradition doesn’t it?
My first conference was Romance Writers of America National Convention in 2006. I was still nursing my son, so he came with me (along with husband and in-laws to carry all the diapers, jammies, snacks, etc). We were a walking, talking comedy act that year, let me tell you. Anyway, to make a long story short = my first National Convention, thousands of romance writers and me, a pretty new employee of Nelson Literary Agency. POOF, I was introduced to agent pitches.
At most conferences, the agent pitch session is an 8-12 minute slot of time in which an author has the opportunity to speak in person to an acquiring agent. The goal is for the author to explain her/his novel in hopes that the agent asks to read the manuscript right away. Six years and dozens of conferences later, I have an opinion about agent pitch sessions that I’d like to share.
Let’s discuss this – is the agent pitch session an effective tool or could it use a tweak?
In my experience, the two biggest downfalls to an agent pitch session are:
1) the author is nervousCrazy as it seems, a good query letter is still the best way to grab my attention and get me to read a manuscript. All of my clients (except one) came to me via a query letter. But, one of the biggest draws of a writer’s conference is allowing authors to meet agents in person. So, how do we improve the agent pitch session so it’s as effective as the query letter process?
2) an author’s ability to explain their book in person doesn’t necessarily correspond to the quality of writing in the book
My idea for the updated agent pitch session:
- One month in advance of a conference, the agent receives the first 5 pages of an attendee’s book. We’d have to limit this to 10 attendees as reading takes time. The agent reads and makes quick notes ending with “yes, I’d ask to read more” or “no thank you, I would pass.”
- Note – this is NOT a critique, but rather a high-level gut response just like we perform when we’re reading sample pages in the office. The result is “Yes more” or “no thank you.”
- At the conference, those 10 attendees are invited into a room with the agent for an hour. Writers would have to be willing to allow other attendees to read their work and hear feedback on their work.
- In addition to those 10 people, the conference invites 10-20 MORE people into the room who are not submitting work to be read, but are listening in to learn. In this example, 20-30 attendees get live time with an agent for an hour, as opposed to 8-10 attendees served if we do it the old way.
- One huge benefit is writers would hear high-level feedback on their own work AND other works. I find this valuable as there is an opportunity for writers to ask themselves, “Hmmmm, am I making that mistake too?” and “wow – the agent has mentioned data-dump in six examples, I really see what they mean now.”
- Another huge benefit is that the agent is providing discussion on the actual written word and not on a writer’s verbal ability to describe their book.
- Finally, in this new format the agent can ask immediately for a full manuscript, so writers still have their chance at getting their book read.
So, what do you think of my new format? We might call it a roundtable agent pitch session or something. Incidentally, here’s another agent’s take on pitches (which goes to show I’m not the only one thinking about all this)