Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Guest Agent Sara Megibow: Is the Agent Pitch Session an Effective Tool or Could it use a Tweak?

By Sara Megibow, @SaraMegibow

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 nervous

2) an author’s ability to explain their book in person doesn’t necessarily correspond to the quality of writing in the book
Crazy 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?

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)


  1. Great idea, Sarah. I did my first agent pitch last year and was so nervous I'm sure I didn't come across very well to the 2 agents I met with.

    I agree that the story is most important and that many writers aren't comfortable "selling" their work to an agent face-to-face.

    I also suspect one agent asked for more pages simply because she wasn't comfortable saying "no" to my face.


  2. I think this is a GREAT way to pitch! Learning from mistakes (even if they're your own that are up for discussion)is more beneficial for writers in the long run. Also less nerve-wracking when the discussion is spread out amongst ten manuscripts. :-)

  3. This is a marvelous idea. A lot of writers (myself included) are not good at speaking to strangers. Once I get to know a person, sure, I can be suave and witty, but that initial meeting? *shudders*

    Reading pages before the conference takes the pressure off all parties. The agent can make her decision without having the wide-eyed hopeful author directly in front of her. The author can rest assured that her opening pages have actually been read and the opinion rendered has nothing to do with how the author has presented herself. And the auditing attendees get valuable insight that will help them when they feel ready to contact agents. This sounds like a win for everyone.

  4. This sounds like a great idea, Sarah. I think even if we're not nervous that it would be hard to sell an agent on a few sentence pitch. I'm not really entering pitch conferences because I think I need an agent to at least read a query to get a request for more pages.

    It'd be an added bonus if the person could send pages too. I hope when you'd be telling them why you'd pass that they could discuss it a bit with you and try to convince you otherwise. But this sounds like a great way to do a pitch session and with other people invited in to listen, a lot more people could benefit from it.

    Thanks for thinking of a better way to do these. And I love your agency and what you and Kristin are doing there. Some of my favorite authors like Marie Lu and Janice are from your agency. I've already set to be a part of one of your client's blog tours in the Fall (can't think of her name and I don't have my schedule with me at work, but it's a fantasy with Sourcebooks).

  5. I like this idea. Personally, it would be torture for me to have to pitch something verbally. I am much better at getting my thoughts out in writing than in speaking.

  6. I agree with everything that's been said. I love the suggested format, because I often stumble over my words when I'm trying to discuss my pitch.

  7. The nervous factor will remain but the chance to have a bit more agent face time in a focus group environment would be helpful. It would sort of be like the RL Diagnostics done here at Janice's blog only in a round table pitch session with an agent critting and making requests/passing on MS's in a way that can benefit the writer and others participating.

  8. I like the format. I would be helpful to learn what an agent sees when they read the first five pages of a manuscript. I would love to have that input to improve my writing. There might still be a place for the individual pitch. An author is going to have to sell their book to others, and a pitch helps with that. the first time I had to give a pitch I blew it big time. Still, I came away with an idea for a better book.

    Have a blessed weekend.

  9. I'd love this type of format. So much more value worked into the process.

  10. I've never pitched an agent in person before. I think I'd freeze up and faint backwards. Or into the agent's lap. Not good either way.

  11. I'll be pitching for the first time at the upcoming RT convention. I have no idea what I'll say yet. I'm ridiculously passionate about my book, but I'm terrified of not being able to channel all that enthusiasm into something coherent much less articulate. My nerves will be doing the Harlem Shake, and my biggest concern will not be my words but not vomiting on the agent. And that would be bad.

    What Sara suggests sound much less intimidating, but also an experience the writer can learn from and I'm all about that.