As an agent, taking pitches is one of my favorite parts of the job. While the day is usually utterly draining and I always arrive home to concerned glances and “you look tired” comments, I adore talking with authors and seeing their nerves fall away as they start talking about a story they’re passionate about. Of course, I also love having the chance to find some incredible manuscripts too.
So if you’re thinking about pitching to an agent at the next conference you’re attending, but you aren’t sure how to prepare, here are some basic suggestions to get you started.
What is a pitch?
The best way I’ve heard a pitch described is that it’s a query you deliver via conversation. You want to hit all of the same points, but in a slightly shorter frame. My suggestion would be to think of your pitch as an elevator pitch.
Sentence 1: Word count and Genre. I absolutely love it when an author starts off with this kind of tag line. It helps me to put everything in the right lens for the rest of the pitch. If you don’t tell me that the story is YA fantasy to begin with, I’m probably spending the entire pitch looking for clues to place it. A super easy template for this sentence would be “I’ve written a ‘genre’ novel that is ‘word count.” Or “My book ‘title’, is a ‘word count’ ‘genre.”
Sentences 2-5: Hook, characters, conflict. You know that little paragraph or two on the back or inside cover of books? Study those to prepare your pitch. Those paragraphs are crafted with the sole purpose of enticing readers to spend hours in its pages. This is how you want to pitch.
Know your pitch.
This is probably the number one roadblock I see authors get caught up on. You have precious minutes to get the agent to request pages of your story, so don’t waste them by being unprepared. Plan and practice your pitch so that you can avoid making mistakes or getting flustered.
Nerves happen, but they don’t have to ruin your pitch. If you’re someone who tends to ramble when you’re nervous or excited (seriously, I know your pain) please feel free to bring a cheat sheet along with you to the pitch. This will help you keep on point and avoid using up all of your time explaining every minute detail of the plot, characters, or magic system.
Some authors will print out their pitch and read it straight from the page. This is perfectly fine if you absolutely need that guidance, but definitely try to pitch without it. If you don’t want to read your pitch and you’re super nervous, a good middle-of-the-road option would be to bring an outline that lists the points you want to make and figures you might forget. This way you can use your time wisely and hit each and every point.
Know who you’re pitching to.
If you have a spectacularly gory horror novel, don’t pitch it to the agent who is looking exclusively for light hearted romance. It seems pretty basic but it happens way more often than you’d think. If you’re not sure about an agent’s interests, check out their MSWL, Twitter, website, or any other platform they’re on. Get a good grasp on what they’re looking for and make a decision from there.
After the pitch.
Once you’ve delivered your pitch, the agent will ask questions about you or your manuscript. Be prepared to answer questions about comp titles, platform, whether or not the story has been published before, and what you’ve been reading in your genre lately.
If there’s still time left after pitching and agent questions, you do not have to leave early. I’ve seen posts encouraging you to give us agents a break. Don’t. Generally you won’t be giving us enough time to do anything of substance and we already have breaks worked into our schedules. This is your time. Ask us questions about the industry or what we thought you could do better with your pitch. We love to talk about the industry and are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Finally, remember not everyone who pitches walks away with a full manuscript request. If the agent doesn’t end up requesting any materials from you, don’t sweat it. Your story isn’t going to resonate with every agent, so use those rejecting agents’ time to get feedback on your pitch or ask any questions you’re dying to know.
That’s it, super easy, right? I know these meetings can be incredibly nerve wrecking for authors. Shoot, I had butterflies for two days before I took pitches at a conference for the first time. It might feel like a lot is riding on those few minutes you have to pitch, but remember that the agent sitting across from you wants you to succeed. We’re rooting for you, so just take a couple of deep breaths. Let your passion for your story take over and before you know it you’ll be working with the agent of your dreams.