by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham
When it comes to pitching your novel to an agent, there’s no room for self-doubt. You’ve worked hard on that story, right? You’ve sweated and agonized over best first lines, character development, plot, and more. So, what’s to keep you from stepping up to the pitcher’s mound and throwing your hardest, most accurate ball over the batter’s plate?
The first time I pitched at a conference – speed dating style – I waited in a long line for the doors to open. My insides quivered. I reread and reshuffled my note cards. I watched the faces around me and found we all looked pretty much the same. Nervous! Some of us pitched to one another as our last “practice” opportunity.
The doors to the big room opened. Twenty or so agents sat alphabetized by last names – place cards in front of them – in a large circle. My breath calmed. The agents looked like real people!
Each of us Nervous Nellie’s had a whopping five minutes to spend with an agent. That meant we had to get through our pitches in plenty of time to allow for questions, our own or those from the agent.
Before I knew it, the bell dinged and it was time to move on to the next agent. Before I knew it, the time over, I’d done it. I had spoken to agents about my “baby.”
First Things First – Before you Go
– If you attend a Pitch Conference, no, when you attend a pitch conference, your manuscript should be at least close to completion.
– When you register for the pitch conference, select the hour time slot for when you want to “strut your stuff.” But know that you will not be pitching for an hour. Much of that time will be spent in a line waiting for your turn to speak with your selected agents. (I’ve usually managed to pitch 4-6 times in the hour block)
– Prepare a brief synopsis (paragraph or two), or a simple tagline for your novel. Some agents will let you read or glance at notes. Others will say, “No notes. Just talk to me.” (The first time that happened to me, I first felt completely lost. But as I spoke about my novel – forgetting a few points – the pitch seemed more natural, genuine even). Be prepared for both.
– Do your research. The conference packet will include a list of agents attending the pitch session. Study their bios carefully so you know which agents are interested in your genre. Make a list of these agents so you can easily locate them when the time comes.
What to wear
– Professional but not “showy” clothing. Most of the agents I’ve seen don’t wear something out of a fashion magazine.
– A smile of confidence
When the doors open:
– Locate the agent you’d like to start with and get in that line.
– Start by shaking their hand and introducing yourself. Then continue with, “My (genre) novel is a story about … (character and conflict).
– Again, allow plenty of time for questions so be sure you know your story and characters well.
The Perks of Pitching
Most agents, with even the slightest bit of interest, will request you send 1 – 3 chapters of your novel. That’s good. It means you, as opposed to others who did not attend, get to send more than a query letter.
But that’s not all. You will build self-confidence, identify more with your story, and learn there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Now, go for that home run!
Guest post contributed by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham. Carolyn is the author of two published books – No Hill for a Stepper, 2001, and The Last Bordello, 2016. Her third novel, The Moonshine Thicket, is set in 1928 and is currently enduring a professional edit. When not writing, she fitness boxes, hangs out with children and grandchildren or throws a tennis ball for her ever-persistent mini Aussie. In addition to her blogging website, you may find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Read another great article about pitching here.