Let’s Talk About Pitches

August 15th, 2011 • Kate

wookiepitchesNot like that. I’m talking about writers pitching their manuscript to agents and editors at conferences.

Can I be frank? I hate these. HATE ‘EM. For me, the ability of an author to tell the story of their book is a wholly different animal than being able to actually write it. But Daphne, you ask, how is a verbal pitch any different than a query letter?

Well, for one thing, it’s verbal, which means you’re not reading your written words directly — which is a no-no in a pitch meeting. And many authors who may be very comfortable with the written words get that deer-in-the-headlights look on their face when asked to just talk about their book.

But more personally, in an exhaustive survey of my past experience with pitch meetings, I have discovered that I’ve rarely gotten anything more out of these meetings than I would have received if someone just handed me their query letter, and I sat there and read it. If I’m intrigued by the story they’re telling, and they tell it well, the most I’ll usually do is ask for the first three pages — which anyone who reads my website and follows my submission guidelines can do! It’s only very rarely that I ask them to send the first five chapters, and I never ask for a full manuscript on the basis of a pitch.

So I want to get your opinion on this: if you’re attending a conference, and you find out an agent who’s attending won’t be taking any pitch meetings, but WILL be doing a workshop, or a panel, what do you think?

I mean, if I had an hour of pitch meetings, that’s maybe 6 to 10 people I’m talking to. Whereas if I’m on a panel for that same amount of time, I could be speaking to dozens — maybe even hundreds. I would so much rather take an extra hour of questions from a room full of people than one-on-one meetings.

Not that I don’t want to meet you individually! I’d just rather do it with a beer in my hand in a more casual setting, when we’re talking about things that interest BOTH of us, and where, if I like what you have to say, I may ask for info about your book.

Your thoughts? Fellow agents — do you have anything to add?

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19 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Pitches”

  1. Marilee Says:

    As someone who's attending a conference next month (SCBWI-Carolinas), I can give you a timely answer. I would rather have the opportunity to hear more about what you have to say – learn FROM you rather than pitch TO you for five minutes or less. As long as being at the conference gave me a touch point in my query – which I would send after the conference – I'd think that's good.
    I will be receiving a critique at this conference – maybe from an agent, maybe an editor and maybe an author. I'm very excited about that because it's 10 pages and a synopsis – so there's meat there to discuss.
    I hope some of that was useful – or at least clear:)

  2. DaphneUn Says:

    I think a critique is a very different beast. With those, I've already had the opportunity to read material, so we can spend our appointment talking about the project in more detail, and if I like it, then that's an excellent opportunity to learn more about you!

  3. Rebecca Enzor Says:

    I would much rather meet an agent over a beer than have to stand up in front of a room of strangers and say the 25 words that I hope will make them want to read my book. It would definitely be a deer-in-the-headlights moment!

  4. DaphneUn Says:

    I should clarify that in saying "over a beer", I just meant in a more casual situation, as in a cocktail party event at a conference. I'm not sure even I could keep going with multiple meetings and multiple beers!

  5. Rebecca Enzor Says:

    Oh, but you would probably be so much more receptive to the pitches after a few beers! 😉

  6. DaphneUn Says:

    *slurs* That sounds awesome, I love it! I'll take 5 of 'em!

  7. @ihiatt Says:

    I'm hardly one who should be commenting on this. I've never been to a conference, and living in the middle of no where chained to a cubicle for my day job means I'm unlikely to be going to any time soon.

    But I can comment on being a writer trying to discuss my manuscript verbally! I'm one of those people who gets the deer-in-headlights look when someone asks me the most terrifying question in person:

    "What's your book about?"

    Regardless of how passionate I feel about my manuscript, I'm not a sales person. Certainly not in person. I have to be a little bit, of course, but those are in query letters! I can spend weeks or months perfecting that. I can screw up my verbal description in mere seconds. I've done it before. The results tend to be on the hilarious side for everyone else while it stays firmly on the scarring side for me.

    The real problem I have with verbal pitching is that it means nothing. It's like telling a fish story. I can stand here and tell you all about the enormous fish I caught last weekend. Neither of us have any proof to make my fishing skills fact. Unless I'm carrying around a gigantic bass with me. I can tell you all about my amazing story and writing abilities, but it won't mean a thing. Not to mention it gives you, the agent, a false impression of what you're selling. Unless my book is going to come with a built in audio recording to inform the reader how much they're about to enjoy my story, it's not at all applicable.

    Personally, I'd prefer a workshop to a pitch meeting. I'd rather have the chance to learn something than embarrass myself.

  8. DaphneUn Says:

    Exactly my point, ihiatt! Thanks!

  9. Laura K. Deal Says:

    What I like about pitch appointments is the chance to see how I relate to the agent or editor sitting across the table. I've done dozens of these over the years, and out of those, had only one absolute disaster, where I walked out after two minutes. Of the others, I met people who have gone on to be very supportive of my work, and others who took less interest, but when I sent the query or the sample afterward, I had a better sense of who would be reading my work.

    It's true that the conversation could take place over a beer, but for the less extroverted writer, having the formal structure of pitch appointments is an easier way to approach an editor or agent.

  10. DaphneUn Says:

    Excellent point!

  11. robinlemke Says:

    The reason I'd want a pitch appointment is to get an in with an agent who is closed to queries, or to maybe have one more thing set me apart in the slush. Would you comment on that? It feels like queries can get lost in the slush, and what I mean by that isn't that it really gets lost, but maybe you're reading it on a day you're trying to clean out your inbox and my query is number 400 out of 410 and your eyes have glazed over. Or you just read three about zombie cats and mine is too (not really, but yanno…) or your assistant just brought you the wrong latte and you're fuming and hit delete. I'm not trying to say agents aren't professional about every query, but the volume you guys go through is astounding and I know things *could* fall through the cracks. It seems like a query might have a leg up if you remembered meeting me and liked me and thought it sounded like a good pitch. Maybe it could deglaze your eyes on a particularly tough day.

    But maybe not? That's just the hope I have going into a pitch appointment. I know I've heard of people being rejected in the slush then signed by the same agent in a similar circumstance.

  12. DaphneUn Says:

    No, Robin, that's a very valid point. The ability to make a personal contact is important. However, in occasions where I have met with authors whose queries I've previously rejected, I don't ask them to resend. In a business that's about writing, I stand by my reactions to your written material, even if I had a great time meeting you in person, and even if that previous reaction may have come as the 400th on a very busy day. However, if we connect well face-to-face, I do often ask that you'll send me your next query!

  13. Laura Ann Swanson Says:

    As a writer who is finally taking her first baby steps toward learning about publishing, and who has a paid commitment to attend a seminar with a day of pitches, I am now terrified.

    As with any job, I am sure that there are some unpleasant aspects of the work, but knowing quite how much you detest pitches gives me trepidation on pitching to any agent.

    I assumed that agents, like authors, would attend such an uncomfortable function for the same reason. To find someone to work with that would help them further their career.

    Can I ask why you still go to pitch conferences if you hate it so much?

  14. DaphneUn Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Laura! I go for the opportunity to meet writers, and, hopefully, convey a little wisdom and experience about the publishing process. I do like meeting writers — please don't get me wrong — but I find that a one-on-one pitch isn't the best way , for me, of deciding if I'd like their manuscript.

  15. Anon Says:

    Your post today about not wanting formal pitches doesn't seem to mesh with your pitch from five days ago about wanting to close to queries, EXCEPT from people you meet at conferences. To me, blog reader who doesn't know you outside the blog, it sounds like you're not really interested in getting to know new authors or doing the slightly annoying parts of your job. Your thought process seems like… you know what, I"m tired of queries, make the effort to come to a conference! Then a few days later… you know what, appointments are so awkward, a go-getter could just find me over beer and it'd be so much more fun for me!

    I would say that the beer test is as poor a test for choosing a president as it is for choosing an author. Not all great authors are great schmoozers. Personally, I think paying all that money for a conference should at least guarantee a formal meeting time. And, I'm wary at the idea of an agent who doesn't want to deal with the unpublished public in pretty much any form. How many hoops do you want us to jump through?

  16. DaphneUn Says:

    Anon, I appreciate your comment. I can understand why you might be confused — I think you read an earlier post that I later modified. I have no plans at this time or in the near future to close to queries.

    I do recognize that not all writers are great schmoozers, just as not all writers can tell their story as well as they might be able to write it. My point about the formality of pitch appointments is that they're often such a forced experience, fraught with worry and anxiety on the part of the author, that I'd rather make it easy for them and do a conversation in a more casual manner. In addition, as I said above, I've found that even the best pitch appointment isn't going to get you any further than a great query would — although I know other agents who feel differently.

    There is a benefit to putting a face to a name, but I feel the same personal connection when I get a query from a writer who I recognize from the comments here on my blog, or from responses to me on Twitter.

  17. sarahjoyliteraryagent Says:

    I agree. 🙂 Hearing about a ms just feels better when you have a beer in your hand.

  18. @ghosthorse_mt Says:

    I am willing to meet my potential agent half-way. Whatever means of communication helps them to do their job, I will go the distance. I have found that pitching my writing actually happens all the time as I meet new people and tell them about the adventures that I am working on. I have had to learn to summarize my ideas and pitch them quickly in bookstores, book faires, coffee shops, and schools. I want to really get the word out there, so learning to be comfortable with different outlets of communication has been necessary.
    I would love to attend a conference in the future and really pitch my work, but if an agent needs me to deliver an engaging query or speak with her in the elevator, I will do what it takes. lol It would mean the world to me to talk with an agent casually about my writing. I'd buy the beer.

  19. SuzeW Says:

    I attended my first conference in February, and I was TERRIFIED of my pitch session. As it turned out, the agent couldn't have been nicer, but I'm not a talker, and I'm not a schmoozer. I was too shy to even approach an agent at the social. I did see some very aggressive pitches going on in the bar; I just know I couldn't have done that.

    I would much prefer to see an agent in a workshop, and ask questions as a part of a group. I would probably use that as an opportunity to query you, saying that I attended your workshop…etc.

    Indeed, there were a couple of agents who asked us to put in the name of the conference in our query email subject line, so they would know to read it sooner rather than later. I thought that was pretty generous.