The literary agent requested my full manuscript. Not only that, but she requested the synopsis of the sequel AND the synopsis for a completely unrelated title, a project I hadn’t intended to pitch but mentioned as a sidenote. Not only that, but this was my FIRST EVER exchange with a literary agent.
Listen, okay? I’m not trying to be braggy. Even though this happened a while ago I am still completely stoked about it (watch me try to control my excitement here the day it happened)… because it proved something, and not just that I’m a good writer with original ideas.
It proved that my strategy worked, and it can work again.
It proved that I, and anyone like me, has a really good shot at traditional publishing when willing to try a slightly unconventional approach.
Never, ever, ever query an agent again: pitch them.
Pitch, Don’t Query!
Why should you pitch instead of query? First of all, it’s no secret that some agents are inundated with literally hundreds of queries every day. Even the best writer in the world can get lost in the sheer magnitude of that pile, and it’s so hard to stand out—especially when you’re required to follow specific formulas in developing that short letter.
In a verbal pitch, you have the opportunity to make an impression as both a writer and a human being. You have the chance to use more than words alone to get across your personality and voice, as well as the ability to watch how your prospective agent is reacting. You can move through different talking points and emphasize what seems to be making the best impact, as you go. Even better, you know goign in that the agent is here because they want to find a new author! They’re already rooting for you!
More than all of that, you have the chance to make the agent like you. People will take a chance on someone they like.
But where to start?
Most advice out there tells budding authors to research, research, research prospective agents. Look at their blogs, their twitter feeds, their previous author associations, anything to get an idea of what they’re looking for and how to approach them. It’s overwhelming to even contemplate, when we are also told to query as many as 30 agents at a time (or more, or less; advice out there is conflicting).
Don’t do that.
Look at writers’ conventions. Specifically, look for conventions that offer pitch sessions (usually at an extra fee, but apparently worth it). You’re going to assess which are in your price range, which are in your travel range, how long of a pitch you’re buying, and which agents are available. Jot down the agents which seem most promising at first blush, and then do some agent research.
It’s not as hard to research in-depth once you’ve shortened your list this way. Now, pick your agent, and buy your tickets– don’t forget to ask about scholarship opportunities!
Next Step: Get Ready
My coping mechanism for anxiety is to overprepare. This is an instance where it really paid off.
Now, I wrote a whole separate article on pitch preparation, but I’ll sum up the main necessities for you:
Three pitches: the elevator pitch, the back-of-the-book blurb, and a short synopsis. Rehearse these well.
- The elevator pitch should be a single sentence summing up the main theme or conflict of your novel; avoid distractions like specific names, places, or unfamiliar terms.
- The blurb should be an enticing summary that finishes open-ended, leaving the agent curious. Limit yourself to using the names of only the most important characters to avoid clutter; anyone else can be mentioned by their role, such as “her brother” or “his long-lost uncle.”
- The synopsis follows the same rules as the blurb, except it provides the climactic ending. Also, while the blurb is generally plot heavy, the synopsis should demonstrate the “character arcs:” how the main character(s) change internally through the course of their adventure.
Now rehearse the daylights out of these, and be ready to present them partway or out of order. Remain flexible. On pitch day, go with the flow. Some other things that could be helpful:
- A list of other projects and ideas with short summaries, demonstrating your value as a long-term investment
- A list of answers to common questions like, Who are your favorite authors? And, Which popular books are similar to yours?
Do the Pitch.
The day has arrived.
Be presentable, but be comfortable. If you’re doing this via internet, make sure the kids are out of the house or occupied, because your time is limited. Have water in reach (and coffee or tea, if it helps you) and don’t go in hungry. Say a little prayer. Do a little pep talk. Read through all your preparations so they’re fresh in your mind.
Most importantly: treat the agent like a human being, not just a means to an end. During my pitch, I connected with the agent over hair dye, mother-in-laws, and faith! Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to focus most on your writing, or it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Nonetheless, these small sparks of friendship go a long way. Everyone prefers to work with someone they get along with, and literary agents are no different.
I also like to say my thanks at the beginning, not at the end. I thank the agent for giving my work their time and consideration, and express hope that this will be a profitable meeting for them as well.
Make sure you’re clear on any instructions given, and send the appropriate materials in a timely fashion. Don’t forget to reiterate your thanks, and if there’s a way to do so smoothly, try to remind the agent of good moments.
What happened to my manuscript?
Unfortunately, I shot myself in the foot a little bit with some panic editing based on the content of the conference. I should never have edited my manuscript so hastily before sending it off. Worse, I found out through Instagram that my prospective agent had to take on the clients of a coworker who decided to leave the agency—meaning my agent didn’t have the room for new clients she’d thought she’d had at pitch time. Alas.
No matter; I’m still encouraged. Why? Because I have queried 0 agents and pitched exactly 1—with results literally better than any I’d hoped for.
And I know it can be done again.
Kathryn Tamburri (@KathrynTamburriAuthor) writes clean YA epic fantasy novels which seethe with slow-burn romance. You can find more of her writing tips on #ThePantsersGuide and follow her new #AdventureLog on the blog at KathrynTamburri.com, and be the first to know when her novels publish via her fun author newsletter.
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