One way to get out of the query trenches and really stand out? Pitch a book to an agent directly! Speaking face to face gives you the chance to make a personal impression, as well as gauge what the agent is getting excited about or turned off by as you speak. Even if it doesn’t turn into a book deal, these conversations provide valuable feedback on how to pitch the book correctly next time. But if you do plan to pitch a literary agent, don’t go into it without considering four very important things:
Pitch a book to an AGENT (They’re human, too).
There’s a saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” You already know your book and something about the publishing industry. This is your chance to get to know a who.
No one likes being objectified, or being treated as no more than a means to an end. People want to be treated as people. How you make them feel tends to stick with them. If you are abrupt, or list-focused, or don’t let them speak, that makes a bad impression. Remember, they’re considering more than just what your book can be. They’re thinking about how easy or fun you’d be to work with.
This isn’t a video application. This is a conversation. Yes, focus on selling your story, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share a joke or connect over a life experience. Also, make sure you’re not too heavy on what they ought to do for you. Emphasize what you can do for them—this is as true a rule for sales as it is for relationships.
Rephrase things like, “My book is great and you should sign me” to things like “After reading your wishlist and looking at some of the things you’ve successfully represented in the past, I really think this is the kind of book you’d be able to make money from.” Turn “I hope you like what I have” into “This would be an arrangement that would benefit both of us.”
Have all your materials in order
Speaking of being human, don’t annoy them by ignoring their basic minimum requirements. Research their submission protocols in advance. Have every document polished and ready to send BEFORE you meet. And don’t let yourself look like a noob. Know the difference between similar publishing terms, like a blurb vs. a synopsis.
Also, have reference notes. Have answers prepared for commonly asked questions. Make lists for important talking points about your plot, characters, and tropes. Know your word count, genre, and the age of your ideal reader.
Shock Broca’s area- stand out!
To “shock Broca’s area” is to do something unexpected and unforgettable. I’ve read stories of authors who dressed in armor like their main character, or decorated their shoes with their manuscripts. The truth is that the greatest story in the whole world can be easily lost in brain fog when an agent has been sitting through similar pitches all day long. Consider how you can stand out in a personal sense.
While you’re at it, consider how to make your writing stand out in a personal sense. Think hard about unique ways to describe your writing style and plot lines. Play with making the mundane feel new and different. Also, develop your author USP. Pitch your book, but also pitch your unwritten work—be a promise that you are more than a one-trick pony. Prove that if this agent invests in you, it will be worth it for a long time to come.
They want to find a good book as much as you want to convince them yours is great.
Be encouraged. The agent wants you to succeed! You are not the only one who came looking for an opportunity. Just like you want your book to be published, that agent came here because they want a book to publish. If you win, they win!
Yes, it’s true that this agent is looking for ways to whittle down their choices. Yes, it’s true they may have a narrow niche to fill. If you pay attention and do your research, you will have the cues you need to highlight the most engaging facets of your work for the person in front of you. Watch their reactions; pivot when necessary.
Don’t be afraid to ask them directly about your pitch. Ask them what part of it appealed to them, and what they want to hear more about. Ask what parts turned them off, and address it. If all else fails, it will at least help you fine tune your pitch for next time!
So, don’t be nervous. Be excited! This is everyone’s chance to have a really good day!
About the Writer: Kathryn Tamburri (@KathrynTamburriAuthor) writes clean YA epic fantasy novels which seethe with slow-burn romance. You can find more of her writing tips on The Devo Blog at KathrynTamburri.com, and learn from her publishing journey by subscribing to her fun author newsletter!