What to Expect When Pitching an Agent
So you're getting ready to pitch an agent. Nervous? Wondering what to say? The tone in which to say it? Questions you should ask? If it's all even worth it? (Am I getting too real yet?)
Try not to worry too much; almost everyone gets nervous to pitch. That's why this post is here: to help answer all those pesky questions bouncing around your brain.
What even is a pitch?
You've probably heard of something called an "elevator speech," yes? A book pitch is essentially the same. You'll have somewhere between three and ten minutes, generally, to tell an agent all the best parts of your book.
Think of it as less of a summary and more of a highlights reel: What does your MC want? What are the stakes? The catalyzing incidences? The tension? Who's the antagonist? Why are they antagonizing? If you have a compelling setting, you'll want to introduce that as well. Just remember: this is a teaser trailer. You want to leave an agent wanting more.
That's it? I just talk at someone?
Well, no. You'll want to leave a couple minutes for the agent to ask questions. From your pitch, they'll be intrigued by certain aspects, and that's what they'll want more information on. Be ready to talk about your book in depth while at the same time knowing it may not get to that point.
What if they ask follow-up Qs but the clock's still ticking?
Have more questions prepared to ask. They could be about the agent, the agent's process, your genre, the publishing industry in general, etc. Whatever you really want to know, ask.
Speaking of the agent: how do I know who to pitch?
When you sign up for a conference, the visiting faculty will be listed along with a blurb and most likely a link to their personal agency page. Read those pages. Agents keep evergreen information out there so writers can decide if they'll be a good fit. You should always pitch someone who represents your genre (don't try to shoehorn your genre into something it's not) and who specifies looking for something that exists within your book (complicated friendships, space operas, picture books featuring animals, LGBTQIA+ romance, sports, whatever it may be).
I just know I'm going to blank when I sit down. I get so nervous.
Does it help to say you shouldn't be nervous? Agents can feel intimidating, but they're people who've dedicated their lives to books just like you. What's more, if you sign with them, they'll work for you. (Doesn't sound half bad, eh?) A pitch isn't an interview. It's not even a sales pitch. It's a chance to get face time with someone in the publishing industry and see if your work could be a fit. (And if you're worried you're going to sit down and completely blank out on your book, jot down a few notes and bring them along. No one will judge you, I promise.)
The best thing you can remember are the three Ps: prepared, practiced, professional. Chances are you're already the first one—it is your book, after all. You know it better than anyone else, and you've probably been answering the question What's your book about? at every holiday party for as long as you've been writing it. As for being practiced: practice. Think about different ways you can pitch your book and ask someone to listen and give feedback on what's most engaging. Then go through it until it feels natural. The last P, being professional, is easy: friendly, open to feedback, enthusiastic about your work, and cognizant that the same barriers exist in the publishing industry as any other industry.
But what if they turn down my book??
Might as well just rip that Band-Aid off now: it's probably going to happen. It may be right after you've explained your book; it may be at the very end of the session. It may be your first pitch; it may be your tenth. Not every book is right for every agent, even within the same genre. And that's okay. It means that person isn't the right agent for you. They wouldn't be the best editor, they wouldn't have the best publishing connections, they wouldn't be able to plan out your career path as effectively as someone who really, really wants your work. Having your pitch turned down shouldn't be taken personally. I know it feels personal, but it's not.
If your work does get turned down, use the time you have left (if there is any) to ask those questions you prepared anyway. You rarely have one-on-one time with an agent; take advantage of it.
And if they like it?
Most likely, they'll give you a business card and submission instructions. Here's my suggestion, though: as exciting as it is and as much as you'll want to send them your manuscript the second you step away from their table, hold off. If you've been at a weekend conference, you've been taking classes and gotten feedback and have a noggin full of tips for improving your manuscript. Implement them.
The agent who requested your work will wait (chances are they have a three-month backlog of queries they need to get through first anyway), and they're going to want to see your most polished work. If you're worried about whether or not it'll seem rude to hold off, just ask them: "I'm really excited to send this to you, but I've gotten helpful feedback this weekend and would like to do some revising. Is it okay to send to you in a month?" The answer will almost always be yes.
Is there anything I should not do?
There is. During your pitch, don't get defensive, argumentative, combative (any of those nasty -ives), and if an agent turns down your work, don't plead your case otherwise. It's uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Outside of your pitch, let agents and editors be. They're teaching classes, sitting on panels, reading consultation materials, and networking with each other—in other words: busy. This doesn't mean you can't ask questions or talk with them; just don't try to pitch them in the stairwell, bathroom, dinner table, bar. If an agent is interested in your work, they'll make the first move (insert least offensive, outdated, misogynistic dating pun of your choice here). Agents are not the X on your map; don't go hunting for them.
Feeling prepared yet? Yes? Good. No? That's okay; you may never feel totally ready. The important thing is getting out there and doing it. It may not always seem like it, but everyone in publishing is on the same team: getting great work out there in the world. Finding your best match within that team can take time, but it's worth it.
Just review, take a deep breath, and stand tall. You've got this.