Going to conferences always gives me inspiration for blog posts! This past weekend, I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference to meet writers, and there was a good crowd of kidlit people there, which is always nice to see. This conference, and many others, does agent consultations.
Consultations work like this: writers sign up for a time slot (3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.) with an agent or editor at a specific appointment time. At other conferences, there’s a free-for-all where agents and editors are just sitting at tables and writers have a certain amount of time to pitch them before a bell rings. Whether it’s run with appointments or in this “speed dating” style, the two scenarios have one thing in common: me, sitting behind a table, listening to pitches.
And once you hear writer after writer pitch, you learn a few things about how writers pitch. Here’s a quick list of do’s and don’t’s in case you ever find yourself in a face-to-face pitching situation.
- Do present your story quickly and don’t go into unnecessary detail.
- Do leave yourself wide open to answer questions should the agent or editor have them… don’t be so blinded by rattling off the pitch you’ve memorized, because you’ll miss the parts of the story that raised questions from your audience… and questions can give you valuable insight into what about your pitch worked or not.
- Do answer questions and try to think of it as a conversation, not a monologue.
- Do give yourself time to hear the agent or editor out afterward, don’t talk for the entire time.
- Do bring a card or some materials with you, just in case.
- Do take notes while the agent or editor is talking, you’ll likely be nervous and won’t remember what they said unless you write it down.
Now, for the important stuff. DONT:
- Don’t interrupt an agent or editor’s question if it comes in the middle of your pre-rehearsed speech, keep an open mind.
- Don’t try and make an editor or agent request the project, especially if they say it’s not a fit.
- Don’t make the editor or agent take any of your materials. It’s good to bring them but lots of people don’t take stuff home… respect that wish.
- Don’t be nervous or read the whole time… talk naturally and make eye contact… try not to read from cue cards or notes too much… it’s YOUR STORY… you wrote it… you know it.
- Don’t make ME read anything. I personally cannot read in a consultation environment. It’s loud, there’s too much going on, I can’t concentrate. I always like to read samples later, when I’m in my own environment and can concentrate. You can ask me to skim something or to look over your query letter, sure, but don’t ask me to evaluate your writing on the spot. First, I personally have very little control over my face and can’t hide my emotions well. I hate reading in front of writers because I know they’re scrutinizing my face for a reaction. If their writing is bad, I don’t want to make a funny face and offend them, so it’s best not to put me in that situation. The only thing I can ever tell when taking 2 minutes to look at a writing sample is whether it’s good or not, but I would never just tell a writer that judgment because a) everything is subjective and b) saying “this is good” or “this is bad” isn’t helpful at all.
- Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.
This last point is really important. Folks, here’s the dirty secret… pitching tells us NOTHING about your writing. Pitching and writing are two very different things. You could have the worst pitch in the world but your novel could be amazing. Or you could have (as is more often the case) a crackerjack pitch and a lousy, boring novel. So my decision to represent you won’t hinge on your pitch. Heck no. It hinges on your writing.
And I always ask for you to send me a writing sample (unless the project is obviously not for me). You can stop worrying about “making me” request it. So don’t freak out about the pitch. We’re just two people who love books, talking. We have lots in common already.
A consultation is just your chance to get some feedback on your pitch, to hear some questions and reactions about your story, a chance to ask an agent or editor a burning question, and practice for talking about your writing to publishing people. It’s no more complicated than that, so don’t make it into a panic attack. I think this is the healthiest attitude a writer can have when approaching a pitching situation.
ETA: For more information on “pitchcraft,” a term trademarked by literary agent Katharine Sands, please pick up her very helpful book MAKING THE PERFECT PITCH, an invaluable guide to writers.