This article about how to pitch a literary agent at a conference, by Mark Malatesta, is part of the How to Find a Literary Agent section in our free 15-part Guide About How to Get a Book Agent. This article discussing literary agent pitch sessions and literary agent speed dating was first published in the Guide to Literary Agents by Writer’s Digest Books. Writer’s Digest is one of is the most popular sources for information about the publishing industry and how to be a successful writer.
How to Pitch a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference by Mark Malatesta
This article about literary agent pitch sessions was first published in an earlier edition of the Guide to Literary Agents by Writer’s Digest Books
Professional writer seeks available literary agent. Should be confident, experienced, and fun at parties. Must have a big heart but also be a tough negotiator. Should be creative, but grounded and consistent. Needs to be honest, emotionally available, and unafraid of long-term commitment. Shouldn’t be overextended. Must be of good character and well-liked and/or respected. Age and looks not important, but passion and charisma are a must. Long-distance relationships okay as long as you spend some time in New York.
You know there’s a Prince (or Princess) Charming Literary Agent out there just for you. In fact, you could have written this ad yourself. But if he (let’s stick with “he” for simplicity’s sake) is out there – the book agent of your dreams – and he’s available, how can you find him and make him yours? Of course you’ll need to have an irresistible book and query letter. But what else can you do to give yourself an edge?
Literary Agent Pitch Sessions
Attending a writers’ conference is one of the best ways for you to initiate contact with a book agent. Almost every writers’ conference I’ve been to lets you schedule literary agent pitch sessions (10-20 minutes each). And, if formal appointments aren’t available at a writers’ conference, you can still approach a publishing agent and make your pitch.
Just remember, good literary agents don’t represent books — they represent authors. So “who you are” is just as important as “what you write.” And nothing communicates who you are more than a face-to-face meeting at a conference. Attending a conference also communicates your willingness to grow as a writer, and your willingness to network.
Literary Agent Speed Dating
What do you need to know about how to pitch a book to a literary agent at a conference?
Let’s start by assuming you’ve written a terrific book and pretend you just arrived at a writers’ conference. During the opening night reception you spotted him — your dreamboat literary agent — from across the room. You liked his energy and the way he treated other writers in the buffet line. Plus, he had nice eyes and smelled good.
The next day you sat in on his workshop at the conference and asked an editor about his reputation.
“Five stars,” she said with a nod and a smile.
Now you’ve decided (after checking out every other book agent at the conference) that he’s the one for you. And, today’s the day you’re going to make your move. How best to get his attention, without losing your dignity?
Tip #1 – Be Yourself – How to Pitch to a Literary Agent at a Conference
One of the biggest turnoffs for a book agent during literary agent speed dating is when a potential partner tries to be someone or something that she is not. If you want to know how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference, be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. And have faith that you’ll meet someone who understands and appreciates your style.
As book agent, I always strove to be myself as well. My approach was more open, down-to-earth, and nurturing than most literary agents. As a result, some writers who met me at a writers’ conference might have wondered if I was strong negotiator. Others understood that a sensitive man isn’t necessarily weak.
You aren’t going to click with every publishing agent you meet at a conference during literary agent pitch sessions. If you’re a supermodel on the prowl, but you’re also a brunette (and I prefer blondes), well…you get the picture. And don’t go out and dye your hair — find someone who prefers brunettes. Publishing, like dating, is highly subjective and personal. There are elements of logic, but there are also elements of emotion.
I used to pass on many publishable projects simply because I wasn’t in love with the concept, execution, and author. From my perspective, falling in “like” isn’t enough. You have to fall in love. That’s the only way that I was able to pitch my projects to editors and publishers with 100% enthusiasm. So I was always on the lookout for people (and projects) like that whenever I was at a writers’ conference.
If you’re nervous about how to pitch to a book agent at a conference during book agent pitch sessions, do something to relax. Yoga. Tae Kwon Do. Ice cream. Whatever. If you shake uncontrollably or apologize repeatedly for being nervous, you aren’t going to score points. Literary agents smell fear and fear is never associated with success. Granted, if your burning hunk of a book agent is indeed the one for you, he’ll look past your neuroses, accept you as you are, and put you at ease.
If he doesn’t, move on…
The world of publishing is a pond, not an ocean, but there are still plenty of fish to choose from. Remember, you have something worthwhile to offer your prospective partner. You’ve spent years developing your communication skills, you know what makes a relationship work, and you’re not going to be high-maintenance.
Once, while chatting with an author at a writers conference, a well-known author suggested I do something to make myself more memorable. Not because I made a bad impression, but because he’s a “first-impression guru.”
“I wear red shoes,” he said as I tried not to laugh.
“I think some people go too far to be remembered,” I replied. “The last thing I need is to be on a panel at some writers conference and have someone ask me why I’m wearing red shoes. I’d have to say, ‘So people remember me.’ Yuck.”
If there’s something about you — externally — that makes you memorable, fine. Just don’t dwell on it. Beauty will get a man’s attention, but it won’t keep it there for long. Before you attend a conference, don’t go out and buy red shoes (or lingerie) to try and impress a literary agent. If you want to know how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference and make a great impression during a literary agent pitch session, be genuine. Let people remember you for something that really matters — not the way you look, but the way you make people feel.
Relax, and be yourself.
Tip #2 – “Flirt” – How to Pitch to a Book Agent at a Conference
Whatever you can do to make your dream agent feel good during literary agent speed dating, do it. He’s been “on” for the last two days, aware that he’s constantly being watched. He’s been patient, attentive, and entertaining. He’s tired from a long flight and an even longer delay. And he was up late last night editing a manuscript when he wanted to be in the Jacuzzi.
In the last twelve hours at the conference he’s given a keynote presentation and two workshops, sat through twenty pitch sessions, and been approached by countless other authors — in the hallways, over meals, and in the bathroom (please, do not pass an agent your manuscript underneath a bathroom stall).
Or give an agent your room key.
Yes, it’s happened.
Want to know how to pitch a book to a literary agent at a conference? Be mindful of your prospective literary agent’s wants and needs. The astute book agent will notice, appreciate, and remember your kindness. And he will give your project closer attention. Less savvy literary agents may not recognize your gifts, but they, too, will feel the effect.
Approach book agents for literary agent pitch sessions with a confident walk (strut?) and a smile. But be gracious and thank each agent for his time. It might sound simple, but many authors fail to express their gratitude. Some authors feel entitled to the meeting because they paid for it, or paid to attend the conference. Some think their project is so good that agents should fawn over them. Some are insecure. Whatever the reason, it’s a faux pas. Saying, “Thank you for meeting with me” is good manners, and it sets a nice tone for your meeting.
What else do you need to know about how to pitch to a publishing agent at a conference? Make your prospective book agent blush by complimenting his presentation, eyes, or red shoes (if he’s wearing red shoes and you really think they look nice). Just compliment something, and make sure your compliment is genuine. Agents aren’t just editors, they are salespeople. And salespeople, especially good ones, detect insincerity.
Ask a question or two about your book agent’s background. How did he get started? Does he have a dream project? Does he attend a lot of conferences? Expressing interest in him will make him purr.
If you really want to go for it, ask him if he has any down time during the writers’ conference. Invite him out for a drink or a meal. You can do this solo or invite him to join some of your friends. I rarely turned down such an offer at a conference unless I already had other plans. In that case, I’d often invite the author to join my party. You have nothing to lose by making such an offer.
It’s gracious of you to extend an invitation, and the worst a publishing agent can say is no. It’s true that the fastest way to a man’s heart is his stomach. And if your dream literary agent connects with you on a personal level at a writers’ conference, he’s even more likely to say yes to your manuscript. In fact, you might be rescuing him from a dozen other writers that he might not connect with as much.
Don’t be shy, take a chance.
Tip #3 – Listen – How to Pitch to a Literary Agent at a Conference
Although you may want to impress agents during literary agent pitch sessions, don’t overdo it (and be patient). When thinking about how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference, remember to be a good dance partner and let prospective publishing agents lead. No worthwhile agent is going to talk during your entire meeting and prevent you from making your pitch — although he might tease you a bit. Wait until he opens the door for you, then glide through it gracefully.
Listening closely will help you catch valuable clues about what your potential partner deems important. Maybe you’ll adjust your pitch slightly while literary agent speed dating, based on a comment he makes. Every second of conversation with an author representative at a conference is an opportunity for you to learn about that publishing agent and the business of publishing. Absorb every word, every intonation, every bit of body language, every silence, and every bit of sub-text.
If the literary agent you’re trying to “seduce” isn’t melting after you’ve used your most alluring lines (be brutally honest with yourself), don’t freak out. And don’t cut and run. Play it cool and ask questions about the agenting or publishing process. You’ve got a book agent on your arm for at least a few more minutes during the conference. Learn what you can. Try to get feedback. Maybe you can get a referral.
Make every second count.
Tip #4 – Cut to the Chase – How to Pitch to a Publishing Agent at a Conference
Some publishing agents attend many writers’ conferences each year, and sit through thousands of 1-on-1 literary agent pitch sessions. When thinking about how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference, write down what you want to say, before you say it. Practice your pitch with other experienced writers. And get to the point. Small talk is nice, but the one thing you and your dream book agent want to know (above all else), is how he can help you make money and develop your career. You only have 10-20 minutes to sell yourself. Don’t be demure — there are other love interests in line behind you.
Additional Tips for Literary Agent Pitch Sessions
Whose writing makes your heart race? Available book agents want to know during publishing agent speed dating. This information will give inquiring literary agents a sense of how well-read you are. Be a voyeur and get to know your competition, intimately. Getting in bed with the works of other writers will increase the uniqueness of your work, and it will give you the confidence and means to explain why your work is special.
When thinking about how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference, remember to position yourself as an expert. What makes you so knowledgeable about your topic? What are the subjects and themes that keep you up late at night? What do you talk to friends, loved ones, and strangers about? Books that begin in this private place are the ones that endure. They come from a spot deep within you, a place that no one can take away or imitate.
This is your gift — your unique story.
When thinking about how to pitch to a book agent at a conference for a fiction project, gain literary agents’ trust by speaking about more than just plot and characters. Talk about themes during your publishing agent pitch sessions. The movie Titanic isn’t about a sinking ship. It’s a love story that takes place on a sinking ship. The Godfather isn’t about crime. It’s about family. Let your tentative agent know who your main character is. What does she want? What are the obstacles in her way? What is she going to do to circumvent them?
Good writing (like everything else that’s good) is in the details.
And depth is an agent’s greatest aphrodisiac.
How to pitch to a literary agent at a conference? Don’t just communicate ideas. Let book agents feel what you feel. That is, after all, what your writing is supposed to do. If the chemistry is right, it won’t take much to get your dream publishing agent excited — you won’t have to force it. You’ll have similar backgrounds, interests, and goals. Don’t forget to watch his body language, and listen.
Is that a gong you’re hearing?
Or wedding bells?
When researching how to pitch to a publishing agent at a conference, remember to express your desire and ability to aggressively market your work. Again, don’t be passive during your book agent pitch sessions. Remember, it’s all in the details. Read books on marketing and find creative ways to apply the ideas therein to your project. Join organizations and associations related to your field. Such affiliations will give you extra knowledge and credibility, as well as invaluable contacts and support.
In this case, bigger is always better.
And more is always better.
Another thing you can do to when thinking about how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference…is provide rave reviews about you and/or your work, written by successful authors (use these same tactics to win them over). This strategy will require a bit of legwork before your literary agent pitch sessions, but it’s worth it. Several years ago I met a woman at a writers’ conference who told me she had a stellar recommendation from Clive Cussler (in writing).
End of meeting.
“Please send me the complete manuscript,” I said. “And let’s get together later for a cup of coffee.”
Conclusion – How to Pitch to a Book Agent at a Conference
Okay, so your pitch to a literary agent at the conference is over…
You’ve expressed interest and made yourself vulnerable. But, is he going to say “I love you”? If he doesn’t, you’re ready to thank him and look for another author representative before you leave the conference.
He remains silent.
You watch his chest rise as he takes a deep breath and leans back in his black leather chair.
“I’d like to get to know you better,” he says. “Send me three chapters and a complete proposal after the conference, along with an SASE. I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible. And thanks for letting me take a look.”
Your first date has been a success and he’s asked you for another. But don’t go out and buy a wedding dress. Your prospective publishing agent hasn’t proposed yet, and you still have a lot of work to do.
Don’t attempt to hand over your manuscript during your meeting or any other time during the writers’ conference — regardless of his interest. The last thing your prospective publishing agent wants to do, unless he’s specifically stated otherwise, is jam one more thing into his suitcase.
Your dream literary agent is out there, preparing himself for you with the same care with which you’re preparing yourself for him. But you have to make yourself available. And going to conferences is a great place to start. Securing a literary agent (one you love, who loves you back with equal measure) could be as simple as you attending a writers’ conference.
When you schedule book agent pitch sessions, don’t forget these tips about how to pitch to a literary agent at a conference: Be yourself, flirt, listen, and cut to the chase. Keep working your charms and, before you know it, you might be the next one at the altar (wink).
Available literary agent seeks professional author. Should be confident, ambitious, and fun at parties. Must view the author/agent relationship as a partnership. Should be creative, but grounded and consistent. Must be honest, emotionally available, and not afraid of long-term commitment. Should not be overextended. Must be of good character, as well as liked and respected in her community. Age and looks not important, but passion and charisma are a must. Long-distance relationships okay, as long as you send chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
This article about literary agent speed dating, literary agent pitch sessions, and how to pitch a book agent at a conference was written by former book agent turned author coach Mark Malatesta, creator of The Directory of Literary Agents, host of Ask a Literary Agent, and founder of Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author.
Mark has helped hundreds of authors get offers from book agents and/or traditional publishers. Authors of all Book Genres have used our Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Top Literary Agents at the Best Literary Agencies on our List of Literary Agents.
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