Surviving Pitch Sessions

My regional writing organization is having their annual conference in June in downtown Washington DC (I hope the snow’s gone by then!).  It’s primarily non-fiction focused, because that’s the environment in DC.  But they will have agents there in a pitch session, including fiction agents.  I’m one of the volunteers who runs the pitch room, so I see all kinds of things.  These are some tips to survive the pitch session:

1. Your novel must be finished.  Last year, we had a woman who was pitching her novel, and she’d only done three chapters.  I told her at the agent breakfast, as did the agent there that the book needed to be done, but she pitched it anyway.  All she did was leave a bad taste with the agent, who came up and complained to me afterwards.

2. Know what your story is about.  Preparation is key.  You have about ten seconds to hook the agent.  I can hear some of the pitches sometimes, and it’s pretty obvious when people don’t know what their story is about.  “Well, my main character is a truck driver, and he drives from California to Montana.”  That’s your ten seconds?

3.  Don’t be shy.   We get people who are afraid of agents.  They don’t bite.  Honest.  Most of them are pretty nice people, drink Diet Coke, and eat chocolate chip cookies.  We had one man who saw the agent was still with someone.  Instead of just making sure the agent could see him (usually they will break very quickly), the writer hid .  Five minutes of his time had gone by before I noticed him–he was hiding really well!  I had to take him over and get in view of the agent myself because he would not do it.  Most people aren’t going to be that helpful, so you need to help yourself.

4. Avoid bad behavior.  Sometimes the conferences bring out the worst in people.  We had one guy who wanted an additional pitch session, so he tried to crash the gate.  When we didn’t let him, he tried to wheedle us into letting him talk to agent on break.  When that didn’t work, he then lied about having another appointment.   Honestly, how is this creating a good impression.

5. Be helpful.  You never know what it’ll get you.  We had an agent pick up another’s pitch sessions in addition to his own.  As it neared lunch time, we were concerned that lunch might run out before he got up there.  One of the writers who had just finished up said, “I’ll get it.  What do you want?” Next thing I saw, they were eating lunch together.