7 Tips to Pitching at a Writer’s Conference

Every year, I run the agent’s pitch room at a regional writer’s conference. Usually everyone worries about how to pitch their story at the conference, but they don’t think about other aspects that may hurt their chances.  As we all prepare for the pitch sessions, keep the following in mind.

The biggest guideline:  If it’s a novel, it MUST be finished.  Sometimes people want to test the waters before they commit to a novel by only doing a few chapters, but with a novel, it has to be completed.  And not a first draft, but a well-revised draft that’s also been proofread.

1.  After scheduling the pitch session, research the agent first and make sure they do represent the type of writing being pitched.  We had two writers who scheduled sessions with agents who didn’t rep their genre — apparently, they thought the work would be so good the agent would change their mind and accept the project.  The agents sent the writers away instead and refused to hear the pitch.

2.  Print a copy of the pitch schedule and highlight the time.  Bring it.  Writers often arrive at the conference and don’t have any idea when their pitch session is.  Last year, a writer asked the front desk for her time and either heard it wrong or was given it wrong, so she showed up too late for it.  Be prepared by knowing when the appointment is scheduled.

3.  Bring a watch.  Some of us are bad with time and tend to lose track, so setting the alarm will help.  We had one writer who showed up an hour late for his pitch session, and the agent had already gone home.

4. Show up a few minutes early.  I hate to put this one in because it should be obvious, but we get a lot of people who are a few minutes late.  Pitch session’s already started.  You’re not getting extra time because you’re late.

5.  Bring a small notepad and a few pens.  Very handy to write down an agent’s email address or other contact information.

6.  Be assertive.  If the agent is still with another writer, we always tell the new writer to make sure the agent can see them.  Usually the agent will end the first pitch session right away to keep things moving.  But we had one man who was so afraid of dealing with agents that he hid in a corner.  He was 5 minutes in a 10 minute pitch session before we noticed him, and he still would not go over, fearful of disturbing the agent.  Meanwhile, the agent is thinking he didn’t show up.

7. But don’t be aggressive.  We always get people who try to sneak in and get an extra pitch session.  They’ll even lie to try to get in.  We had one man who showed up to try to get in.  The pitch sessions had just started, but one agent was on break, checking her email.  He kept saying, “Can’t I see her?  She’s not with anyone.”  He didn’t get that she was on a much needed break.  When we said no, he lied and said he had an appointment with her the next pitch session so why couldn’t he just start early.  We told him to go check and come back.  It sounds heartless, but 1) he never had an session with that agent scheduled and 2) while he did have a pitch session scheduled, it was later that day.

Finally, remember that meeting an agent has exactly the same chances as sending a query.  Sure, you’re meeting the agent in person.  But it’s not going to give you a foot in the door if your story has major problems or is poorly written.