A week away from the 2018 Write Stuff Conference™, GLVWG’s Donna Brennan offers some advice for attendees with scheduled agent interviews.
When you go to a conference, you often have the opportunity to meet with an agent or editor and pitch your work. Depending on the conference, you may get one appointment or you may get several. The duration of the appointment varies too, typically ranging from five to fifteen minutes.
- How do you select which agent or editor to meet and pitch your work?
- How do you prepare for that meeting?
- What should you actually say at the meeting?
Here’s some advice addressing those questions.
How to Select Which Agent or Editor to Meet With
The longer the list of available agents and editors, the more daunting the task may appear. But look at it as an opportunity to find the best fit for you and your work.
First, read the bios listed on the conference website, paying special attention to what their current needs are. Don’t pitch a fantasy to someone who is only interested in contemporary romance. Then, go to their websites (usually listed in the bio) for more information about them and their agency or publishing house, including titles of books they represent or publish. Read reviews and summaries of those books online. If you can, read the first few pages online, too.
Do they have a blog? Read that, too. That often helps you to get a feel for what kind of person they are. You want to make sure they are someone you would enjoy working with.
Pick your top choices, but also have some back-up choices. Appointments usually fill up quickly with folks who register for the conference early, getting first dibs on available time slots. So register as soon as you’re sure you’ll be attending.
How to Prepare for Your Appointment
For pitching a fiction book, you typically want to have a one-sheet (described below) and the first chapter (in case the person you’re meeting with wants to look that over while you talk). It’s a good idea to bring along a one-page synopsis and a bullet list of critical points in your story. Your novel should be finished before your pitch it.
For pitching a nonfiction book, you should bring a one-sheet, a synopsis, and an outline. A chapter-by-chapter summary is a good thing to have with you, as well as a bullet-list of important topics covered in your book. Your book does not have to be finished, but it should have a well thought out synopsis outline.
A one-sheet can be thought of as an at-a-glance overview of your story and you. Different people like to put different things into their one-sheets. (Be sure to check the agent or editor’s website to see if they have certain expectations as to what belongs in a one-sheet.) It contains both an elevator pitch and a one-paragraph summary, along with your story’s genre, target audience, and word count. It also contains your bio, told in the third person. There are many examples of one-sheets online you can look at before creating your own
An elevator pitch is one or two sentences that sum up your story. It needs to be short enough that you can share it quickly if you happen to find yourself riding on an elevator with an agent or editor who represents your type of writing.
Sometimes it’s hard to condense your book into a one-page synopsis, let alone a one-paragraph summary or two-sentence elevator pitch. Here’s one way to get that done.
First, write the synopsis in however many words you need to tell what you feel is important about your book. Then start cutting out all the non-crucial elements and all those extra words we writers like to sneak into our prose. Keep cutting until you get it down to one single spaced page.
Once you have your synopsis done, start cutting some more until you can get down to a single paragraph. Then cut some more until you get it down to two sentences.
To put together a bullet list, go back to your synopsis and pull out any items crucial to what happens in your story or any main items you want to mention about your nonfiction book. Put them in the order you want to talk about them.
This list is for you while you’re talking so you don’t forget important points. Therefore, keep the descriptions of each item brief so you can glance down at your paper and remember the topic, but let it make enough sense so the agent or editor can understand if they ask to look at the paper.
If you’re having multiple appointments, bring several copies of the one-sheet, outline, and first chapter. Agents and editors don’t usually ask for hard copies of things at conferences (because they’re seeing lots of folks and that’s a lot of stuff to carry back home). But sometimes they do, and if you give away your only copy at your first appointment, you’ll have nothing to show at your other appointments.
What to Say or Do During The Actual Appointment
When it’s time for your appointment, review your synopsis and bullet list before you walk in. Relax and know that the agent you’re meeting with wants to find clients to represent and the editors want to find work to publish.
Introduce yourself to the person you are meeting with; shake their hand. You don’t have much time for small talk, so if you want to say anything other than discuss your book keep it brief. Of course, if they ask questions be personable and be yourself. (Maybe they’re trying to see if you’re someone they could work with.)
Up front, you should briefly state what it is you have written, e.g.: a 90,000 word romance novel set in the regency era; an 85,000 word sci-fi novel; a 110,000 word self-help book for people who can’t stop playing video games.
Show them your one-sheet and ask them if they would like to look at this as you chat. Also offer to show them your first few pages. If pitching a non-fiction book, ask if they’d like to look over your outline as you talk. Some agents and editor will want to look at this, others would rather just listen to you talk.
Then give them your elevator pitch. Allow them time to comment on what you just said. If they don’t say anything, that’s okay. Start to discuss the major points of your book, using the bullet checklist you prepared ahead of time. Don’t get lost in details, but stay passionate about your work.
If they ask questions, answer those questions. If they offer advice, listen. You don’t have to incorporate any changes they offer, so don’t bother arguing with them about why that wouldn’t work. But listen politely and if you think it’s good advice, use it. Thank them either way.
If the agent or editor is interested, they will ask you to send them your work. (Yay!) If they seem interested but don’t ask for it, ask if you can send the first few chapters to them for review. But if they don’t seem interested, don’t ask.
If they want you to send them your work, be sure you get their card. Write down exactly what they want you to submit, e.g.: the first three chapters; the full manuscript; the first fifty pages plus a synopsis; an outline and a book proposal. It’s easy to forget precisely what they asked for, so be sure to write it down and don’t feel bad about asking them to repeat it to make sure you get it right.
Whether they want you to send them anything or not, thank them for their time.
If they request for you to submit something to them, congratulations! But don’t become a statistic. Too often, for one reason or another, writers never send their work to the agent or editor that requested it. Agents I’ve spoken with tell me that as many as 80% of the manuscripts they request at conferences never get submitted to them. As long as you think the agent or editor is someone you can work with, be sure you send your work to them within a few weeks.
Article submitted by Donna Brennan
Donna Brennan was a technical writer for over ten years before becoming a computer programmer. Since leaving the corporate world after her twins were born, she’s had numerous short stories, interviews, and nonfiction articles published online and in print magazines including Thriving Family, Encounter, Splickety, and Christian Fiction Online Magazine. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG). She’s served in various capacities on the GLVWG board, including two terms as Conference Chair. She’s always looking for opportunities to encourage others and to share what she’s learned.