Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Pitch Meeting with an Agent

Recently, a fellow author sent me this list of tips for pitching to an agent, and asked what I thought. If you've ever had a face to face meeting (one-on-one or group) with an agent, you know how challenging it can be. The list was written by literary agent, Irene Goodman. I found the list to be very helpful, not only from the standpoint of which actions to take, but also from the standpoint of maintaining a positive mental attitude before, during, and after the meeting. Be brief, don't ramble, focus on a one-liner to sum up your project, and if the flow of the meeting changes directions, be prepared. The agent might not be interested in your main project, but might ask you to tell them about other manuscripts you might have in the works, so be ready. Respect the agent's time, stay positive, especially when it comes down to taking constructive criticism, and as point #5 says, breathe:

1. Know Thy Genre (or Sub-Genre) - I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to with someone and asked them what they write, only to be faced with confusion. Knowing where your book would live in the bookstore is crucial to making sure the agent can evaluate it properly. Even if you’re writing something that has elements from several genres, it’s important to understand it can only be shelved in one place when in the bookstore, so you need to determine who your audience is and make that clear from the beginning of your pitch.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff - This isn’t the moment to go into every intricate plot point. Rather, think of your pitch in terms of cover copy. What’s your log line? A logline, or one sentence pitch, is a phrase borrowed from Hollywood, where as Mamet’s character Charlie Fox said in Speed the Plow, “You can't tell it to me in one sentence, they can't put it in TV Guide." This is the intrinsic hook that will make people want to pick up your book. A common mistake I see is for people to try to use that one sentence to sum up every aspect of their story and then get frustrated when it doesn’t. This isn’t meant to be a synopsis of your plot, rather it’s bait to make people want to read it. Likewise, the body of your pitch should be more like back cover copy than a synopsis, meant to give the high points of the story, not a blow by blow account. Overall, remember, you know this story inside and out, after all you wrote it, so don’t be afraid to just talk about it, rather than feeling you have to keep to a scripted pitch.

3. Seize the Pitch Session - This is your moment. You paid for it and it’s yours. So after you’ve pitched and the agent has decided whether they want you to send them something or not, if your appointment time isn’t up you should feel free to ask questions about the market, the industry or the specific agency. Think of it as a one on one agent panel. Bringing a short list of questions in with you in case you have time to ask them can be helpful. And in a group pitch remember, if you have that question, odds are someone else in the group was wondering the same thing.

4. Follow Through - If the agent gives you specific instructions on how he or she want to get your material be scrupulous in following them. This is hard to do if you’ve completely forgotten what they were. I recommend that people write down what the agent wants and how he or she wants it because it’s easy in the excitement of the request to think you’ll remember, and then forget a small detail of it when you get home and sit down to send it out.

5. Breathe - People often come into these meetings very nervous, and I want to assure you really don’t need to be. This one meeting will not make or break your career, promise. It’s an opportunity to not only pitch your book but also get honest feed back from an industry professional. Keep in mind that agents come into a pitch session wanting to hear something fabulous and we’re looking to fall in love. Hopefully it will be with your story, but whether it is or isn’t, how you pitch will never be as important as what you put on the page.

If you have any other tips that have worked for you, please share. Happy pitching!


Charles Gramlich said...

Great advice. I can't imagine not being able to go on four hours about my own genre, though.

Farrah Rochon said...

Very sound advice, Marissa. As someone who has always had a problem with public speaking, pitches were the worse for me (even though they are usually just one on one).

Liane Spicer said...

Marissa, you stirred up some memories there! Irene Goodman was the very first agent I pitched more than a decade ago. Debbie MacComber kindly gave me her contact info and then I discovered I had a book on my bedhead edited by Ms. Goodman. Kismet! I thought. She's the one for me.

Well, she never responded to my query, and I have no idea what she did with my painfully acquired international mailing coupons! :D I found out later from one of her RWA presentations that romances with foreign settings get automatic rejections from her.

Thank heavens I've never had to pitch face to face. E-mail queries are so much easier on my blood pressure! Great tips, though, in case I should ever need them. Especially the breathing part.