Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In the Life of an Agent: The Conference Pitch

Like most agents, I receive an almost inconceivable amount of queries. I could literally spend all day going through them. This doesn’t include pitches I take at conferences. Last weekend — not this past one — I attended the Hartford Writers Conference and the Boston Writers Conference both hosted by the charming Chuck Sambuchino of Writers Digest fame. At the Boston conference I took 50 some odd pitches. That’s not including pitches at the Hartford conference the day before. My point is agents receive A TON of queries/pitches.

Face-to-face pitches can be good, and they can be painful. In my experience, there’s almost no middle ground. Some authors arrive, sit in the chair across from me and lock their eyes on mine. We stare at each other. Them like a deer in headlights, wondering what the heck is that two-ton death machine barreling at me. Me wondering whether they’re trying to use the force to project, “You will offer me representation.”

Those are the pitches where it feels like pulling teeth to get a few words out of an author. They came unprepared, have nothing really to say, or aren’t familiar enough with their own writing to start riffing.  

The second type of pitch comes in the form of those who came prepared for the proverbial battle. Blue war paint marks their eyes. Hair pulled back to keep some dirty enemy from yanking on it. Armor shined and oiled to reflect the sun burning overhead. They know what they came to do. They can play jazz with their novels. Goal. Motivation. Conflict. They know their genre, word count, what makes their story fresh, and can whip out a few comparative titles the moment my lips part to ask the question. To them I say, “Bravo” or “Brava”!

To those who fall in the first category, hey I get it. Why? Because I could have never pitched an agent like that. I didn’t have the nerve to attend a writing conference. So when I have to pull a pitcher’s teeth, I get it. When people say they’re nervous, I get it.

So how can you rock the pitch? How do you belong the second group of authors? How can you arrive and defeat me in an honorable bout of — agenting? Or would it be writing? I don’t know, but here’s what you should do:

1) Do your homework. If you signed up to pitch me because I’m an agent and you’re a writer chances are you’re going to fail. Why? Because for all you know I hate the genre you write. Read what I’m looking for. Most agents post or tweet their interests. Look at my client list and the type of books they write. Check Publishers Marketplace — if you have a subscription (it's not cheap-ish — and see the types of books I’ve sold.

2) Write down your pitch — like a query — and study it. I don’t mind if you read from a paper (some agents might), but darn it know what you’re going to say. If I have to pull teeth your session going to end early, because I (any agent) cannot pitch your book for you.

3) Know your GMC. Goal. Motivation. Conflict. Jennifer Fusco wants to save the prince from the dragon for a 10,000 gold piece reward, but Xerxes wants to steal the prince to ransom him off to his father King George of Random Land. The race to defeat the dragon and claim the prince is on! See? We have Jennifer Fusco’s goal (save the prince), motivation (the 10,000 gp reward), and the conflict (Xerxes wants the price for his own reasons). GMC. Boom.

4) Comparative titles. Have them.

5) Business cards. Professional. Have them.

6) Come ready to have fun! Agents are regular people. We love to geek out, talk about books, or any other nerd-thing that gets our adrenaline pumping. Mention Star Trek and I’ll insist Jean-Luc Picard was the best captain of all time. Period.

7) Again, have fun. Conferences are fun for us. Pitches can be, too. Make your pitches fun. Have fun. Have FUN!

Okay, I think that’s enough rambling for today.

Happy Tuesday, and remember to write on!

Lane Heymont is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency, representing science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction, and attempts to write his own stuff under a wonderful pseudonym. You can follow him on Twitter at @LaneHeymont. 


  1. I pitched to you at the Boston conference and I think the very first words out of my mouth were "I'm nervous." You were very understanding. If only I'd known beforehand you feelings about Piccard I might have won you over quite easily!

  2. Ha! No worries. I like to think I'm easy to talk with. :-)