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5 Writing Conference Pitching Tips

Conference pitches often take place in rooms like this.

It's here.

You've prepared for this moment for months. You've had friends pour over the one sheet at least five times for grammatical errors and practiced your elevator pitch for your husband, children, and dog, who all assured you they at least would buy your book.

And now you're approaching the agent hidden behind a name placard and a stern, folded hands expression. Your mouth dries and you blank. The 10 most important minutes of your life has come, and you blank.

What now?

Even as an agent, I struggle with these one-on-one meetings. I love to give speeches to crowds, but sit me in front of a stranger, and I suddenly forget the English language.

Before you land yourself in this situation again, consider these conference pitching tips. I've been on both ends of the table, literally (as agent and author), and here's what I, along with other agents, can offer in terms of advice.

1. Don't admit it's your first time pitching

The first person to ever pitch to me told me she'd never pitched or attended a conference before, and she had a conception that literary agents were scary people. I tried to have some grace during that session because it was my first time receiving a pitch for a book in person, but her telling me this right off the bat stunned me in a way it took me a while to resume listening to the rest of her book idea.

2. Keep it short and simple

Brought to you from writing expert and Co-Founder of Open Road Integrated Media (scholarly source) Jane Friedman, in her article, "How to Pitch Agents at Writer's Conferences," she suggests keeping the pitch brief. The less you talk, the more the agent wants to know. The more you talk, vice versa.

3. Only hand them samples if they ask for it

Agents, by the time they finish a day at a conference, have gone through roughly 20-30 pitches. If every author handed them a one sheet, that means they're walking out with 30 pages. If every author gave them the first three sample chapters, they have nearly 1,000 pages they're carrying back with them to the hotel.

4. Come with questions

Brought to you by Chuck Sambuchino from Writer's Digest in, "7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference," consider bringing questions with you to the pitch. Ten or fifteen minutes goes a lot slower than you'd think. You may get through your pitch in three minutes and have seven to go.

5. Pitch more than one project

If you have more than one project, pitch it! You paid for these precious minutes, and one project may not fit with them, but another might. Granted, don't go overboard and pitch every idea in your arsenal. But if you have finished drafts for books, might as well give it a try.

Bonus tip: If an agent or editor is leaning forward, they're interested in the pitch. If they're leaning back with a glazed look in their eyes, it's time to pitch something else.

Here are a few other resources to check out about pitching at writer's conferences:

Gallagher, Cynthia P. "How to Pitch Your Book at a Writing Conference," Writing World, 2006.

Sambunchino, Chuck. "How to Pitch Agents at Writer's Conferences," Writer's Digest, 2012.


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