What to do at a writing conference

How to pitch literary agents live

I recently attended two writing conferences in short succession, one in Toronto and one in Boston. Below I share my best tips on how to pitch literary agents live because I had the opportunity to do so at both conferences.

Many people fear public speaking more than death. While I’m not exactly in that camp, I don’t relish it either. I have to deliver executive presentations in my 9-5 and when I was wondering how on earth to pitch literary agents live, my existing skill set helped.

Of course, Sweet Redemption has a special place in my heart and publishing my debut novel will be a lifelong dream come true. It was a different kind of pressure and I researched, networked and sought advice from experienced authors. I’m pleased to share my learning with you today, which you can use for any presentation!

Here are some resources to check out before pitching:

Public speaking tips

How to pitch literary agents live

Research. This is so obvious, it almost goes without saying, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to know it needs to be said. Don’t pitch agents who aren’t accepting submissions in your genre. Don’t pitch a book that’s too long, too short, or incomplete. Like I always say, if you want writing to be your business, treat it like a business and take it seriously.

Memorize. Your pitch is a short version of your query letter spoken in a conversational tone. Yes, this means you need to memorize it while also not sounding robotic. Sure, agents understand you’re nervous and may overlook if you read from your notes, but you’ll stand out more (in a good way) if you don’t. It’s your book. You know the content. You’ve got this.

Practice. I found it helpful to pretend I was preparing for a job interview and I considered all of the questions that an agent might ask me. You don’t want to come across as insincere and overly memorized, but it is a great idea to have some key messages you want to get across and be prepared to discuss topics that are likely to come up, like comparable authors, your platform, marketing and industry trends.

Hook. Prepare a hook line that is no more than two sentences. You want to grab the agent’s attention quickly and leave them wanting to learn more, first by asking you follow-up questions and then by (hopefully) reading your manuscript. Remember, a pitch is spoken so what works when it’s written is not going to fly here. Your hook should be short, to the point, and easy to follow while also being compelling. Easy, right?

Breathe. This is a very pivotal moment, but one pitch won’t make or break your writing career. Your work won’t resonate with everyone and just because one agent doesn’t request pages doesn’t mean that another one won’t love your concept. Take a deep breath and give it your best shot.

Inquire. If there’s extra time at the end of your pitch and you’ve answered all of the agent’s questions, then ask a few questions of your own. It’s a great idea to have some prepared in advance to make the most of your time with an industry expert. Agents are a wealth of information, so take advantage of your time with them!

And remember, to avoid looking like an amateur, please do not:

  • Bring printed materials. Have a business card available if the agent asks (and they usually won’t), but don’t try to pass them your query letter or, god forbid, your printed out manuscript.
  • Act unprofessional. If an agent doesn’t request pages, then accept their decision. It’s fine to ask how you can improve your pitch going forward, but it’s not okay to insist the agent just isn’t understanding your concept or to be otherwise whiny or immature.

Have you ever pitched live or given a presentation? Share your tips with us below!

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