Have you ever pitched to an agent before? It can definitely rattle the nerves a bit.
I remember the first time I pitched to an agent. I handed over the first few pages of my manuscript and then sat there, watched them read (or I think they were reading), and waited to be questioned. Well, those days are long gone–thank goodness.
In this post, I want to look at the finer points of pitching to an agent and how to prepare yourself. If you’re pitching to an Editor for freelance work see the tips at the end of this post. The techniques are similar but different.
What is a Pitch?
When I hear the word “pitch”, the first thing that comes to mind is baseball. The pitcher takes the ball, reads the signals, nods, spits, adjusts his cup, then twirls the ball between his finger a few times before he finally winds up and hurls the ball toward home plate.
The Objective? Well, you want to get it right through the strike zone as you whistle it past that batter and smack into the glove of the catcher. The Umpire yells STEEEEEEEEE-Riiiiike… and you know you’ve hit the bullseye.
Working for That Strike
A pitcher doesn’t just climb out of bed one morning and decide that he’s going to shoot for the big leagues. No way. There’s a regimen and protocol that’s been followed for years. These are all just like your writing.
- there’s practice and then more practice.
- dedication to the craft
- a willingness to learn
- a willingness to take criticism and apply what will work
- developing a style of delivery–this is your voice. It doesn’t happen overnight
- being coachable
- dealing with those who appear better at the craft than you though they’re different
- a confidence to stand and present your hard work
- and even if the pitch is perfect, you need to be able to work with a team
I’ve never known a writer who didn’t improve over time. We all have room to better our craft, to be more patient with ourselves, and work independently in a collective.
So You Wrote A Book…
The next question is, have your rewritten your book? How many times?
There’s an old saying that good writing is rewriting.
This message is one that trips up some writers. They’ve typed “The End” at the end of their manuscript and are convinced they’re done. Um, I’d be willing to bet that first draft needs some TLC and a whole lot of rewriting.
The first book I wrote has been rewritten at least ten times. I seriously thought that first draft was the end but it was really only the beginning. Oh how naive I was. Sigh…
When you’ve edited and rewritten your book-baby and are satisfied (pshaw …we’re artists, we’re never really “satisfied” but there comes a point when you have to send baby out into the hands of readers…) … Ahem, as I was saying… When you’re satisfied that the book is ready and you want to pitch then you need to do some homework and practice to get yourself ready.
To Whom are You Pitching?
Do your due diligence.
- Who is agent? Check their website. Google them (you can bet that an agent is going to google your name to see what’s there).
- What is the agency about?
- Who are the other agents?
- Does this agent fit into your genre/sub-genre? Don’t pitch a children’s book to an agent who represents adult erotica. Know your stuff.
- Who does this agency represent? Do you recognize any of the names? Ask around.
- It is up to you to find a fit with an agent. If taken on as a client, you will need to work closely with them, take their advice and rely on their expertise.
- Know what to expect before walking into that pitch room.
Now, you’ve done your due diligence and are ready to prepare for the pitch itself. Here goes:
Know What Your Book is About.
Well, what a stupid thing to say… of course I know what it’s about… blah blah blah
Know how to describe your book in two to three sentences. That description should include:
- The title of your book.
- The genre and sub-genre of your book.
- The length of your book.
- A general overview (one or two sentences) of the plot.
Really take this seriously. Agents and publishers want to know the answers to these questions. It all goes to marketing, decision making, and salability.
Usually reflective of some pivotal point in the book or character. Don’t sweat this too much as titles can change.
Genre: Part One: Identify Genre and readership—
- creative nonfiction
- historical fiction
- speculative fiction
Readership: middle grade? YA? Adult? children’s?
Genre: Part Two: Subgenre
- historical romance
- Christian Lit
The list goes on and on… check HERE for an exhaustive list.
Length of your book: Know your word count and where it fits into the publishing norm. Check HERE for specific numbers on different projects. A full length adult novel is normally around 80K word. Fantasy is often 100-110K or even longer, because of the world building. Check and be sure. Don’t got into a pitch with a 200K monster and expect to have it accepted. And, there’s exceptions to everything if the story and writing are spectacular.
This one takes some practice. It’s about sitting down and playing with a couple of sentences in order to describe the entire premise or the book. An ultra short and succinct synopsis if you will. This is not an easy task but it is doable. Let’s look at the first line of JK Rowlings synopsis for Harry Potter.
Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car-crash — or so he has been told.JK Rowling from Insider
A few things are key here: she mentioned the main character by name. We know where he lives and that he is young because he can’t live alone and also that perhaps something weird or sinister is going on.
That’s a lot of garnered information in one sentence. As you work on this, allow yourself some latitude to add the plot but don’t go off the rails. If you end up with three sentences, don’t sweat it. Just keep it tight and don’t go down the rabbit hole to explain every subplot and twist.
A couple more things to prepare for you pitch.
Comparables or “Comps”:
The first time I heard this term I was thrown for a loop. What the heck was it and what did it have to do with me?
Comps actually comes from the real estate world where they compare other sales in your area and then tell you what your house is worth. Same idea except we’re taking the contents of books.
Well, a comparable is what you would compare your book to in style, substance, and genre. So if your book is all about the end of the world you may compare it to Stephen King’s The Stand, or if it’s a kids book about a boy and dragons you may say it’s like Percy Jackson and The Olympians.
This whole idea of “Comps” is for the agent to get an idea of where the story is. Some writers may say…if Book-A and Book-B had a baby then it would be my book. I hope that makes sense.
Knowing what your book is comparable to also illustrates that you know the current books on the market (so they’re relevant), the competition, and shows you’re actually reading.
Who is the Intended Buyer?
While this may seem like a rather straight forward in that it’s explained in the genre to a certain extent but it’s not always about the reader, but instead the buyer. So, this again goes to an awarenesses of marketing.
If your book is a nonfiction self-help book for teens–who is the intended market?
I would say it’s probably the parents and not the teen. This makes a difference in how the book is packaged. Is it meant to be read by the teen? the parents? or is it a gift that a parent gives to a teen? Think about it.
Do You Have A Platform?
If you’re a published author, let the agent know. This shows follow through on finishing a project. Along with that, discuss your platform.
Think of a “platform” as a stage upon which you stand to market your works. Is there anyone in the audience yet? Do you have sales? What does your resume look like? Do you have a freelance portfolio? Maybe you have a blog or social media with 10k followers? These are all important considerations.
A Pitch is Over in a Flash…
Before you know it, someone knocks on the door to say time is almost up. You probably have a minute to complete your pitch. So, just like you prepared your beginning, do the same for the end. You want to leave a strong and positive impression.
You’ll have a note pad and pen with you (because you never leave home without it, right? You’re a writer after all.) so note down any directions from the agent or publisher.
Ask the agent/publisher about turn around time. In other words when can you expect to hear and would it be okay with them to check via email if you haven’t heard within that time frame.
If the agent or publisher requests pages then send them within the week and make sure they’re as good and clean as possible. If they ask for ten pages, send ten–not twenty-five. Give them what they ask for.
If you have any other questions, ask them and note down their answers as soon as you can. Leave the appointment with confidence that you did the best you could at that time. If the agent/publisher hasn’t offered a card, it’s okay to ask for one and offer yours in exchange.
Leave a positive impression by exiting with a call to action. You could say…
Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it and I hope we get a chance to talk soon. I just want to say that I’m willing to work hard both independently and within a team.
There you go!
Pitch away. Remember it gets easier as you practice and take advantage of getting to know your book inside and out.
Go for it….straight down the centre and Steeeeeeee–Riiiiiiiike.
Let me know how it goes!
If your pitch is to an Editor for Freelance work check out My Tuesday Tips for that kind of pitch. Good luck.
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3 thoughts on “Tuesday Tips #2 on What to Expect and How to Prepare Yourself and Your Manuscript When You Pitch to an Agent”
I remember pitching at conferences, well before the Covid, that is. I used to go to the one in Seattle whenever I could and pitch there to multiple agents. It’s definitely nerve-wracking, wish I would have had this excellent advice piece when I pitched!
Thanks for the kind words. Next week is the Wine Country Writers’ Festival that I’m hosting and pitching is available so that’s exactly why I wrote it. We have people pitching and I remember being terrified and lost the first few times. Glad the info presented well. phew…xoxo