Monday, July 4, 2011

Pitching at Conferences - My Point Was Proven!

So, I just got home yesterday from New York and the National RWA Conference and I had to post this as soon as possible. This is, in fact, something I have said over and over again, but the conference certainly proved my point. I'm talking about pitching at conferences.

As you know, one of the biggest reasons agents and editors do not find many authors at conferences stems from how writers sign up for the sessions. As I have pointed out, most writers just grab any appointment slot they can get their hands on to sell their story. There is no ounce of research done. There is not thought to why they would pitch their story to a given agent or editor. They just grab. Needless to say, because their isn't that careful thought, writers will more than likely see a rejection later on. Sure, they may get a request but that doesn't mean anything. Remember, I have told you that many editors and agents will request from everyone regardless of whether they like the story or not.

In any case, I took my pitches on Thursday morning. This was my scheduled 2 hours of pitches. I will have to say, this year was the first when writers came in who actually did their research, read the blog, and knew what I was looking for. I requested from the majority of writers. As you know, if the story doesn't work for me, I have no problem saying no.

Following the session, as I walked out of the room, I saw the numbers of writers trying desperately to get any slot that opened up. So, I offered to come back on Friday morning and take another round of pitches. This is where the point was made. Since these were not scheduled, the only people who would have signed up were people just looking for any slot. They didn't research, they didn't know what they were getting into.

The results?

Out of that 2 hour block, I passed on over 75% of the stories. The simple reason? The authors were pitching stories I didn't even represent.

Do I know this was something happening time and time again? There is no doubt about it. I saw authors pitching up to 3 and 4 times. I also spoke to several authors that told me 2 or 3 editors, from vastly different publishing houses, requested full manuscripts. Knowing what the publishers put out there, and knowing that one story could not be that flexible told me writers were throwing darts again.

The point is, as a writer, you have to do your research. Your story does not fit with anyone. Along the same lines, just because an editor or agent is available does not mean you can pitch. Agents are available 24/7, 365 days out of the year to make a pitch to. And with editors, if the publisher doesn't accept unagented submissions, the odds are, even if you do pitch, they will pass on it because you don't have an agent.

I hate to say this but, "I told you so."



  1. Personally, I agree with you and I wouldn't want to pitch to someone I knew in advance wasn't going to be interested in my work; but I've seen posts where it's suggested that such appointments be used as 'practice'. Do you think that might have been happening in this case?

  2. Sarah,

    Do people pitch to practice? Unfortunately, they do and I am always VERY upset about this. Pitching your story to an editor or an agent is nothing more than a job interview. We don't go to some major corporation, apply for a job and just do this to "practice our interview skills." The same goes here.
    There are a ton of people out there really trying to get an appointment that ARE ready and ARE NOT playing around. Unfortunately, those slots are taken up by people who IMHO, if they approach the business this way will never be successful. It is a shame.

  3. Hahahahaa... Thanks for the pearls of wisdom, Sensei. I'm just starting out at this, so you can imagine I read your blog avidly (I make notes and everything). This year I'll probably be at my first conference, and believe you me, I'll make sure I research properly, in depth, and way in advance. Thanks again!

  4. I was at the RWA Convention and my critique partner pitched numerous times. She actually snagged a few more appointments on Friday morning. They all requested either partials or fulls. So here's my question; is there really an advantage to pitching? Because frankly, it scares the bejesus out of me. I can't imagine that an editor or agent would appreciate me stumbling over my words or getting a really bad case of verbal diarrhea. The whole idea makes my stomach roil. I realize the whole purpose of pitching is to spend less time in the slush pile, but do I stand a chance with just a query?

  5. Most newer authors don't know how to research an agent so it would help if the sponsoring organization would offer a a tip sheet on the attending agents before the event and during the event.

  6. Great advice. I will be attending my first conference within the next year and will research agents accordingly.

    I just found your blog and I am finding it very enlightening.

  7. Scott,
    I can imagine it's frustrating for an agent to have their time wasted by those who have no business pitching in the first place.
    Beth, it is nerve-wracking, but the more prepared you are, i.e. researching your agent & practicing your pitch, the less frightening the whole process is. Check out sites that teach writers how to pitch properly minus the rambling.

    Marilynn, there are many tools available to new writers. Start by googling an agent's name and reading their bios. It tells you a ton about what they're looking for and NOT looking for. Also, join a couple of groups and read EVERYTHING!

  8. Scott - I agree with you 100% when it comes to writers pitching at conferences, but I wish other agents would be more honest. I've queried you, you wanted to see some pages and then you rejected the manuscript. It was one of the most valuable things that's happened in my search for an agent. It became a turning point. You gave me an answer that helped me improve my query letter and my manuscript.

    When I have pitched at a conference, it has been to people I actually had a reason to believe might be interested in my work. However, having pitched at two conferences, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that agents have requested manuscripts when they weren't really interested it.

    For instance, I got into a casual cocktail conversation with one agent and told them I did not write in their genre, but they STILL asked for pages. I'm only human. I've heard of agents that fell in love with something outside their usual genre and made it a success. Was I supposed to refuse to send them the pages? When I got the form rejection letter I realized I should have.

    At the same conference, my scheduled agent pitch resulted in a request for pages, but her total lack of enthusiasm made me uncomfortable - especially when she quipped, "We still have some time and you paid for it. Anything else you want to know?" A part of me wanted to ask, "Are you seriously interested in my work or are you wasting my time?" But it was my first pitch session and I didn't dare. Out of professional courtesy, I did send the pages and eventually got a form rejection. She may have been trying to be nice, but she wasted time for both of us.

    Those of us who are serious about our careers are listening to you, Scott. We wish other agents were as professional and helpful as you are. We wish they'd tell us no if they aren't really interested. We wish we received rejection letters that were more helpful - especially when the agent has asked for the pages. But, unfortunately, you can't do anything about other agents any more than we can do anything about other writers.