I was recently at a conference where I had been scheduled for roughly 50 author pitches. Yes, that’s right. Fifty. Can you imagine what it must have been like for me to sit in a cold room for hours listening to author after author tell me the five-minute version of their book? Think about it. Do you really think I remembered all, if any, of those pitches?
No, I didn’t. Let me tell you, there’s an art to the pitch. Whether you have a scheduled pitch appointment or happen upon an agent in an elevator, there’s a way to present yourself and your book that can almost guarantee that you lock yourself into an agent’s memory. And there’s a way that will ensure the agent forgets you before you even walk out the door.
The trick? Make friends. Make yourself stand out and be remarkable.
There are two ways I’m gong to frame this. First I’m going to talk to those of you who have a pitch appointment and I’m going to give you those key secrets that agents want when getting pitched to. And then (tomorrow), I’m going to talk to those of you who run into an agent at a cocktail party, in the elevator, or are lucky enough to find yourself seated next to one at a luncheon.
Pitch Appointments . . .
Stressful, scary, and for some reason always, always in a cold room. Pitch appointments are dreaded by authors, and you know what? By agents too. By the time I’m done I feel like I’m nothing but a means to an end, and all too often I’ve had to deal with the hostility of a disappointed and disgruntled author.
When it comes to pitch appointments I so often hear authors console themselves by saying that an agent has to read the book anyway (and agents and editors will often say this too). Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a lie and something only the “nice people” say to make you feel better. Call me jaded or just call me mean, but the truth is that after 15 years of author appointments I know within your first three sentences whether or not it’s worth my time to read more. I don’t know if your book is perfect and I don’t know if it’s publishable, but I do know whether it’s worth my time.
For those of you who haven’t yet experienced an appointment with me, let me warn you: I’m not mean (at least I don’t think I am) but I’m not phony either. I don’t request material unless you’ve convinced me to request it . . . and I’m a hard sell.
So what can you do to convince me? Know your hook. If you don’t know what makes your book different from everything out there that’s ever been published, if you don’t know what a hook is or what your hook is, then you aren’t ready to pitch. Some examples of hooks I represent . . .
* The Naked Earl (the title alone is a fabulous hook), a Regency-set historical romance with steamy sex scenes and lots of humor.
* A hot, erotic romance that begins when the main characters meet for the first time in ten years at their high school reunion.
* A cozy mystery series featuring knitters/crochet/rubberstamping/etc. In doing research, I find this is still an untapped area in the cozy market.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Rarely, if ever, does the hook have anything at all to do with the story. It’s that one line that makes you stand out from the crowd, that shows that your book is different. It’s the one thing that makes me stand up and say, “Hey, I’ve never heard of that idea before.”
Once your hook is out, move on to your background. What makes you qualified to write this story? What awards have you won? What else can make you remarkable?
So then what? Once you’ve told the agent your hook, what do you do? The most depressing thing to me is that when the pitch is made (and really, three to five sentences tops! I don’t need to listen to you ramble about your book for ten minutes) and my comments are voiced, the author gets up and (sometimes) runs from the room. Why are you wasting such valuable time? This is probably one of the few times in your life when you can actually talk, uninterrupted, with an agent. Use it! Ask her questions about herself, the agency, the business, the market, something that’s been bugging you from an earlier panel. In other words, if your hook didn’t do it, find another way to make yourself remarkable.
If it wasn’t this book it might be the next. And again, I appreciate it if someone treats me like a human rather than a pitch machine and will appreciate you more if you’ve made a personal connection with me.
For those of you who have experienced the dreaded pitch appointment, what have you found worked or didn’t work for you? How can you recommend others prepare a successful pitch?
Read on tomorrow for how to approach that agent in a social setting. . . .