If there’s one area where you’ll find authors and agents disagreeing it’s on the subjects of pitches or pitch sessions at conferences. Authors tend to believe, and are taught to believe, that these pitch opportunities are what can make or break a career and that they’re the most important piece of any conference. Agents and editors on the other hand, find them to be the least effective use of their time when attending conferences.
I’m going to be frank as I only know how to be. The reason pitch sessions seem so great is because so much material is requested. This leads authors to believe that there’s a benefit to a pitch over a query. Typically there is not. If I really believe something is good based on a pitch then, since your pitch is basically your query, I would have requested it on the query as well. The reason so much more is requested at a pitch is because agents and editors don’t know how to say no (notice I didn’t say they were too nice ;)). Whether or not they’ll actually read the material when it comes in is a debatable matter.
Might I be so bold as to suggest that we eliminate or at least limit pitch sessions at conferences? At the very least can we limit them to only those writers who have a completed and ready to submit book instead of the hundreds of pitches I hear that, after a request, end with, “well it’s not finished yet.”
Instead of pitch sessions let’s let agents host small roundtable discussions with authors. Let them work with authors on honing their pitches (for the cocktail party later) or their queries. Let the workshops include discussion of the market or the agent’s role in an author’s career. Let the agent get down and dirty with the author and her work to teach her something rather than simply letting her walk away with a business card.
I know this isn’t the fault of the conferences. They do their best to bring in attendees and pitch sessions seem to be a huge draw. I think it’s the problem with our way of thinking. We forget the valuable advice and insight agents have to offer, we forget that they are more than just a sounding board for a pitch. We forget that hours (I wish I was exaggerating) spent taking pitches could be spent teaching writers what an agent knows about this business called publishing.