Writing-Partner.com, who writes women’s
fiction and memoir, and was an arts journalist for 19 years. She has spoken about writing and the publication process in person for writers groups, libraries, and schools, and on television and radio as well. She blogs at Healing Through Writing and at The Blood-Red Pencil, where she is a
contributing editor. GLVWG President Ex Officio Tori Bond asked Kathryn to share her tips on pitching at the Write Stuff 2011 conference.
Tori Bond: For those who have signed up for an agent or editor pitch session, what’s the most important thing they can do to prepare for their pitch?
Kathryn Craft: Learn the difference between a pitch and a plot. We’ll be talking about this at the pitching workshop I’ll be giving at Palmer Library on Feb. 26. Many times I heard one of my (many) favorite Write Stuff presenters, Molly Cochran, say: “What’s your book about?—but don’t tell me the plot!” I found that baffling for the longest time, and my first pitch showed it. I went on and on, saying that this happens then that happens, leaving the poor agent to try to collect the pieces into a cogent whole. You, as author, should know the cogent whole! Boil the essence of your book down to two or three sentences. I’ll show you how at the workshop.
For more information the Kathryn Craft workshop, “Learn to Pitch: It's Catching!" Click here.
T: A pitch session is ten minutes long, which doesn’t sound like much time to sell an agent or editor on a book. What advice would you give conferees about making the best of their ten minutes?
K: First, relax. Ten minutes is more than enough time. The pitches at the Philadelphia Writers Conference are five minutes—that, too, is plenty of time, if you have the essence of your book boiled down to two or three intriguing sentences. The idea isn’t to tell all, it’s to make the agent want to hear more.
After introducing yourself, give your initial pitch, then sit back and let what you’ve said sink in a moment. It’s possible this agent just heard 14 other pitches in a row, and there are other conversations going on in the room to distract him, so he might want to ask a follow-up question. Even if not asked, try to steer the subsequent conversation around to why you’re the perfect person to write this book, because this can be a compelling reason for them to have faith in your ability to write it well. (“I was in Montserrat when the volcano blew, and helped rescue the victims!”)
One last piece of advice: if she says “Sounds great, I’d like to have a look,” and slides you her business card, don’t lose your marbles yet! Continue in a professional vein with this important question: “What would you like me to send?” She might say the first three chapters and synopsis, the first 50 pages, or the whole thing. Then ask, “Would you like me to send a hard copy, or e-mail it as a word attachment? .doc, or .docx?” Many agents are very specific about how they want to receive your materials, and extending yourself this way will make a good impression. Then, once outside the room, write what they asked for on the back of the business card so you don’t forget. THEN jump up and down!! A request for the full manuscript does not by any means guarantee an offer of representation—but on the other hand, you can’t possibly get published unless you get the manuscript read by the right professionals, and you’ve made a great start!
T: There are other opportunities besides a pitch session to network with agents and editors at the conference. Can you talk about these opportunities and what advice would you give about when and how to approach them?
K: The Friday night party is a good place to talk to agents and editors, but since this is primarily a social occasion, try a softer sell. Start a conversation, show your knowledge of and interest in their work. This could result in an invitation from the agent to tell them about your work—after which, of course, you could say, “May I send you some sample chapters?”—and you’re on your way. You also might honor the social nature of the occasion by saying that you hope to pitch to her this weekend, but couldn’t get an appointment. Might she be able to meet with you sometime during the conference tomorrow? She might just say, “How about now?” Or she might give you a time the next day. The lobby has several comfy conversational groupings that could work for a pitch, as does the hotel restaurant.
In recent years I’ve heard some agents say that it’s not so cool to pitch them at lunch. They are human beings, they’ve been “on” all morning, and they would like to relax and refuel the tank. And breakfast might just be too darn early—frankly, I’ve noticed many agents do not attend our breakfast, so that they aren’t accosted so early. That said, these agents are here to find their next great client, so don’t lose an opportunity at lunch if an agent is sitting right next to you. You might want to think about using one of the soft sell techniques, above. And hopefully it goes without saying: we all deserve privacy in the bathroom! Just don’t wait until the Saturday afternoon social: most of the agents are eager to catch the 3:45 pm bus back to New York.
Here’s a list of genres represented by this year’s line-up of agents and editors. Check it out:
Literary fiction - 4
Commercial fiction - 2
Crime fiction (mysteries) - 4
Historical fiction - 2
Women’s fiction - 2
Science fiction - 2
Thrillers - 2
Young adult - 5
Middle grade - 2
Short story collections
Short story collections
Memoir - 4
Narrative nonfiction - 4
Serious nonfiction - 3