They're an evil born of writing conferences and writers' understandable eagerness to get in front of as many agents as possible. If querying is a numbers game (it can seem that way) then meeting as many agents as possible seems like a good idea.
Thus appointments have gone from ten minutes to five to three in many cases and the focus has been on bullet point pitching.
Writers are told pitches are the key to all their future success. It's no wonder they're vomiting in the bathroom before or after pitch sessions (or on my shoes during!)
Let's not even contemplate how hard it is for agents to interact in any meaningful way with people who are so anxious they're ill.
AND IT'S ALL AVOIDABLE!!!
First, here's what happens on MY side of the table at a pitch meeting.
You pitch something like this:
And I stop listening closely after "futuristic twist" because I don't know what that means.
And I stop listening entirely after the rhetorical questions.
When the querier stops talking (and it's not a given they do) I'll ask questions:
1. What does Delia want (the pitch tells us what she doesn't want)
2. Who is the antagonist? (it's not clear from the pitch notes if it's Greg or someone else)
3. What's keeping Delia from getting what she wants?
And here's where pitching just falls apart (closely followed by the writer.) The writer has most likely NOT prepared answers to those questions so they are left fumbling.
And the writer only wants to know one thing from me: Do I Want To Read This?
And right now, as it stands, no I don't.
Guess how impossibly awful that is to say to a fresh-faced eager writer who believes with all her heart that you are the person who can make her dreams come true.
But honestly, what I don't know about the book is pretty basic stuff. You recognize that when you see it spelled out here. The questions I'm asking are the basic bones of a query letter.
Here's another example:
And you can tell from reading this that again, it's a list of events. There's nothing at stake. So when I ask "what's at stake" again the writer is stymied.
(These examples were kindly provided by writers when I asked on Twitter for help for this blog post. I'm not speaking of these writers or their pitch performances specifically. They are just general examples)
Up till now you might just say "hey SharkForBrains, that's just bad prep. These writers should know better!"
And that's the failure of logic implicit in pitch sessions at writing conferences: the very reason people come is to learn this stuff. They DON'T know it.
And conferences by their very nature (Meet Agents! Other People Got Deals! Maybe You Can Too!"
foment that desire bubbling within all writers.
And that's what makes pitching evil: it sets writers up to fail.
And there's a very basic, very easy way to solve the problem, and it drives me batshit crazy that conference organizers simply will not do this.
Here's the solution:
I'll sit in a room for 14 hours straight if you feed, water and burp me periodically. I'll meet with every writer at the conference who has a query letter. I'll read the query and I'll offer suggestions for improving it. I'll read the revisions. I'll help every author there as much as I can. And I'll be GLAD to do it.
And here's the best part: when I read the query, I'm essentially getting the same information a writer should be giving me in a pitch.
Writers might still be nervous, but if all they have to do is hand an agent a query, and take notes on what she says, and ask questions, I guarantee there will be less vomit involved.
And I can still TALK to the writer, I can still ask questions.
If your query is a mess, I know what to ask.
AND if your query is a mess and you get asked questions, how great would it be if you knew I'd be there in four hours and you could come back and talk to me again!
Essentially we're talking about IN PERSON CHUM BUCKET!! You all know how much I love doing the Chum Bucket--and writers love it too. Even the ones who get gnawed till they bleed.
I've had conference organizers tell me that writers insist on having pitch sessions. I call bullshit on that.
Sure a writer might say "yes I want to pitch" if that's the only way they can get in front of an agent to talk about their work. Many writers would dance nekkid on tabletops playing the kazoo if that got them in the front door of an agency. Hell, I'd do it too if that's what it took to pitch books to editors. I understand and admire that willingness to do what it takes.
My point is that asking writers to pitch orally, and ask agents to request material based on that is NOT the only way to do this.
Give writers a choice on ways to interact with agents and I'll bet you a nice crisp twenty dollar bill AND Tawna Fenske dancing nekkid on a table top that writers will pick the choice that gets them what they really want: attention and HELP.
Now, here's where you come in. I've banged my head against the wall, waved my arms in the air and shouted till I'm hoarse about this.
BUT if the writers demand changes, those things will happen.
Show this post to your conference organizer. Tell her/him that this is a much more effective way to get authors the help they're looking for and a much less stressful way for agents to find good work.
They might as well start now because when I am Queen of the Known Universe, this is the first change I'm making.