Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rant: Pitch sessions are a tool of the Devil****

**and I should know since I am Satan's agent.

Yesterday I ranted about why pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan.

Today I'm adding another reason they should not be used at writing conferences ever again.

Pitches by definition require a writer to synthesize"what my book is about" to 25 words or fewer. Particularly if they're giving these pitches orally, most pitches are fewer than 100 words.

Writing short form anything is the hardest kind of writing to do. And by asking NEW writers to pitch, we're asking the least experienced writer to do the hardest kind of writing. Oh and by the way, don't worry, it's just your entire career resting on this.

It's like asking the 9th grade basketball team to play offense against a college team. You might have the height, but you don't have the experience.

Think about how hard you tell me it is to write a synopsis--and that's 1000 words.

Or how hard it is to write those 100-word contest entries here--and those are short little stories, not trying to entice me to read more. And the stakes for those contests are just fun--nothing truly important.

Writing short form enticing copy is an art form and it takes YEARS to get good at it.

It seems pointlessly cruel to ask writers at the start of their career to do this, particularly when there is an alternative available that actually helps them, and still accomplishes what they want to do: tell an agent about their book.

It's time to Stop Pitching!

It's time for conferences to start having agents critique queries, or just read queries at conferences, and be able to offer pointers for improvement.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"It's time to Stop Pitching!"

I agree, I hate baseball too. Sorry couldn't resist.

About short form writing - that's what I do, on deadline, 600 words maybe 610 if my editor is having a good day. I can knock out a decent 300 worder on a bet, but boy any less and it is a challenge for sure.
A one hundred word memorized script pitched after one cup of free coffee in the AM or a tuna melt in the snack bar for lunch - just the thought has me reaching for my little pink Pepto chewables.
Thanks for stepping up to the plate and doing this Janet.

Oh, we're back to baseball again. Time to change the channel.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I just thought my poor showings at short form were a personal deficiency, it's actually reassuring to see you say it's hard (of course I say it's hard, but it comes off as whining when a writer complains too much about things like queries and synopses).

Thank you for your consistent and sharkly help! said...

I have to believe most agents would agree with you - wouldn't they? (even Ms. Barbara?) as well as most conference coordinators? I'm sure this is all about time and trying to cram as many writers in front of agents while they are available.

It will seem crazy to me now when I see conferences advertised with that infamous, "Pitch Your Work To Agents at XYZ Conference!" etc, etc. It really does a disservice to agents and writers.

austinwritergirl said...

Janet, I agree. I've attended two writers conferences and pitched agents at each. Problem was, only one of the agents repped my genre, but bless her heart, that agent got all teary eyed. My log line somehow applied to her life and made her sad. I felt terrible.

What a waste of my $$$s and time. The other agents I spoke with did not handle women's fiction, but promised to pass my pages along to associates. I have no clue whether they did.

Why did I pitch agents who did not rep my genre? They were the only agents at these conferences. Therein lies the rub for writers. Do we really have to spend thousands of dollars going around to conference after conference in order to find an agent? Luckily, I can afford it, but I worry about struggling authors who work day jobs or those whose finances are not all that great. $500 to attend a local conference and pitch agents, or $1,500 to fly somewhere, stay in a hotel, feed oneself, etc., is a big nut for some people.

What is the solution to the query/pitch dilemma? I suspect it's an online resource that someone needs to build. Agents and writers subscribe, and agents review pitches in their genres. Yes, the log line would come into play. But at least a writer might be able to get their query before an agent without attending a bunch of writers conferences, or spending hours emailing agents who have little time to read the massive amount of queries they receive.

Thanks for your comments on this topic. I agree, pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan. I think the writers conferences can be, too. I try to attend one conference per year, but anymore than that and I am at the "been there, done that" stage. The information is good for beginning writers, but if you have some experience, you attend solely for the connections you might make.

Lance said...

Thank you for these couple of posts about pitching. No pitching for me. Is it possible that some aspiring writers (me included) see the pitch as a way to get your story in front of an agent without the hard work of writing a query letter and maybe a synopsis? That if we (I, all alone) could just get in front of an agent we could sell the story with our personality and enthusiasm and great delivery. When in fact, the delivery while green-faced, dry-mouthed, and roiled-gut requires even more work than the query, not to mention more recovery time. I'm all for submitting query/pages/synopsis in advance and meeting one on one with an agent. I've done this twice and received useful feedback in both cases, in addition to: keep on writing, you'll get there, etc.

Colin Smith said...

@austinwritergirl: WriteOnCon may be a taste of the future of conferences. If you've not heard of it, this is an annual online writers' conference, geared mainly toward Picture Book, MG, and YA. Aside from the industry presentations (via YouTube videos), and live QA sessions using Google Chat, they also have forums set up where authors can post queries and pages, and have fellow authors as well as "Ninja Agents" (i.e., unnamed agents who drop in on forums and offer tips on random queries) comment on their work. See for details. Oh, and it's free.

I don't think this takes away from the in-person experience of a traditional conference, but as an alternative, it's pretty darn good. I hope to see the same kind of thing for "adult" categories (i.e., as opposed to "children"--not 50 SHADES OF GREY kind of adult... you know what I mean...) start up.

LynnRodz said...

I have to agree with you, Janet, pitches are not the way to go.

Yesterday, Marlo Berliner said, "... you’d be surprised the backlash we would get if we didn’t offer pitch sessions. It really is one of the major draws for attendance to any conference..." The only reason why a pitch session is a "major draw" is because there are no alternatives to having that one on one time with an agent. If you gave writers the choice between pitching and doing an in person "chum bucket" I'm sure the vast majority of writers would opt for the second choice! Heck, I would even consider going to a conference if that were the case!

Look at the comment left by John "Ol" Chumbucket Baur (1:05 PM) yesterday. Okay , he was talking about three people, but I'm sure they represent a lot of other agents and editors in the business. It seems pitch sessions are a waste of time except to give fodder for exchanging hilarious stories with one another!

@Colin: You're right about WriteOnCon, too bad it's only for children and young people books.

Terri Molina said...

I don't pitch at conferences because...well, I suck at it. But pitching to an agent/editor isn't the reason I attend a conference anyway. I go for the workshops. Yeah, I have three books published but that doesn't mean I can't improve by learning craft or business from someone like Sylvia Day or Allison Brennan...both of whom will be at the Desert Dreams Conference in Arizona this April (shameless plug). Writing conferences are not a waste of time and small ones, like Desert Dreams, are the best way to get to know the agents and editors in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Janet, one of these days, you'll have to come back. ;)

gsprendergast said...

I agree, but not for the same reasons. I've been to a few writer's conferences with verbal pitches, mainly for screenwriting. While waiting in line you meet a lot of people. There were some stand-outs, for sure, but there were also a lot of people who were clearly delusional., many of whom had not written a single word.

That's right - not a single word. What verbal pitch sessions allow is "writers" who "have a great idea for a book/film" to indulge their fantasies without having done any of the work. This wastes time both for agents etc AND for the real writers who have done the real work.

This is one of the reasons I ask my students to write something along the lines of a query at the start of their project. The challenge of doing this brings them down to earth a bit. If they can't commit to nailing a query - how will they ever write a book?

Pitch sessions at writers conferences are just another cynical way of taking money off addled minded wannabes. It's mean and unfair to them and a time waster to everyone else.

Written submissions are MUCH better.

Densie Webb said...

When I read your post yesterday, I thought, "Yes, yes, yes!" Such a simple, humane solution for everyone involved. Here's hoping your suggestion catches on and saves fledgling writers a world of pitching pain.

Nikola Vukoja said...

I've never been to a writers 'pitching' conference, but then again, I'm from Australia, we don't have things like this.

We have writers conferences. In Victoria there are two major ones.
In the Autumn we have The Emerging Writers Conference & in the Spring we have The Victoria Writers Conference.

Many of the sessions are free, though there is a small day-pass fee (from memory its around $20).

The sessions cover the entire gamut of writing, bloggers & magazine writers included and each session is hosted by professionals within that industry. Editors, publishers, successful writers etc.

Perhaps because we don't have that many agents here, we don't have the pitch-to-the-agent thing happening.

I'd like to state, as far as pitching goes, I believe in online pitch competitions. Though some are better than others, I have learned a lot from participating. However, and even though I'm pretty good at talking to people face-to-face, pitching my MS directly to an agent who may not even represent my genre is something I'd like to avoid, thank you very much.
And when I see how much they cost to attend, not including potential travel expenses, I can understand why aspiring authors pitch to whomever is standing.

I've also read/followed on Twitter several comments by agents of lack of food/drinks and other services. For the cost these conferences are charging attendees, the least they could do is keep the agents nourished and hydrated. I cannot imagine a less 'willing' agent than one who has been sitting in the same spot for 6-8 hours, longing for a drink and dreaming of finding a delivery burger place.

The conferences I have attended here in Melbourne, which are more like mini Q&A and workshops, have helped me a great deal. I've also met several people in the industry, many of whom I stay in touch with. The concept of pitching your MS directly is appealing, the reality seems far from it.

GM Kern said...

Having barely survived one such conference, though on the wrong track, I agree and like your idea so much better. They did something similar to what you suggest at the SCBWI Conference I attended in October in Northern Virginia. You submit your first 5 pages and they will Critque it. And, all the editors and literary agents who attended let participants query them directly. Of course we're talking about 150 participants or so. But at least you were niot relying upon a 2 second conversation.

I think a big problem, is some of the publishing industry is trying to make it more like Hollywood. With Tag lines, and in-house story development. Such as Vampire Diaries and such.

I hope that isn't the future.


Michael Seese said...

"**and I should know since I am Satan's agent."

So do you get the Devil's Advocate to review the contracts?

Michael Seese said...

@ austinwritergirl... We get a little bit of what you suggest (the online resource) via the Twitter hashtags #MSWL and #PitMad.

MNye said...

Pitching does work. I'm proof.

Anne said...

Thank you. I stopped going to large "cattle call" conferences and now choose small, intimate ones where you have weekend and natural interactions with a few agents and publishers, and/or where panels read and critique query letters. Thanks again.

T.D. Hart said...

Hi Janet,

Apparently your fishly rants haven't gone unnoticed:

Killer Nashville has done away with agent/editor pitches in favor of a roundtable discussion of submitted works.

(Collective cheers from the crowd)