Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Conference question: taking a one-sheet to pitch sessions

I've signed up for my first ThrillerFest and Thursday, July 9, 2015, is Pitchfest. I thought I'd get an early start on hyperventilating.

Mr.Shane Gericke, in his very helpful FAQ about Pitchfest, answers the following question;

Q. Last year, some authors brought one-page summaries of their books, which they could hand to the agents. Do you still recommend doing that?

A. It’s a good idea. My suggested template is at the bottom of this FAQ. It’s essentially a one-page form that lists your name, contact information, story synopsis, and author bio. Some agents want them, some don’t. I recommend you print up a dozen and bring them along, in case any of your agents want one.

So, to get this absolutely straight, I should include a short story synopsis. Not a query, which is what I expect an agent would want, but a synopsis, which means I should include how my novel ends? (1) And what is a "full pitch package" when it's out, anyway?(2) I couldn't find this term anywhere in your archives.

The one page form Mr. Gericke shows as an example is very helpful, but the actual synopsis part is kind of vague. I've attached the example below, in case any of your subjects will also be attending Pitchfest. In fact, if anyone else is going I'd love to know.(3) I'm probably going on my own (what the hell would my husband do while I'm CraftFesting? He's up for it; he's a musician so he figures there must be some bars near the hotel with live music but then I'd worry about him getting blathered before the cocktail party even started), so I'm a tad concerned about, well, New York. Though I do hear the natives tolerate Canadians rather well.(4)

Anyway, right off topic, sorry, but I am going to ThrillerFest come hell or high water so any other tips besides Mr. Gericke's about what to include in this one-page summary would be most appreciated,

This is my suggested template for the story summary you can hand the agents. Keep it to one page, maximum—this isn’t your full pitch package, it’s simply a reminder of who you are when they get back to the office. I used my own information to give you an idea of the length and tone for which you should strive, but feel free to write it any way you wish. If you include a photo of yourself—and you should, because it’s another way to tweak the agent’s memory —make sure it’s high-res, clear and crisp. A muddy, unfocused photo reflects badly on you.(5)

Author: Shane Gericke
Book: Torn Apart

Synopsis: Tragedy strikes Emily Thompson, Martin Benedetti, Hercules Branch, Annie Bates and Ken Cross, the five Naperville, Illinois, police officers who’ve worked together since the beginning of Emily’s career . . . and one will die. A serial killer nicknamed “Hacksaw” sends Emily gift packages of human body parts while a dragnet tightens around drug traffickers, child kidnappers and spree killers in Illinois and Wisconsin. And whatever else you need to fill out your short, concise summary, which should only go a paragraph or two at the most, because, again, you’re writing this is a reminder-tweak to the agent, not as a full-blown pitch package. (6)

Bio: Shane Gericke has been held at knifepoint, hit by lightning, and shaken the cold sweaty hand of Liberace. He was born to write thriller novels! His latest is Torn Apart, a finalist for the Thriller Award for Best Novel, and a bestseller in print and Kindle. Before turning to fiction, he spent 25 years as a newspaper editor and reporter, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times. An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York and founding director of its agent-author matching program, PitchFest.

Check him out at, and on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact information:
Mailing address:
Home phone:

This is what happens when people with good intentions but NO experience (I know Shane and like him; he's a terrific guy and his books scare the crepe outta me) tell you what agents want.

Let's look at the six biggest questions here:

(1)  So, to get this absolutely straight, I should include a short story synopsis. Not a query, which is what I expect an agent would want, but a synopsis, which means I should include how my novel ends?

No you should not. For starters, a synopsis of any utility is more than 250 words.  You're going to have space for far fewer words than that on a one-sheet.

If anything you'd include only the gist of your query: Character A faces a choice of Z or Q. If s/he chooses Z, this terrible thing will happen, but if s/he chooses Q, something else will happen that he doesn't much like either.  And just to keep it interesting, include what's at stake if s/he doesn't choose either Z or Q.

That's what I want to know if the VERY BRIEF TIME you have with an agent at a pitch session.  I think it's terrific if you have it written down. Saves you trying to memorize it.

(2) And what is a "full pitch package" when it's out, anyway?
I have NO idea. It sounds terrifying. EVERY SINGLE agent I know wants a query letter. And some pages. And maybe a synopsis. That's it.  I've never heard this called a "full pitch package" but maybe I'm just new here.

(3) in case any of your subjects will also be attending Pitchfest. In fact, if anyone else is going I'd love to know.
Well, I'm going to be there. Not taking pitches of course since I don't do that any more, but reading queries and offering advice on revising queries to make them more effective.  Details to come, but I'm really pleased that ThrillerFest and CraftFest are offering this to attendees this year.  I hope it will be a raging success.

(4) He figures there must be some bars near the hotel with live music but then I'd worry about him getting blathered before the cocktail party even started), so I'm a tad concerned about, well, New York. Though I do hear the natives tolerate Canadians rather well.
Bring him along. He can hang with us in the bar. We like Canadians a lot. They're not really foreigners more like bemused observers of American crazy. 

(5) If you include a photo of yourself—and you should, because it’s another way to tweak the agent’s memory make sure it’s high-res, clear and crisp. A muddy, unfocused photo reflects badly on you. 

DO NOT DO THIS. I don't even have photos of my clients in my office files let alone queriers (author photos are ALL electronic now). If you give me one of these, I will discard it.  Do not waste money doing this.  No one cares what you look like; I only care about what you write.  I will remember your plot and writing just fine.  PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.   

(6) Synopsis: Tragedy strikes Emily Thompson, Martin Benedetti, Hercules Branch, Annie Bates and Ken Cross, the five Naperville, Illinois, police officers who’ve worked together since the beginning of Emily’s career . . . and one will die. A serial killer nicknamed “Hacksaw” sends Emily gift packages of human body parts while a dragnet tightens around drug traffickers, child kidnappers and spree killers in Illinois and Wisconsin. 

And whatever else you need to fill out your short, concise summary, which should only go a paragraph or two at the most, because, again, you’re writing this is a reminder-tweak to the agent, not as a full-blown pitch package. 

This isn't a synopsis. This isn't even a pitch. It might be flap copy, but it's not an effective query.  

To sum up: 

CraftFest schedules writers in five minute blocks of time.  There are a couple things I'd want to know if I were taking pitches:

1. A quick summary of how the story gets started: who is the main character, what choices does s/he face and what's at stake.  100 words.

2.  Whether the novel is finished.  I have zero interest in unfinished novels.  I've had writers ask me to just listen to a concept but that's almost entirely useless. Concepts don't make good books. Good stories make good books. In other words: THE WRITING.

3. The word count of the finished novel.

If you have those three things written on a piece of paper, along with your contact info, and a short bio, you're good.

Do NOT over think this.
Do NOT try to be clever.

Do NOT try to stand out from the crowd by doing something no one else is doing. All those people you see with cute and clever and innovative one sheets? NOT what I'm looking for. I'm looking for people who have figured out that simple is better than fancy; the information I ask for is not just mindless ramblings; and, the writing is what matters.

Generally I'm going to discard anything you give me. I don't keep paper files on prospective clients. EVERYTHING is electronic.  

You'll be just fine if you send me a query after T/fest that says "we met during CraftFest and you asked me to send a query."  I don't need to remember you specifically. I just need to see what you've written.  There's time enough to get to know each other in the bar, OR when we decide to talk about whether I'm the right agent for you.

Any questions?



mhleader said...

In reading what Shane Gericke is suggesting, I'm going to conjecture that he's talking about pitching MOVIES in a SCREENPLAY (or TV) pitchfest.

I've been moving more into screenplays, and his advice would be pretty much on target for a pitch session for film. Although I'd never include a photo! Seriously, why scare the teeth out of Sharky? Put her off her feed for at least a month! ::shudder::

The whole "one page" thing is a screenwriting thing. in 20+ years of writing and selling novels, I've never heard it used in fiction. You MUST have one of those beasts in a screenplay "pitch package" (and yes, those DO exist in the wonderful world of screenwriting). But's not (in my experience) anything that novelists use with literary agents, at least not that I've ever heard of.

I think Mr. Gericke has been taking too many how-to-sell-your-screenplay classes.

Maybe my experience is way dated--it's been a while since I pitched to an agent at a conference--but I was always told to bring a pad & pen (for taking notes) and maybe a 3x5 card with a 1- or 2-sentence pitch (the infamous "elevator" pitch) written out in big, clear letters that you can see even though your eyes are bulging with terror at coming face to face with that Sharky Grin.

Oh, yeah...and don't forget to tell the agent your name. And maybe the title of your ms? Approximate length? You know...the basics. If you think you're likely to have a major brain cramp, write those details on your 3x5 card too.

I was always told NEVER to bring printed anything (like synopsis or ms. or partial) to a conference--but you could have them on your computer and if requested, ask the agent for an email address and send them to the agent immediately after your session. ( up to your room, and send the email!)

Be prepared to be asked for a submission immediately. And if they do ask, you can say, "I don't have a printed version with me, but I'll be very happy to email it to you right after we're done talking." Done. Instant submission and no one has to lug heavy papers around.

But MOST OF ALL: No matter what is said by the agent, for goodness sake, THANK THE AGENT FOR THEIR TIME AND ASSISTANCE. Seriously. Even if they told you that dino porn is OUT and they hate books about psychotic zombie Chihuahuas. (Who knew?)

Seriously. Thank the agent. In person. Send a brief follow-up thank you. And thank them when you eventually submit your psychotic zombie Chihuahua novel or partial or query to them anyway. It's just good manners.

Amanda Capper said...

This is so comforting. It makes me happy.

It also makes me tearful. Hell AND high water came (well, maybe just high water. Hell would involve relatives), and now I can't go to ThrillerFest. And I love Nelson DeMille. But I was laid off from my job, and though I have savings, New York is expensive, even if I just go from Wednesday to Sunday.

Our loonie dropped substantially so $3000. in U.S. dollars turns into 14 million Canadian loonies (I exaggerate when I'm disappointed), and I just feel so damn guilty when I think about going alone and using my savings.

New York, to us Canadian backwater women, is Mecca. The shopping, the sights, the people, the whole Sex in the City thing. Rats.

I'll get there, someday. I guess.

I'm so pitiful.

Anonymous said...

So... all that money I spent on headshots is worthless? Even if I look like a young George Clooney?

And here I was hoping my striking good looks would get me in the door... dang.

Well, I guess I should be exhiled to Carkoon to start working on this thing called "writing" everyone seems to be talking about... everyone seems to think it's an important skill to have to become a good writer...

But in all seriousness, this is great information. It definitely helps.

And to clarify, by "don't over think this" you mean "still write well, but don't be cute"

So my one-sheet should have aspects of voice (as any pitch would have) to entice an agent, and it should be well thought out in terms of writing, correct?

Also, I'll need to cancel next week's headshots. Shoot.

Colin Smith said...

Just a reminder for those who don't follow Janet's advice: there are some empty caves here on Carkoon, and I believe Ms. Turner has some openings for her Synopsis Summer Camp (see yesterday's comments)... :)

Seriously, we've discussed pitch sessions and Twitter pitch fests before, and while some swear by them, I still don't see them as any more effective than sending a query. Sure, some people have landed an agent that way--but might they have anyway? What was it about the pitch session that made the novel more attractive? As far as I can tell, the only benefit is you might get your query/pages seen sooner, or you might be able to query an agent who is otherwise closed to queries. For an agent with any integrity, whether or not s/he takes you on is going to be based on the same thing regardless if s/he meets you at a conference or via a query letter: do I love the writing and the concept enough to sign this author?

But since I've not been to any IRL writer conferences (yet), I'm probably speaking out of ignorance. :)

Colin Smith said...

Amanda: I'm SO SORRY to hear that! :( And I mean about getting laid off, not about not going to ThrillerFest (though that's tough too). If it's any consolation, I would also love to go, but while I have a good job, I also have 6 (7 including my wife) hungry mouths to feed, and kids with aspirations to support. The thought of staying in New York even for a few nights makes my wallet weep. Which is why I'm so glad Bouchercon is in NC this year. :)

I hope things turn around for you soon, my friend!

JulieWeathers said...

Congratulations Janet on earning a place on the 101 best blogs for writers list. It's certainly well deserved.

Now Colin has me thinking about sentient wotsits having conversations with sentient witsits in an erotic novel. This is totally going to screw my day as far as serious writing. *Makes not to self not to go back and catch up on past posts.*

Anyway, on today's post. At my conferences I carry a leather binder around with me so I have a notebook for taking notes. In the cover pocket I have the query and the first five pages. While I was taking notes in pitch sessions, the agents and editors invariably asked me for the pages and quickly skimmed them. I did not under any circumstances shove them under their noses. I used the query body to quickly hit the high spots of the story and then they asked me to fill in the blanks.

The Tor editor quickly requested, so we spent the rest of the session discussing women warriors in the Celtic culture since one of my fantasy cultures is loosely based on them and Celtic burial mounds.

Anonymous said...

Amanda, I'm sorry about your job! I've been there and it is really hard to process - especially if you (like I did) thought you'd retire from the place. Not sure if you will recall, I worked for Nortel - a Canadian company, and I have quite a few friends in Toronto and Ottawa. (loved going to both places on those old boondoggles we had back in the hay days)

As for today's topic du jour, all I got to say is the Shark's advice is "high-res, clear and crisp."

It would seem that Shane Gericke, in the spirit of trying to be helpful, has somehow managed to unintentionally dole out advice that is going to make quite a few people come across as very weird. We now know of one writer who won't show up with this one pager thingy, but I have to wonder how many will read his "agent advice" and have it clutched in their trembling, damp little hands as they walk about at the event?

JulieWeathers said...


I am so very sorry. It's tremendously disappointing and stressful when life kicks you in the teeth like that. I signed up for a writing course some years ago, thinking I'd have x money coming in from the magazine, but they cut back radically on my stories.

I'd already paid the deposit and didn't want to lose it and thought the course would really help me with revisions. So, I literally lived on various types of beans for six weeks. It was a while before I could look another pinto bean in the eye and I love them.

In retrospect, that was stupid and just me being bullheaded and I don't think I got that much out of it because I was so stressed about money.

There will be other conferences. In the meantime, do you mind if I offer up my prayer for favor for you?

Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.--Psalm 5:12

W.R. Gingell said...

As far as I'm concerned, anything that means I don't have to rely upon a spoken pitch is a great thing. I've never heard of pitch sheets. I would certainly have made an effort to get to this kind of agent/author gathering if it was done like that. I do not love the sound of my own voice.

Anonymous said...

Amanda - I totally missed your comment (as i was busy writing my own)! I'm so sorry to hear this as well! I recently posted a blog on how terrible I am at offering up anything useful in these situations - but I agree with Julie, Donna and Colin %100.

I realize distance makes it difficult to help in any way, and maybe just encouraging words are enough, but I know for a fact that many many regulars on this blog are wonderful people and if there is any way we could help - we'd be happy to do so. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

As to the topic in question - Colin raises a very interesting point. I agree that the writing should be what matters - but we all are working (or desiring to work) in an industry that values narrative. For me personally, despite lacking a complete degree, I've managed to work my way up the ranks at my job based mostly on hard work and being a generally nice human. I'm certainly underqualified for my position, but after showing my boss why they should root for me (and why they would like to work with me for that matter) -- my chances improved of getting the job.

After all, isn't that what a referral does? It gives the agent a basis for considering a project that perhaps might get buried in slush?

I don't know. A part of me agrees completely with Colin (after all, he's a very smart guy despite his exile), but a part of me wants to believe being nice, shaking hands, and being visible might help in a small way. And any small way is worthy of my attention.

Especially when I'm mostly relying on headshots to make it. ;)

Colin Smith said...

brian: I don't know about smart, but I know me, and I know there are many writers like me. We aren't the most socially engaging of people. Those that will be at Bouchercon I warn you: I'm far more entertaining in writing than in person. :) That's why we're writers, not stand-up comics, actors, or politicians. We don't give speeches, or hold people in rapt attention with our eloquence and witty rapport. Yes, we'll do book signings and readings. But that's not our comfort zone. And I know I'm not alone. Janet has said one of the reasons she hates pitch sessions is because she has seen writers look very uncomfortable, and some near to tears at having to stand in front of an industry professional and orally sell their work. And for what?

Handshakes and smiles certainly can grease the wheels of communication. But handshakes and smiles don't guarantee you can write. And while the agent may LOVE you, and REALLY REALLY hope your work is as wonderful as you are, if it isn't, it's not going to happen. At least, as I said before, if the agent has any integrity.

That's my 2 cents anyway.

Jenny Chou said...

"Spree killers in Illinois and Wisconsin"! Yikes! Good thing I have a big dog, though the stuffed Sponge Bob he carries around all the time makes him slightly less terrifying.

Good luck at Thrillerfest!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Amanda: I am so sorry. Here's hoping this is a window that leads you to an unforeseen wonderful opportunity.

mhleader: That is helpful, to know that this might be referencing a screenplay pitchfest.

I have not been to a conference yet. Just the thought of being face-to-face with an agent is enough to scare the contacts off my eyeballs. I am one of the "we's" in Colin's "We aren't the most socially engaging people."

A pitchfest I might be able to handle IF I have (accurate) rules of engagement ahead of time AND I can use an index card. It's the unstructured socialization that happens at bars or restaurant tables that terrifies me.

And I appreciate Janet's 3 points of what she would look for if she did do a pitchfest. For some reason I need repetition in all of its various forms to craft story.

Jenny Chou said...


Oh! So sorry about your job loss and cancelled trip to NYC. I hope you find something new very soon. I lost my job two years ago when the little Indie bookshop I worked for went out of business. No income meant no more writing festivals for me, so I totally sympathize. (Also no more free books and ARC's, which REALLy bummed me out.)

Good luck with everything!

Anonymous said...

As I ponder the comments, I will add that I've never been to a conference with a pitch session, and if I did go to one, I wouldn't attempt to pitch anything - except a stiff drink into the back of my throat.

I don't know why they don't do away with the pitch thing altogether. I mean, what if conferences focused only on clinics for writing, querying, submissions, publication, etc. etc. I seem to recall Ms. Janet saying agents don't care for them either. And writer's would be less apt to look so bug eyed with fear, which can't be a good look for any writer from the agent's perspective.

Flowers McGrath said...

Love! Perfect! 😊 ( No comment other than that most of the time. )

Dena Pawling said...

Colin, glad you included your wife in your itemization of the number of mouths you feed. I'm sure she appreciates it.

Almost every weekday I stand in front of a courtroom full of people, and a judge, and sometimes even a jury, and argue motions and/or conduct trials. I do NOT have difficulty with public speaking lol

I'd still get some butterflies if I was pitching an agent, though, because the “rules”, if there are any, are different rules than those I work with every day. So I would definitely bring a sheet of paper or note cards or something, just so I didn't get off-track. [Hint: only ONE note card or pre-number them. It helps when you're nervous and you accidentally drop them lol. Yes, I've done that.]

My local RWA meeting had an editor speak a few months ago, and she took pitches after her presentation. She didn't acquire what I write though [she wanted erotica], so I didn't pitch. I haven't yet been to a conference.

I don't drink when I'm out for dinner, altho I can keep up a social conversation. [Hint: listen more than you talk, there's less chance of inserting your foot in your mouth, and when someone else is speaking, they generally tend to think you are a great social companion and will walk away with a favorable impression of you.] The last time I drank while out at dinner was when I was just 21, and I did the cliche of falling asleep in my mashed potatoes. Yes, this happened, face first. Alcohol makes me really sleepy.

I was laid off in 2012, NOT a fun time of my life. I was very fortunate that I found another job only five weeks later. The pay is less and I drive more, but the work is more interesting. Good luck to you, Amanda. I've been there. It's not fun.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm not easily intimidated but I am gullible. This sort of thing would have me peeing my pants on the train heading for NYC. But I would face my fear, have every conceivable needed-packages in my HUGE purse, and throw up afterward.
God bless the talented and the brave.

Amanda Capper said...

Wow, thanks everyone for their kind words and prayers. I'm a big girl, I can handle disappointment. Eventually, after I stomp my feet for awhile.

Colin, Bouchercon is in N.C. this year? Must check that out...

Colin Smith said...

Yes, Amanda! Bouchercon 2015 is in Raleigh, NC this year!! Janet will be there, Donna will be there, Terri Lynn Coop will be there... and some others (Kathy Reichs, Donna Andrews, Karin Slaughter, et al.) Oh, and I'll be there too. :)

If you can find the funds, it would be wonderful to see you there too. :D

Jenz said...

You'll come out okay, Amanda. I got laid off during the recession, and--okay, to be brutally honest, my income has still not recovered. But I'm teaching at a college now, which allowed me to start writing, and even though that's still not taken off, I'm still hopeful.

Damn, that was the worst motivational speech ever. Sorry, but it really is true that most everyone I know who got laid off eventually ended up happier for it.

On conferences, bring business cards with your contact info--not for agents, for the other writers you'll meet.

Adib Khorram said...

Literally every time I see Bouchercon, I read it as Boucheron (aka Bûcheron), which is one of my favorite cheeses. And then I become sad.

The thought of pitching anything is absolutely terrifying to me. Querying is hard enough—the thought of doing it live in front of an audience makes me want to go and bow at the altar of the porcelain god.

I haven't been to a conference with pitch sessions—yet—but I am attending MWW this year, which has them. Quite a few conferences seem to offer them, so someone must be getting something out of them.

Amanda: Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Colin: You win again.

We're all mostly articulate via written word over spoken word. Heck, I toured and played music all over the US as my full time job for a few years and my band always got green in the face when I started to talk...

So apparently i'm only affluent if I'm singing previously memorized words...

I'm not sure if being outgoing but strange is better or worse than hiding in the corner.

Eileen said...

I did a pitch slam a hundred years ago. Picture a classroom set-up with a half-dozen agents sitting at desks in front of long rows of nearly puking writers. Every 60 seconds, a bell goes off. The writer gets 60 seconds to pitch, followed by the agent’s 60 second response. As a very new, unprepared writer, it was terrifying. I still get the flop sweats thinking about it. It reminded me of a particularly evil biology prelim in college: 120 stations with various dissected life-forms splayed open for identification of all the slimy, stringy, mucky parts, a bell going off every 15 seconds.
On the other hand, I always try to do a 15-minute critique session whenever I’m lucky enough to attend a conference. It usually costs an extra $40, but the one-on-one feedback is priceless, and I’ve developed some ongoing relationships with some of the editors and agents I’ve met.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Dena: I know that feeling. I'm a pastor--lead worship and do the sermon (the talking bit) in front of people. Nowadays I even walk away from the pulpit (it's allowed) and ask questions to weave responses together to end the sermon. BUT put me with these same folks in the social time that follows. man alive... If I can just remember, as you wrote, to listen and ask questions.

I'm hoping within the next year to get to a conference. Not to pitch but to learn more about the craft of writing, meet peers IRL, and admire agents and published writers from afar (and maybe accidentally at a bar too).

Christina Seine said...

Amanda, I am so sorry about your bad news. But it sounds like your sense of humor is fully operational. Good for you, girl. I hope something new turns up quicker than you ever hoped.

I will admit, the OP's question had me shaking in my custom baby seal leather boots as well. I’ve been to exactly one conference where pitching was a thing, and the first five minutes of my first 10-minute pitch are a blur. All I remember is me telling myself, “Don’t throw up, don’t throw up.” Fortunately, I didn’t throw up, so I counted that a win. I practiced my pitch with the expert pitch perfectifiers on hand and pitched a few more times. Each time went a little better than the last, and I actually got requests. I did print out a copy of my query and a bullet list of things I wanted to remember to tell the agent (like my name, which was surprisingly easy to forget at the time, as was how to speak English), but by the end I didn’t need them.

The very best pitch practice I got was sitting on an airplane stuck on the tarmac in Pensacola. When my seatmates asked me what I did, I said, “Heh, heh! (gulp) I’m a writer.” When they asked what I wrote, I rattled off a near-perfect 30-second elevator pitch. I thought, holy cow, where did that come from? And where was it hiding when I was at those pitch sessions? I wished I’d written it down. The person in the row in front of me actually turned around and said, “Hey, I’d read that!” (woot woot!) I think they key was that I was relaxed (nice warm Florida + glass of wine), and hadn’t planned it out to the nth degree.

Good luck at ThrillerFest, OP - I hope your pitch sessions go well!

Anonymous said...

Amanda, I'm so sorry about your job. It's always a disappointment and inconvenience, but I know you'll find something. And you're right, the loonie sucks right now. Would it be more affordable to share a room with 2/3/more other people? Did you already have your Thrillerfest conference paid for? If you're interested in knowing about a couple of less-expensive Canadian conferences, e-mail me at bjmuntain(at)

I love New York. I've been a few times now (I'm so lucky I've got a free place to stay in the East Village), and there's always something new to do. Even if I spend most of my time visiting my friend there, we get to go to museums and Broadway plays, and I even had a couple chances to go to the BackSpace Conference, when it was still a physical conference.

Brianrschwarz: If you look like a young George Clooney, you don't need a picture. The agent will remember you.

Colin: You've given a few good reasons to pitch at conferences - your query/pages might get seen sooner, or you can pitch an agent otherwise closed to queries.

Other reasons:

1) You have five, maybe ten, minutes to convince the agent to look at your work. That's about 4–8 more minutes than you would get with a query letter.
2) You can answer the agent's questions right then and there, if they want to know something else.
3) Agents will often request partials or fulls at a pitch session, when otherwise you'd send a query letter and maybe a few pages first, before being asked for a partial.
4) If you're at all good at selling (I'm still learning this skill), you'll have the chance to really sell the agent on your novel. And to offer to buy them drinks later at the hotel bar.

Yes, the agent is still going to choose depending on your writing, no matter how many drinks you buy them. But you've got more time to convince the agent to read your writing. Plus, when a writer spends hundreds of dollars (and often flies many miles) to go to a conference, it's clear they're serious about their writing and about bettering their craft -- and this gives them more credibility.

When I go to a conference, I'll often take some printouts, just in case. Sometimes an agent will ask if you have one, and I will have it. Many times, they're not interested, so the printouts stay in my business-like leather binder. I also have business cards printed up, and the agents I've pitched will often take one if offered. (They might just throw them in the trash can afterwards. I don't know. But at least they get to see my clever-yet-businesslike cards. I've had a couple agents comment on them.)

The year I pitched one Amazing Agent, I actually took two copies of my first few pages: one printed in Times New Roman and one printed in New Courier. When AA asked if I had some pages handy, I asked which font. He was pleasantly surprised when I actually had a Courier font chapter handy. But this is NOT the norm. I'd researched this agent very well.

And Lisa: An aquaintance introduced me to this AA in the bar, the evening before my pitch session. I wound up sitting there, listening to my acquaintance bantering on, the AA politely listening, with my shaking hands managing to spill the 1/2 inch of water left in my glass all over myself. The pitch the next morning was MUCH easier.

And for those considering attending a pitch session - I highly encourage it. For one thing, the agents and editors are (usually) very nice people who WANT to like your work. For another thing, you develop skills in selling your writing. After several years of conferences, I now no longer dread the 'tell me more' after I give my elevator pitch. I'm much better able to elaborate according to the agent/editor's question. At first, it can be terrifying. After awhile, it gets to be simply scary. And then, once you learn to run off at the mouth about your novel, it's almost bearable. I still can't read my fiction out loud, but I can blather about it under stress.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

bjmuntain: oh good, that's not an unusual practice then (spilling liquid all over oneself). Thank you for the calming reassurance. I'll remember that (writing down in notepad: Go to bar the night before to watch Amazing Agent interact with OTHER people)

Anonymous said...

Not unusual at all. It's a special talent, though, to get a tiny bit of water all the way up through the ice to the top of a tall glass - without trying to take a drink at the time.

Don't try this at home.

Kate Larkindale said...

Amanda, so sorry to hear about your job. I've been made redundant twice in the last two years, so I feel your pain. But in the end, I've wound up with a much better job that I enjoy far more, so it's actually been a good thing.

I've never been to a writer's conference. I hope one day I might get the chance, but New Zealand is a long way from anywhere….

Colin Smith said...

bj: Thanks for presenting the argument FOR pitching. I'm still not convinced, though. Yes, you get your work in front of an agent quicker, and you are more likely to get requests for partials and fulls. But often this just serves to raise hopes unnecessarily since the agent isn't going to take you on based on where s/he saw your work. The only difference between a partial request at a conference and a partial request via a regular query submission is one of timing. For some that matters. But a no is still a no, regardless of how long you waited.

That's my take. But you do raise good arguments. :)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Always great advice here. The Shark's blog must be N.1 of the 101. Congratulations.

Amanda, they say in Italian, non tutti mali vengano a nuocere. Translates vaguely to not all bad things are harmful. Not that they're easy.

I've never been laid off because I've worked for myself since ever. I did get fired though once from barmaid when I choked a client. Hands on neck. They hired me again the following day. You can fill in the details.

I've pitched two agents. Five minute sessions, once in a room alone. Andreline made me shake like I'd been electrified. My was voice was someone elses. The agent looked like he thought I might stab him. That was for a picture book. Instead of showing the illustrations, which are the best part, I just blathered. No interest.

The second time I read the query letter that I'd prepared with the knowledge I've learned mostly here and Query Shark. The agent redlined some parts and asked me to send when ready.

I'd love to go to ThrillerFest or Bouchercon. US Writer conferences are worth crossing the world for. And NYC is to die for.

Dena, what's your secret? I mean talking in front of all those emotional people. The last time I had to talk in front of a crowd, they were 80 scientists. When they told me how many people were going to be there I lost my cookies. But on the big day I was so ill I wasn't phased.

Leone said...

I rarely comment on this blog (though I read it daily), but I felt I needed to say something on this post.

I've been to PitchFest (and CraftFest) twice. I agree with bjmuntain that the experience is valuable in sharpening skills and I did get requests from agents - though I realized later that I needed to work on the manuscript more. So it could be helpful for.

But the most amazing thing I saw there was author Jon Land, who spent THREE HOURS of his time meeting with a long, long line of authors who wanted advice on how to pitch. He made the offer during CraftFest and promised to stay until everyone interested had a chance to run their pitch by him. And everyone did.

Not only is Jon a successful author with plenty of other things to do, but he was in the middle of negotiating a publishing contract and several times had to interrupt the session to take a call. Yet he still stayed until everyone had pitched.

Why do I share this? Because writers are a community and the most valuable reason to go to a conference is to be part of that community. The rest is nice, but that is pure gold.

That is also why I love this blog, because it's such a vibrant part of that community. Amanda, as you can see from these posts, everyone here is pulling for you and/or praying for you and that is what it's all about.

Colin Smith said...

Hello, Leone! Nice to see you. :) I would love to get to a conference for that reason--to be in a roomful of other writers. If this little corner of cyberspace is anything to go by, it would be a lot of fun. While Bouchercon is more a convention than a conference, there will be a number of writers (as well as a smattering of agents) there, so it'll be kinda sorta like a writers' conference. Close enough for me, anyway! :)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You should do it more often. ;)

Lilac Shoshani said...

Amanda, I'm sending many prayers and blessings your way as well. :-)

Congratulations Janet for being on the 101 best blogs for writers list!

I'm under the influence of matza bread (a cracker that we eat during Passover instead of bread), and my night dyslexia is kicking in (it's after 3 O'clock in the morning in Tel-Aviv) .

I'd better not write too many incoherencies (just a few ;-)), but I have to say this: great post and comments, as always.

Goodnight Janet and lovely commenters. I can at least dream about meeting you all in NC.

Megan V said...

Congrats Janet on being on the 101 list!

Amanda- I'm sorry to hear your news. Sending thoughts your way!

Dena Pawling said...

Angie - I posted how I learned about public speaking here

So you don't have to go there and search for it, I'll copy the relevant portion here. The skill works for all public speaking for me, not just court. Before that class, I was the skittish woodland creature with twitching whiskers who would rather die than speak in public. Which I guess begs the question of why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. This class was wonderful for a few reasons, not just this one. But this one is a biggie.

I've never wilted or cried in open court, a skill I thank a former law professor [who not coincidentally was also a judge] taught me a loooooong time ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and I was in law school. He made all of us second-year students stand in class to recite Constitutional Law cases while the other students stared at us [thankful it wasn't their turn] and he grilled us on what the cases stood for. And we had to know the names of all the justices who were on the supreme court at the time the case was decided, which president appointed them, their political persuasion, etc. Then we had to recite our opinion on how the CURRENT supreme court would have decided the same case, and why. We stood on shaky legs and did our best. I did fight back tears in this class the very first time I was called to stand and recite. After about the fourth recitation, I was actually able to [nervously] argue back with the judge/professor.

After that class, I was brave enough for two semesters of Trial Practice class. If you're interested, here's a taste of what I did in that class [this was when I was too brave ie stupid for my own good lol]. I won't copy this one here, too long, but you can read it on my blog if you want:

Colin Smith said...

Here are Dena's links:

And to her awesome blog (if you aren't reading her legal definitions this month, you're missing out):


Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

AMANDA - The old adage, "When one door closes, another opens." Here's hoping it will be an even better one!

JANET - Congratulations for being on the "101 Best Blogs for Writers" list. Most deservedly earned. Thank you.

COMMENTERS - Thank you for your regular input of helpful and interesting comments.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Dena, Now that you mention it I remember that comment. I'll hop on over to your blog.

JEN Garrett said...

I can never keep up with all your comments... I'm too busy shredding all my "synopses" and headshots.

Seriously, though, this is encouraging. I'm going to my first writers conference in forever and I'm glad I don't have to bring a suitcase of "pick me" materials.