Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PItch sessions suck, it's true; yet, you can make them worse.

Pitch sessions are the invention of the devil. I hate them. I loathe them. I will also never completely give up doing them because I believe that serendipity is alive and well, and I like to be ready when opportunity knocks (you should be too.)

I may loathe pitch sessions but I also understand that they terrify writers. Therefore my goal at a pitch session is to put you at ease, hear something about your project, and reassure you that I will not eat you for breakfast.

Here are the things you do that make me reach for the butter knife:

1. Introduce yourself and then follow it with "you rejected me."

Rejection is a part of this business. I've rejected one gazillion people and that was just last year. Telling me I rejected you makes me think you don't understand that it's part of the job. It also sets my teeth on edge. It also breaks the unspoken rule that we will be polite to each other. That's not a good start.

There's another way to say this: "I queried you on May 10 but it wasn't right for you. Thanks for replying."

2. Sit down, introduce yourself and then follow it with "I'm interviewing agents. Tell me a little bit about yourself."

My reply is "no." If I'm not annoyed past redemption I might say "tell me about your book." If I am annoyed, I'll just say no and sit there. I've negotiated with far scarier people than you and gotten what I wanted.

The reason this annoys the snot out of me is because you're NOT interviewing agents. You're at a pitch session. The purpose of a pitch session is to hear about your book. If at some point in the future you have a project that I'd like to represent, I'll be happy to tell you all the ways I'm the best agent for you and all those other slithery competitors are not.

Don't get ahead of yourself.

3. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I wanted to meet you because I think you need to go to AA"

My reply is: I hope you mean change the size of the battery in my flashing helmet, because otherwise this conversation is over and one of us is leaving the table. You can choose which one.

Making ANY kind of comment about what you perceive to be an agent's personal failings is completely out of line. My duty to interact pleasantly with you ends when you think you're my mum.

4. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I don't really want to get an agent but I know I need to have one."

My reply is: you don't have to have one, and I'm not going to talk you into it, nor do I want to debate the issue. I am a literary agent. Deal with it.

5. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I memorized my pitch, here it is" then close your eyes and recite 150 words. I know you're nervous but you really have to look at me so I can smile reassuringly then stop you after ten words and ask you some questions that will help me figure out what your book is about.

In case you're wondering, all of these are based on actual experiences I've had at pitch sessions!


Werecat said...

Thank you so much for these tips. I appreciate your understanding of how terrified us writers are.

I cannot believe that a writer sat down and said you needed to go to AA. Did he tell you about Jesus too?

I noticed no mention of bribes bringing out the butter knife, so may I assume it is safe to buy you a drink?

csmith said...

So I guess the best possible pitch is:

"Hello, you complete and utter alky. I was rejected by you 83 times last year for my epic fantasy quasi-fictional novel of a meager one million words. I'm not really looking for an agent at the moment, but felt I should give you the chance to be interviewed by me in person, so my brilliance can shine through. Please accept Cthulhu in your life as your personal saviour."

Rude buggers.

Rick Daley said...

On one hand, when opportunity knocks, only a fool would not at least say "who's there?"

On the other hand, starting any business relationship by stating, "Hi, my name is Rick, and you are an alcoholic" is damn silly. Especially if your name is not Rick.

And remember, rehab is for quitters.

Margaret Yang said...

I had ten pitches at ten conferences over the years. They all went well and I didn't make any dumb mistakes.

Guess how I landed my (fabulous) agent? Query letter.

Still, I'm not sad I did those pitches. It let me meet agents and see them as human and not scary.

Kwana said...

Eyes closed. Funny.

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

That would turn anyone off.

Laura said...

This all seems like common sense. Have you read Nathan's post on pitches? His take is a little different, though I'm sure he would still appreciate the guidelines you've set here.

Please tell me no one has ever actually said in a pitch session, "I'm here because you need to..." That moves beyond "mum" to me. It's like saying, "I know you, and I know what you need." That has a stalker vibe that's just... wow, creepy.

Pamela Hammonds said...

I think there's a book in there somewhere. Maybe titled: The completely idiotic people I've encountered on my way to success, stardom and the local bar. OR: Life as a literary agent is pure hell, so why would I want to do anything else?

AmethystGreye said...

Every single one of those makes sense (as in I understand why they turn you off). I'm often surprised by how difficult it is for some to understand standard social graces/cues still play in business interactions.

Thanks for the post, Ms. Reid.


PurpleClover said...

Hilariously done!

Sending people over promptly.

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks, Janet. As I sit and type my manuscript, your opening paragraph gave me a great title idea--The Devil's Invention. I know, I know, the Devil is in far too many book titles, but he (or her) just seems so appropriate for what I'm typing. Anyway--I'll query in about a month (after I get back from family vacation). Snails type faster than I do.

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

AA? Seriously?

What the...?

You mean people waste valuable pitch time with you to do a one-man intervention?

No offense, Janet, but if I was in a pitch session with you, personal vices you may or may not have would be the last thing on my mind.

If the session went well, however, I'd buy the first round afterward.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Someone actually did #3 to you?


Aimlesswriter said...

Good advice, now how do I keep from babbling incessently due to nerves?
I can talk about my book and the next one, but its the small talk that kills me. After the expected, "How are yous" I never know what to say to people I've just met. In a pitch session do you ever talk about anything else?
Can we use cue cards?

Kitty said...

3. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I wanted to meet you because I think you need to go to AA"OMG, I am speechless. Are manners no longer taught these days?


Unknown said...

Did someone really say you need to go to AA?! Really?

Jay Montville said...

"I've negotiated with far scarier people than you and gotten what I wanted."

I've loved your blog for as long as it's been around, Janet, but this sentence takes the cake. I'm an attorney, and the next time I'm in a negotiation where someone's acting a fool (this should take less than 24 hours), I'm going to use your words.

You rule,


Julie Weathers said...

I realize pitching makes everyone crazy, but some of this is just common sense.

When I pitched to Paul Stevens, I just gave a two line pitch after introducing myself and then we talked about length, research and platform.

Mostly, we talked about Sarmatian and Celtic women warrior grave mounds.

The two pitches I did got me invitations to submit, but it was very nerve-wracking before hand.

Just visiting about the project and letting the agent/editor ask the questions worked best for me.

I think all male agents and editors should be required to wear plaid shirts.

Anonymous said...

BWAHAHAHAHA! Ah, ye bring a tear to me eye. So been there, so done that. Drinks are on me in Alaska.

Anonymous said...

Going off of Browne's little bit on queries, it would seem to be of great benefit for writers doing pitches to have that logline. Introduction, logline, done in thirty seconds. Nine and a half minutes to ask and answer questions, either regarding the story or publishing or just to get to know the agent a bit better.

How often do aspiring writers get one on one time with an agent? And who wants to fumble through trying to detail the story for ten minutes? Other than generating huge amounts of stress over sounding like an idiot, because it can be completely nerve-wracking, it doesn't do much to further your cause of generating interest on the agent's part. A simple logline will at least let the agent know the basics of the story, and whether it's something they would even want to represent. Though, one shouldn't bother signing up for a pitch session without having done some research and knowing that the agent does indeed rep what you write.

I think a lot of agents will ask for a few pages as long as it's a genre the represent, because most can't say no to a nervous, terrified writer. So, knowing that you're reasonably safe in that regard, don't worry about getting across the fabulousness of the story. They won't decide anything without reading the writing anyway. Spill the beans in thirty seconds or less, and spend time in a real conversation with someone you rarely get face time with.

HWPetty said...

I had an amazing opportunity to pitch my book at a critique session (for my new project) with an acquisitions editor this last weekend. I mean, she actually asked me to tell her about my completed novel, which has nothing to do with the one that was in front of her. But as soon as she asked, my brain went blank and I started rambling incoherently.

Miracle of miracles, she still asked me to send her the manuscript!

Proof positive that agents and editors aren't out to get you. They just want to know if the book will interest them or not.

I did manage to spit out my hook sentence. But I'd seriously been practicing my "elevator pitch" for weeks. And when the time came I had nothing. *headdesk*

Flower said...

I have made some pretty dumb mistakes in my very young writing career, but wow - you need AA! That is hilarious! I cannot believe someone would say that at a pitch session.

Thanks for the heads up, I am taking notes.

pegasus358 said...

Do you accept bribes in the form of scotch? In other words, if I came up to you and offered you a bottle of Macallan 12-year-old, would that help my pitch?

Gayle Carline said...

Janet - I'm curious, where do you find the line between an author who is confident in their story and the author who thinks there's never been a better book written by anyone else EVAH?

Gayle Carline

Anonymous said...

I love this! You crack me up while getting right to the point. Love it!

Alicia Evans said...

Jesus Christmas, please tell me people don't actually say things like that at Pitch Meetings. I just wrote a blog the other day about why I'd probably fudge up at one of those things.

Not because I'm moronically rude, but because I talk fast and too much and I confuse myself when I'm excited...or nervous.

I think it's kind of odd that you even have to tell a person 'You probably shouldn't be a jerk to the person you're trying to get to represent you.'

I think it'd be a given.

Apparently not. *lol*

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Bill E. Goat: Hi, Janet. I'm a goat and you're not, but I'll talk to you anyway.

Janet: Lemme guess; you're interviewing agents ...

Bill E: Oh, no, I'm looking for the one super agent who can rep my book, find me a late night date in Central Park ... umm just to nibble some dried leaves ... and who understands my emotional makeup. You're she ... umm or you're her ... or umm you're it.

Janet: Just pitch your book ...

Bill E.: Pitch my book!?? It's too valuable to just pitch. Would you mind lifting this up? I have no hands as you can see. Ignore the slobber. ummm Just consider it an extra.

Anonymous said...


If that's how you responded to number 3, you have waaaaayy more patience than I do.

JohnO said...

Ooh, I have a question, Janet! ((the slacker waving his hand in the back row))

Nathan Bransford had this to say a few days ago about pitch sessions: "Go in with questions. A pitch session is the author's time. You have an agent's undivided attention. Pick their brain, get targeted feedback, show them your query. Whatever you think would be helpful."

Do you agree? Or would you feel kind of blindsided by this?

Mags said...

Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I wanted to meet you because I think you need to go to AA""Hello, my name is Mags, and I'm pretty sure I out-drank Janet that one time."


Elissa M said...

I personally would have assumed the AA comment was a lame attempt at humor. For a stranger to say that with complete sincerity is, as a previous poster commented, stalker creepy.

Karen Duvall said...

I've done the memorized pitch thing. It did not go well. #pitchfail

Bowman said...

But Janet dear!

Anonymous said...


I am actually pitching tomorrow to an editor who did recently turn down a short story I submitted to the magazine where she works. I had not planned on mentioning it because I didn't think it applied to the situation at all and I am nervous enough without bringing it into the mix.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Wow. There are no words.

Terri Coop said...

This is so #$%^ funny that you made my day off even better!

"I've negotiated with far scarier people than you and gotten what I wanted."

Jay said he was an attorney and would use this. I'm one of those as well and will add that to the arsenal.

I also use my own adaptation of a line from Ghostbusters which you may enjoy:

"Is that the best you can do? I've been insulted by professionals, people who enjoy their work. You sir, are no professional . . . "

I have my first pitch session coming up in July at a small conference. My goals from the outset are:

1. Meet an agent that I've read about. De-scare-ify the entire concept a bit by talking with a real live agent.

2. Get some feedback/comments on my query in particular and my overall premise in general. I'm pitching the work I feel fits her interests.

3. Maybe get her to crack a smile over the story. It is a sardonic chick lit comedy. A smile would be a bonus.

4. Have fun and leave a good impression so that if she sees my name on a query or hears my name from someone else she remembers me kindly.

5. Have some fun talking about books in general and mine in particular.

After reading the latest blogs about pitching, I think I am being realistic.

Rock on!

Janny said...

While I appreciate the fact that a "pitch session" is just that--a place to pitch work--I found the unbridled hostility toward the author "interviewing agents" way, WAY over the top. And I must admit, I'm puzzled by it.

After I pitch you my book, which takes about 2 minutes, what do we do for the rest of the time? Most agent sessions are between 5 and 8 minutes, or longer. Unless I'm handing over a synopsis for you to read (which of course would be ANOTHER no-no), or pitching a series of Rowling-length books, what else do we do for the remaining six minutes, if not talk a little bit about you and how you do business, what you're looking for, what you like and dislike...?

The agent-author relationship is as much a matter of chemistry as it is a matter of the work(s) involved, so why wouldn't I want to ask some things that might be construed as "interview" questions? Yes, I know nothing will happen unless you like the work; on the other hand, you could love what I do on paper and yet be on such a different wavelength from me personally and professionally that a partnership wouldn't work on other levels, and that would be something better known up front, I should think.

I've never had an agent yet object--not even subtly--to my asking questions about how they work. In fact, when I say, "Do you mind if we talk a little about...?" they always say "Not at all. What do you want to know?" Apparently, many other people in publishing don't have a knee-jerk reaction to being asked these things in an appointment, so I must admit, I'm more than a little curious about why such a question or approach would automatically mark me as some kind of clueless nimnul. Seems a little harsh to just say a blunt "No" and treat this as an adversarial encounter from the get-go!


Diana said...

Before my first pitch session, I read everything I could on how to have a good one, and practiced getting my book down to one or two sentences. So I went to my session, put my sentence out there, and the agent sat there, blinking at me. Crickets chirped. A dog barked in the distance. And I had no idea what to say next. It was very embarrassing!

At least now I know for sure that I was on the right track not telling the agent I could recommend a good dermatologist or pointing out a spot on her suit.

Ego said...

Janny, I've never been to a pitch session so this is just my instinct. But if I had the chance to pitch my book to an agent, I'm pretty sure I'd be able to spend eight minutes talking about it. Eight minutes? Wayyyyy too short.

Say my pitch takes two minutes. Then I'd hope the agent would ask a question or two. Another two minutes gone; in fact I'd expect the ensuing conversation to take at least two hours if I wasn't thrown out.

If the agent didn't have any questions, I'd consider it a bad sign. I would then have my own questions such as "What do you think of my subject / protagonist / plot / pitch?" "Do you have any suggestions for improvement?"
Even "Are you enjoying the conference?"

Surely a reasonable, polite conversation with someone would tell you a lot more about how well suited to you they are than a confrontational demand for a list of their credentials? I'm not surprised Janet finds the latter offputting.

Mae said...

AA? After being sober 20 years, I can tell you that if they are doing any of the above, they need a program. Some people have no sense of boundaries or couth.

I really appreciate your blog and have learned tons from it. Best of luck to your next diamond in the rough and thanks for your blog!

I get my first chance for a pitch in 10 days and I'm really excited and feel more prepared now.