Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rant: Pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan

Pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan.

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.


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:

Stop pitching.
Start helping.

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.  Not One Conference has changed their ways.(update 2015: several conferences have!)

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.


Unknown said...



The best kind.

Unknown said...

I will attempt to rein in my enthusiasm, but handing the agent my query, and then discussing it, is just the best idea ever.

I pitched once to an agent at a conference, and she asked me for my first three chapters, but I think it was more out of pity than interest. I babbled.

I'm going to Bloody Words in Toronto in June. I'll print this out and hand it to anyone I see bustling about with a clipboard.

Susan at West of Mars said...

HA. Your Pennwriters friends are already on this. We did the traditional 10-minute pitches this past year, but we also did a speed round that was goofy fun and resulted in a lot of requests -- and we did another session where writers came in with a manuscript/query and sat and talked with the agents and editors about how to make things better. Not a pitch. A conversation, just like you're advocating.

Every single person involved loved it, including yours truly who filled the open seats as they became available (it was first come, first served, so the writer may not have been talking to the best agent/editor for representation, but was still talking to a pro).

Ask your buddy Suzie about it. She took part.

Colin Smith said...

As one of those who asked for the rant, thanks--I knew it would be worthwhile. :)

This sounds like an excellent idea. I confess that I have extremely limited experience with writing conferences, but from what I've read, it seems that a lot of writers dread the pitch session, and yet do it because the chances are higher that an agent will request pages. And it does seem as if the request rate at conferences is particularly high--almost as if it's a reward for showing up. In any case, I like what you say. Conferences are for writers to learn, not perform. Your suggestion is consistent with the purpose of the writing conference, and sounds a lot less stressful.

Thanks again.

Cindy C said...

I hope you become Queen of the Known Universe and make this happen before I'm ready to pitch or query. Can you schedule your coup in the next 6-8 months?

Susan Bonifant said...

I know I'd prefer a conference format like this, and I have to think other agents feel as you do. Isn't it more likely that conference organizers would respond to a request like this if it came en masse from the agents?

Patty Blount said...

The Long Island Romance writers hold an annual luncheon each spring; -- I will definitely propose this!

Becky Mushko said...

Had the writer said, "My FICTION novel Soul Shifters is complete at 55,000 words," would you have:
a. run from the table screaming?
b. overturned the table onto the writer?
c. run to the nearest bar to drink enough to blot out what you just heard?
d. all of the above?

jack welling said...

Pitch session = query telephone call. Got it. Just don't do it.

Wow, the scar from the hot branding iron will help me remember that one, too.

You get smarter from scars. No guarantee you'll get smart, but you will get smarter.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I've given speeches to hundreds and even appeared on TV in front of millions. Put me in front of one agent and I think I'd simply end up apologizing for the gravy stain on my blouse. And, I'd probably fill my shoes with pee.

To hold in your hands, my hopes and dreams of an effort which took years to develop, is no different than entrusting my progeny to a stranger. Sorry for the overused child/book metaphor but take me on as a client and you can have my kid. Hell you can have both of them. My husband? You want my dog too?
Ah, I'll keep my dog thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

I think change is coming. I'm the agent/editor coordinator this year for a Utah writer's conference and we had an agent say "Hey, I don't want to do pitch sessions and here's why." We talked it through, he made some suggestions and we created an entirely new way (for our conference) for conference goers to interact with agents. Small groups, workshop like setting, and time enough for agents to critique and provide constructive feedback rather than just a yes, or no. We had a great response at registration and think this will definitely be a highlight of the conference for many. And it makes sense. I think most attendees at conferences aren't quite ready to get an agent anyway. So I love that we're creating opportunities for people to learn and get closer to being ready, without all the stress and angst.

I'm sure it's also true that there are great writers that are terrible at pitching, as well as terrible writers that are great at pitching, which does nothing but frustrate writers and agents alike because false hope is created when there should be none, or hope is dashed when there really should be some.

So, yeah. I'm all for change. And I'm excited to be a part of implementing it at our conference.

Jacob Burnett said...

The NCNW Conference Manuscript Mart follows this "conversation" format, where the agent gets the mss. sample and query letter well in advance (I don't know when the organizers get them to the agents, but they require them a month or so prior to the conference, if memory serves). The meetings (at least recently) are half an hour.

I've done this a couple times, and it is a very useful model, at least for me (I won't presume to speak for the agents). I can throw a breathless pitch at someone who has been deluged for hours by breathless pitches, but that doesn't actually help me learn anything.

Since I can't control whether a particular agent's interests or manuscript wish list or tastes will line up with my work (as pleasant as that might be), or whether they are receptive at that exact moment to my exact pitch, seeing the in-person conversation as solely an opportunity for publication seems like a recipe for disappointment (and a dull discussion).

I prefer to approach the conversation as a chance to learn something about the business or writing or querying, rather than as a lottery-style (in the Shirley Jackson sense) contest where if I'm just witty enough a bell will sound and confetti will drop from the ceiling and a phalanx of NYT reviewers will march in and hoist me on their shoulders and carry me around the room at the agent's behest. The model you're suggesting works very well for that. Even when the agent in question was not looking to represent my particular genre or my specific story didn't resonate with them, the discussion could be about something broader and more interesting - whether it be the business or career opportunities or what the life of an agent is like or even swapping reading suggestions.

Ye gods, this comment raged out of control. To sum up: I'd rather talk with someone than at someone any time.

Heather said...

Hear hear.

Unknown said...

Great post! I have to admit, I never understood the idea of pitch sessions. You don't query in person or by phone, so how is doing a "pitch" helping you with learning how to query?

The idea of an actual sit down with your query letter and an agent giving live feedback is awesome!

Keely Hutton said...

Fantastic post and idea! I hope all conference organizers take note and make sure they have food, water and a designated burper on staff for future conferences because I'd pay extra if they implemented your suggestions.

Charley said...

Another issue with pitch sessions from all I've talked to, and personal experience -- the percentage of responses is tiny compared to the routine query process (mail or email). That is, what seemed a successful pitch resulting in an invitation to submit a formal query, so you do, leads to dead silence, whereas just querying cold (without the "I met you at..." line) leads to feedback, form rejection or otherwise, most of the time. Very strange.

Cristin Bruggeman said...

I love, love, love this!

I once had an 8-minute pitch session with an agent who told me in the first 30 seconds that he didn't represent the era I had written ("historical" is pretty broad). It was very awkward for the next 7 minutes!

Then, I attended Lighthouse Literary Festival in Denver and submitted my first chapter to an agent ahead of time (in my case, to Brooks Sherman). It was so helpful to receive a marked-up manuscript and feedback based on my actual work.

I really hope more conferences will take your suggestions.

jcwrites said...

...but I paid good money for my kazoo.

Anonymous said...

I am not the Queen of the Known Universe, but I am the queen of the 2014 Montana RWA conference, so consider it done in this tiny section of the cosmos.

William Thornton said...

Getting writers attention and help. Sounds more like there's a straitjacket waiting at the end of the session...

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I'm attending a conference in April that HAS changed their ways, and I'm pretty damn impressed. The attending agents are holding "Pitch Workshops" where they work with small groups of authors (having read some materials beforehand). Far more helpful a scenario than cold pitching (which is indeed, of the devil). I have the ear of the conference organizers though, and I'll be sending them a link to this post because there are some even better ideas presented here.

Unknown said...

I'm very happy self publishing forever and I think I just added another reason why to the list. This does seem so stressful. A writer may have an amazing story and if a conference is their only real opportunity to pitch, then I can see how even some of the most well spoken of us may leave the remnants of our egg salad sandwich on your shoes!

It would be fantastic if conferences would listen and teach rather than baptize by fire. I have many friends that have wonderful stories that have been written, revised, edited and revised again. They've been "getting ready to query" for six months or more and now I understand why.

Kim Van Sickler said...

I've never attended a pitch session and don't want to start. Query and pitch workshops suit me just fine. (Honestly, I don't know how editors and agents keep their wits about them during those either.) REALLY can't imagine the brain drain listening to hard sell after hard sell after hard sell of those pitches. I'd be comatose.

Unknown said...

Backspace Writers Conference, I thought, had this nailed down, and I assume you (Janet) were a fan, too, since you're the reason I attended (and then I got to meet you there, too, so that was cool).

For those that don't know, they didn't do pitch sessions. They held round table, query reads, where two agents in your genre gave you feedback, and even other writers around the table participated. They had morning and afternoon sessions, so in total you had four agents giving you feedback.

I remember feeling really comfortable (relatively speaking of course) and eager to hear what was working/not working, and because there were around 15 other people with me, going through the same thing, I didn't feel isolated and in the spotlight. I even got two requests, so I learned a lot and still got my work in front of agents.

Too bad Backspace shut its doors (the conference at least; you can still join their membership), but they seemed to be the epitome of what Janet's describing.

Check them out:

Angela Perry said...

Who thought writers would be awesome at oral pitches anyway? There's a darn good reason I write instead of run for president.

Janet Johnson said...

You are brilliant! (Must be the name). ;)

Pitching orally just doesn't seem helpful to me. When I was querying, I did it if that was the only choice I had, but what I wouldn't have given for a live chum bucket! Off to spread the word. :)

Michael G-G said...

You're selling yourself short with this Queen business. You need to go for Empress at least.

I'm not sure why conferences don't want to change their modus operandi. Surely most agents, editors, and writers feel like you do?

The Writer Librarian said...

This is excellent, and also explains why pitch sessions aren't the foot-in-the-door solution that writers think they are. I'm passing this along to a conference volunteer as we speak.

S.P. Bowers said...

I'll vote for you for Queen of the Known Universe (or does that negate the queen part?) I've never been to a pitch session but I get ill just thinking about it. I love your idea and would sign up post haste!

Anonymous said...

All I can say're the bomb diggity bomb. And Queen Of The Known Universe in my book. (well, not in my book, but...oh you know what I mean)


Love this post! Now where's that table you mentioned?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I once had dinner with two agents and an editor during a conference. (I wasn't actually at the conference, I drove up because I'd been invited to dinner by my agent, who then added others to the table.) All through dinner they exchanged hilarious stories of pitches gone horribly awry. Funny stuff, entertaining as hell. But not once did they mention a good pitch or meeting someone who they'd signed. Just one clueless hopeful after another. I finally asked if they had ever signed anyone based on a pitch. The editor said in years of attending four or five conferences a year, she had signed one writer – but that writer had been so good she made the entire exercise worthwhile. The two agents had never signed a single client from a pitch session. Makes me wonder about the value of pitch sessions.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Okay, okay, what if I have my dog hand the agent the pitch (it's in her repertoire, I assure you) and then she and I (the dog and I that is, not the agent) do clothed interpretive dance to my kazoo rendition of Styx's "Come Sail Away"?

Oh, or we could do it in your perfectly reasonably suggested way. I like that. Now I don't feel bad about missing every #PitchMad that's happened on twitter since I got an account. I'd also like to think I'd be able to keep my cool and be able to discuss my book and characters under the pressure of talking to an agent, but I actually have no idea.

oxyborb said...

I feel like writers on twitter do nothing but vomit pitches. I think your idea is great, personally (I would prefer help!), but I could also see why organizers would be getting so many requests for pitch sessions. Like, most people think that they know everything already, that if only they could just show someone their ideas that magic would take over. Not the way I think, but that's how it feels when I use social media.

M.E. Barchi said...

I scheduled 2 pitch sessions at the FWA (Florida Writers Assoc.)conference last year. Both agents requested my full manuscript. Although great for my ego at the time, they both eventually passed. That left me wondering what prompted them to make the request during my pitch. Was it just gratitude that I didn't cry, beg or throw-up? Personally, I think they both liked the premise of my story, but my delivery and enthusiasm is what helped reign them in. So in my case, although I agree with your opinion of pitch sessions, a face to face meeting worked for me. I wouldn't do it again, too expensive at $40.00 a session, but a good experience nonetheless. Thanks for all you do for us writers.

Anonymous said...

I love this idea and have suggested it to Romance Writers of New Zealand. Great blog post.

Wendy Qualls said...

From the author's side (and as the author of that second pitch photo you used!):

- pitches are nice because they're a reminder that SOMEONE treats you as a "serious writer," even if you're not published yet. You may labor alone and in your pajamas most of the time, but going to a conference and meeting other authors is great. Getting to pitch to an industry professional - someone you know for sure is taking more than ten seconds to consider your pitch - is even better.

- at least from what I've observed, many agents are non-confrontational. I do know a few people who have been turned down at pitch sessions, but they were almost always given reasons like "I don't really represent this" or "you'd need to cut 40K words before this is marketable." The VAST majority of authors I've known who have pitched in person got full or partial requests. I'm convinced this is because agents don't like turning people down in person. And a pity request isn't a huge investment on their part - they can form reject a partial as easily as a query.

I guess my point is that while you're probably right about pitches not being as useful as other forms of interaction, they can be a huge boost for budding authors who need reassurance that it *is* possible to get into the book industry.

Susan Bonifant said...

My experience was like M.E. Barchi's - three conferences and three requests for the full only to receive one rejection several weeks later.

I'm glad to see that agents are not pleased with this use of time either, but happier to see a suggested solution that sounds as constructive as the current format is discouraging.

Marlo Berliner said...

A fine suggestion! Speaking as an organizer for the NJ-RWA Conference for the past four years (I was Asst. Conf Chair in 2010, Conference Chair in 2011, Asst Editor/Agent Chair in 2012 and Editor/Agent Chair in 2013), 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…which is exactly why our conference provides a pitching workshop for attendees the day before the pitch sessions where we teach them exactly what you preach above. I’ve taught the workshop twice myself because I wanted to give back some of the knowledge I’ve learned through years of successful pitching. In years past, we’ve had agents assist with presenting the Pitch/Query workshop, and I think that was helpful as well. Luckily, the worst we’ve ever had in my years with NJRW is some tears and broken hearts both before and after a pitch appt – no reports of vomiting…yet. Also, no agent or editor has ever given us your kind of feedback about the pitch sessions – in fact, I know of authors who signed with their agents and editors through a pitch at our conference. Frankly, I think the key is that those writers were well prepared to pitch, had written a great book and were ready to sign. I think the face to face interaction is vitally important in demonstrating to an agent or editor what you are all about. (Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who LOVES having a pitch appt). However, I think I will run your suggestion by this year’s Editor/Agent Chair (which, thankfully, is not me) and see if we can’t incorporate both types of sessions into our conference. Thanks for the honest feedback!

Anonymous said...

I confess: I am a puker. Would love another way to present to agents.

Denise Willson
Author of A Keeper's Truth

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I think you've really managed to start something here, Queen S. I'd love to see this idea catch fire and spread - sounds like it already is! An in-person chum bucket, without 'performance' stress. What better way to get mauled?

A wonderful, constructive blog post that - I bet - is actually going to make a difference to how things are done. Take a bow (er... waggle your fin or something...)

Anonymous said...

Can we go back to the Tawna Fenske part?

Leone said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been to two Agent Fests (speed dating for writers and agents) at Thriller Fest and the anxiety level for writers was through the roof while all the agents looked so tired by the end.

The most valuable thing I did at that conference was coach other writers on pitching (I have a PR background and seem to do well at that part, though I haven't had an agent fall in love with my book yet). I wish I had connected the dots and learned from that experience the message you gave here.

I volunteered at Thriller Fest, so I will pass this idea and your blog post on to them and hopefully some good will come of it.

Elissa M said...

As Marlo Berliner above suggests, it might be good for conferences to offer "traditional" pitch sessions along with a newer approach rooted in the Shark's idea. I'll bet it won't take long to find out which proves more popular.

AJ Blythe said...

Would the Shark consider swimming Down Under? Love this concept!!

At RWAus' last conference I was asked for a partial by an agent who I knew didn't really want it (she didn't like the Aussie setting). Body language says a lot! I didn't sub because there was no point wasting my time or hers.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Went to work and had time to rethink my comment at 10:03. I like my kids, especially the one with a due-date of today. My husband, not a fair trade, and the dog is going nowhere.

Anyway, I are a-scared of sharks.

Terri Osburn said...

This is an excellent suggestion. It's not really doing away with pitching, simply changing the requirements/time/interaction aspect.

But I do wonder how many other agents would be happy with the same arrangement. This is not a knock on agents. I've met many who are generous and lovely (including my own!), but that's a long time to sit and a lot of energy to give.

I worry that agents who typically participate would opt out of this type of set up.

LynnRodz said...

I have to admit I was partially wrong when I said your rant would not be pretty! It's pretty wonderful! Anyone can see that you, an agent, empathize with writers and that's saying a hell of a lot!

I have to agree with Susan Bonifant, conference organizers would definitely respond more to this change if it came from both agents and writers. From many of the comments here it seems that changes are already taking place at many conferences.

Janet, it's only a matter of time before you become QOTKU!

Unknown said... there are agents who WANT to help and understand the neurotic practices of novice writers...SHEESH and here I was the whole time thinking that vomit-sessions were the only way to go! Whew! Now I can eat all the buffet I want at conferences! :) Seriously, though, amazing post. Thanks for the encouragement and info, as always!

Bill Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mackenzie Crowne said...

LOL You have my vote as Queen of the Known Universe, Janet. I pitched at my first conference. Not because I particularly wanted to, but because the opportunity presented itself. I didn't vomit, but I wanted to. :-) Thanks for the chuckles, and the good sense.


Asenath said...

I'm the ANWA conference organizer for 2015 and have been involved with different conferences for about fifteen years. Believe me, writing organizations hold retreats and writing workshops that offer writers help. (The ANWA conference holds a three hour long workshop on query letters the night before the conference.) Some writers take advantage of the help, but it probably won't surprise you to learn that conferences with agents or editors attract ten times the attendees that the craft workshops attract. The sad truth is that most writers don't think they need help, they think they need a lucky break.

That is why conferences need you. We can tell writers until we're blue in the face that they need to let the reader know what is at stake for the main character, but writers won't believe it until you--the agent--tell it to them.

I'm constantly telling pitch attendees not to sweat their sessions because agents have to judge a novel on the strength of the writing not a brief pitch session. They don't believe me about that either.

PS (So does this mean that if we ask you to our conference sometime, you don't want to do pitch sessions?)

Thanks for telling authors what we've been telling them all along!

Janette Rallison (AKA CJ Hill)

Unknown said...

Everything you say here is true. You're the SHARK, so that's a given. Being a fairly new author, one published novel, a self-published short story, and a second novel in the editing stage, I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm when I had my first chance to pitch to an agent at a recent writers conference. And there was no vomit and no dancing on the table nekkid.

But I would liken the experience of, say, sitting down with the Queen of the Unknown Universe, to the likelyhood of getting an audience with POTUS and asking for a pardon. Both are extremely busy and an alottment of 3 to 5 minutes to discuss a writer's future just doesn't seem fair.

Speaking for myself, I do want the attention and HELP.
That's why I went for advice from the Query Shark. (Still waiting).

Maybe I should just take that leap of faith and trust the my query is good enough. Here's hoping.

Thanks for the encouragement of having a better, more successful, agent/client relationship.

Deniz Bevan said...

Very good points. I might be more inclined to make an effort to attend conferences if I knew I could sit with an agent and talk THROUGH something instead of mad-dash try to SELL something, especially as I'm not that strong a public speaker.

Christine said...

I'll definitely send this to a couple conference coordinators I know. Thanks so much!

Rachel Stones said...

This is fan-freaking-tastic. Would it be creepy if I said I wanted to hug you?

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more. I have been thinking of going to a conference just to benefit from the contact with the agents at the pitch session. I have had my doubts about them though, and I love that you let us know what the other side is thinking. Writing is a business and you have to be ready and polished on your presentation, but I like your way much better.

Cassie Knight said...

Hi Janet! It's been a while since I've visited your blog but I can see I'm missing out on a lot. I'm a committee chair with agents/editors and I'm going to look at taking up your suggestion. My conference did a query clinic session and it was well-received and the two agents who did it loved it as, like you, they did not like pitching.

However, before I leap all over this , I'm going to email the agents and editors who are attending our conference and see what they think about your suggestion.

If you are interested in my progress, I'm happy to keep you informed.

Debra Mullins said...

This is the very reason I always hated pitching. It made writers uncomfortable and the editors and agents, too. I always approached editors at other times, like after they just gave a workshop. I sold my first book this way. Great post!

Don Weston said...

I'm the Volunteer Coordinator for the Willamette Writer's Conference. I'll pass this on to our conference chairman as we are always looking for better ways to do things and the number of people wanting to book agent consults seems to be slipping, in part perhaps to the increasing number of people going the self-pub route. Something like this might give people more confidence.
I just wonder if other agents would prefer to be handed a query letter. I suppose we could do a survey of those attending prior to this year's conference.

Unknown said...

I attended a conference this fall that provided each attendee an opportunity to send in a query, synopsis, and the first ten pages of a project in advance. At the conference, we were given fifteen minute sessions with an agent, an editor, and a published author to discuss our submitted material. They had everything in advance and made notes to help the attendees improve their writing. While we waited for our turn, we met in critique groups to get input from other writers. It was the most worthwhile conference I've ever attended and would gladly spend my hard-earned money to go to more like this in the future.

Whidget said...

This is exactly what Backspace did (I saw you there twice). They did query and first 2 pages critiques and they were fabulous. I wish they hadn't gone to Acapulco or wherever. ;)

Catch My Words said...

Sounds good to me. I'd love to sit and visit with you.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Killer Nashville did away with pitch sessions on these very grounds. They now have roundtables where attendees read either the first 2 pages of their WIP or query. Even then the stress level still just about set of the fire sprinklers, but everyone had a few minutes to get ready for their turn and it was fun to hear everyone's first pages.

I think it went very well, that handsome devil Mr. Sherman can give you his opinion.

And I am a survivor of a shark session. Twas awesome and a world of help.

And Steve Ulfelder, I see what you did there . . .

Colin said...

Fantastic! Pitch sessions always seemed counterproductive and simply one more bucket of cold water to throw on those who will no doubt have many dunkings to come before anyone takes a serious look at their stuff. Yes, there have been some successes as there always will be, but I believe many more could be successful if following your idea. You are right, conferences are supposed to help writers; they're not supposed be a combination speed-dating/telemarketing call centre. I have sent this to our local writers conference (Surrey Writers Conference) which is a great conference, hopefully they will at least pilot a test session.

Michelle Hubbard said...

At The Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference (WIFYR) in Sandy, Utah, they don't have pitch sessions. The teachers pick a few from each class who they feel are the closest to publishing. The agent or editor reads five pages and then they meet to discuss it with the writer. All participants get to send their work to the agent or editor for special consideration, but during the conference it's only those few and the representative already knows what the book is about. it's more effective. A lot of great writers have met their agent or editor at WIFYR. Fantastic conference! Volunteering this year.

Wonderland said...

I'm the DFWcon organizer for 2014. We have implemented these small group workshops with writers and agents last year and received an outpouring of support. However, many writers still demand the traditional pitch session. We offer 10 minutes - but encourage writers to use the time as a consultation rather than just a pitch. The biggest challenge we have found is educating writers on how to prepare for consultations. It is a work in progress and change doesn't happen in a night...

Susan Spann said...

Last year, I proposed doing a variation on what you're suggesting at the RMFW Colorado Gold conference. The organizers took me up on it, and I spent six hours (in 20 minute sessions) working with authors before their pitch sessions, to focus them on the right way to have the conversation.

Know the genre, the stakes, what the book is about.

It worked. The writers were happy - the agents were requesting material (and not just from habit, from what I understand) and the conference is letting me do it again this year.

It's only a drop in the bucket - but the idea came from the fact that (after reading your blog and getting my own book deal) I wanted to do something to help address this need. You get the credit for the germ of that idea back then, as well as now.

All of which to say: I hear you, and you're right, and at least a few of us are out here trying to help!

Anonymous said...

"And here's where pitching just falls apart (closely followed by the writer) because the writer has most likley NOT prepared answers to those questions so they are left fumbling."

So true. I just recently spent a week trying to write my first ever synopsis (for my fourth novel), and learning the answers to those questions was a big part. I knew what was happening in the story, but not why the hero was doing it. The more I tried to force the story into the synopsis model I was using, the more I realized how inappropriate that model was. But it forced me to realize what the correct model was, and after that I understood my book a whole lot better. Now I can actually answer those questions. (Plus I'm doing a blog post series on the experience, one for each stage of the model and how it did and didn't help.)
And I completely agree with your whole point. Not having been to a conference or pitch session, I have no direct experience, but it sounds needlessly adversarial. A more advisory approach would certainly help.

Monica Epstein said...

You had me at "Pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan".

Love this idea. Already forwarded it to my chapter's retreat committee.

Anonymous said...

The Unicorn Writers' Conference does this. They have agent review sessions of your first 40 pages, plus query letter review sessions. I think it's an outstanding idea.

Heather Kelly said...

NE-SCBWI does this at our conference--an agent query crit, instead of a pitch session. So, yay for NE-SCBWI for that!

I have been to other conferences and read my query letter during their one-on-one pitch sessions. So, that's an option as well. (Not sure it was what the agents were expecting, but I did get requests from the experiences.)

I do, however, understand the importance of writers being able to talk about what they are writing when someone asks. I love how the Book Doctors do their Pitchapalooza and help writers with this very thing.

Unknown said...

I'm going to my very first writing conference next week and have signed up for a pitch session. I am terrified. I am your typical shy, introverted writer so this is a major thing for me. I don't think I'll throw up on anyone's shoes though! I really wish the Santa Barbara Writers Conference had, like you proposed, a query critique session rather than a pitch. I think that would be very helpful and far less stressful.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where I've been since you wrote this blog, but I so much agree about pitch sessions. Thank you, Lord, for this agent's sound advice. I feel somewhat like a fool at pitch sessions; now I know why.Joan Holcomb of Nesting Goose Novels

Kaye George said...

I love you, Janet Reid. I did a 10-minute pitch session with you years and years ago (OK, not that long since we're both so young) and cried afterward. BUT you included kind words and everything you said was spot on and helped me immensely (except I still use adverbs, I guess). Great post!

Susan said...

Great post, but I see one tiny flaw in your logic. Most of those terrified, bright-eyed newbies don't want help - they want validation, most likely by your jumping over the table to embrace them, babbling about how perfect their story is, how you've been waiting all your life for such a story, that you'll rep them and of course they'll be a bestseller in less than six months. Yes, I am a cynic who has been in the business way too long.

Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Unknown said...

I just ran across this and lived, loved it. I attend conferences and the number one reason I've found myself and others going is to have a pitch session. I'm a bit of cynic though. I believe that some conferences realize that this is the case. They want their customers (the attendees) to go away happy. Nevermind the fact that the pages requested of them are not up to par. The folks go away stoked that an agent wants to see their work. My point is, I feel that pitch sessions are friendlier on the writer than a query letter, despite the nerves. You go away feeling that you got this close and are compelled to go to another conference to get that close again. It's almost predatory and self serving. What you are suggesting to do would be incredibly beneficial and accomplish more closely to what the end goal is which is getting out of the slush pile. I'd be in line for that. I'd forgo any pitch session to learn the hardest part, in my opinion, of writing--the business side. Thanks,

Gary Smothers