Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Use the pitch session for feedback on your pages

I've found a writing workshop coming to my area, and I'm thinking about going. There will be several agents in attendance, and they offer both pitch sessions and query critiques.

But the novel I'm hoping will hook me an agent isn't done. Barring catastrophe, I will have the first draft finished, or very nearly finished, by the date of the workshop. (My deadline for swapping drafts with my crit partner is the following week.) My previous novel, which did well on the query-go-round but didn't land an agent, went from "the end" to query-ready in about five months; I feel pretty confident that I could trim that down to four with this one.

So, would it be worth it go through pitches or critiques? Is there a point where "almost ready" is close enough, or should everything of this nature be avoided until I'm ready to respond to agent interest by immediately providing a complete, polished manuscript?

The reason you're asking is of course you know the rule to not pitch an unfinished manuscript. Nothing sends me into a tizzy faster than saying "oh I want to read that" only to hear "ok, I'll be done in three four oh sorry, it's six months."

Maximus is ready to read those pages NOW

But, you're also right to think this conference could be a good source of advice for you.

If you can, I'd ask the agents taking pitches if instead,  they'll look at the first three to five pages of your novel to see if there are any red flags.

Most agents are willing to read pages instead of getting pitched. We all understand we're going to need good pages no matter how good your query is. (And given your query did well last time, it sounds like the bugaboo is in the pages)

I can't tell  you how many times I excised the first ten or twenty pages of a novel in order to get to where the story begins.  

Make sure you bring properly formatted PRINTED pages. Properly formatted means 1" margins, double spaced, TNR font, 12 point. And you bring the first 30 or so pages. You only bring out the first 3 to 5 but you are READY if asked for more. [Rule for Writers: Be Ready!]

Bring more than one copy. Let the agent write on the pages. (Bring pens just in case!)

Given the recent discussions here about how far I read on requested fulls, you might get some very helpful advice, and interest in your soon to be completed novel.


Colin Smith said...

Ya know, this is actually a really good idea. I've been hanging around here for a few years such that I can usually, maybe 8 out of 10 times, predict Janet's answers. But I wouldn't have thought to ask an agent for a pages critique instead of a pitch or a query crit. Excellent! Something I'll keep in mind should I ever be in this situation.

You're a Shark of surprises, Janet. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Interesting. I was going to skip upcoming conference but this might be worth it - to get first few pages reviewed. I am in very similar, make that exact situation as OP- came very close with last book but only an ugly first draft of new book. In fact, I was thinking beta readers in late February (date of conference) but I suspect I am looking at late March.

Something to consider, yes.

Kitty said...

I was given Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" for Christmas. Having skated through school on Cliff Notes, I never did read the book, so I decided it was about time. While I was reading I wondered, How on earth would a nobody pitch this book?

Theresa said...

This opens up a great opportunity for OP and everyone else with an almost done WIP.

Janet, when you say to ask the agent about this, do you mean ahead of time? It might be less welcome and make for an awkward session for the agent to have the writer ask right then and be turned down.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Julie ... (OT, from yesterday) Buy a keyboard online, without taking it for a test drive!? No way. No how. I gotta feel how the keys respond.

DLM said...

I've always been very much in love with backstory, and often wish that the foundations of some novels and movies *were* the story, instead of what gets told. And yet, when a writing friend told me The Ax and the Vase didn't begin until page SIXTY, I adored her for it and still do. One of my readers was horrified - "there's so much good writing in there!" - when I cut it, but my friend was dead-on, and I was excited to cut it out. Good writing is not the point, advancing the story is.

The WIP opens on a setpiece, and I've learned that where it begins is where the story begins; it's right, it works, and it changes the dynamic from Ax's first-person/one life to a generational tale that simultaneously has more room to breathe and also gets a lot more done a lot faster than that old draft ever did. I'd be extremely proud to share my current first pages; but it is too far from finished for it to be time for me to do that yet!

OP, good luck, and here's hoping there'll be Interesting Developments once this workshop comes for you.

Communities of writers are so invigorating!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I'm curious as to the answer to Theresa's question too. I would guess that we ask the agent, if we can, ahead of time? Otherwise, we can ask during the pitch. If during the pitch, the answer could depend upon either the manner in which we ask or the ability of the agent to flex quickly (which our QOTKU here seems to do rather easily).

But the worst that can happen, if we ask during the pitch is the agent will respond with a "no".

Colin Smith said...

If I may take a stab at Theresa's question. I've not been to an in-person writing conference, but my understanding is that you usually sign up for pitch sessions, correct? It seems to me that once you sign up for the session, you would then contact the agent to whom you will be pitching and ask that you be allowed a page critique instead.

Does that sound reasonable?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Off topic:

so not to be weird or paranoid or anything, but I just saw a commuter train derailed in Brooklyn this morning. Everybody at the reef (*cough*Madame Sharque*cough*) okay?

Janet Reid said...

The derailed train is part of the LIRR system (Long Island Rail Road) carrying commuters from Long Island to Brooklyn.

Injuries only, and it looks like they're minor (although holy hell, one might feel different if it's your own leaking blood!)

I commute on the MTA subway (the infamous L train) from Brooklyn to Manhattan. All was well on the L this morning.

Thank you very much for thinking of me!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Whew! Knowing what scent of fresh blood does to a shark, so glad our queen was spared. Hope everyone on unfortunate train recovers in full. How scary to be on a train that jumps its tracks.

roadkills-r-us said...

Why is TNR still the standard? WHY?

There is very little hatred in my life, but I really, really dislike TNR. It's not up to full blown hatred (I don't want to use a scroll of genocide against it as I do certain junipers, cedars, and ragweed) but it's well past mere loathing such as Snape ("*Professor* Snape") had for Harry Potter.

Why is the publishing industry so enamored of Times New Roman?

-Miles and Miles of Texas

Lennon Faris said...

Hmm, great idea.

I also had Theresa's question in mind reading this post.

And glad to know things are OK up there in NY!

Melanie - I'm the same way. My husband orders his computers online. He was incredulous that I insisted on going into a REAL store for mine so that I could type on all the keyboards! That is about the most important aspect of a computer for me (also much to his dismay).

Panda in Chief said...

As to whether you tell the agent in advance about getting feedback on pages, rather than giving a pitch, I would think it depends on whether you have to submit pages in advance. I've been to SCBWI conferences where we had to submit materials ahead of time, and also conferences where you sign up at the registration desk. I'm sure if you ask nicely when you sit down, the agent or editor would be happy for you to use your 6-15 minutes anyway you want.

Completely OT: I wanted to let everyone of this wonderful animal loving community know, that the sainted Mehitabel has passed on from this earthly plane. She lived well into her 21st year, and still ruled the roost. She is now buried behind the rhododendrons, in front of the nurse log where the wild huckleberries grow, and many birds come to feed there. Her ghostly self will enjoy watching and trying to catch them. I wrote a tribute to her over at The Panda Chronicles today. As she always told me, "the brightly colored ones taste the best."

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Janet Good to hear (both that you're fine, and that injuries were minor)! I hear "Brooklyn" and I think of you and Betty Smith.

roadkils-r-us You tripped my faulty acronym detector again! I wondered why you were ranting against Trap Neuter Release (I mean, you could have strong thoughts on it, that's more than fair).

Lennon I agree, how a keyboard feels is exceedingly important!

roadkills-r-us said...

Lennon- what's the most important aspect of the computer for your hubbie? Is he a gamer?

I've worked in software and IT for three decades. I'm still a bit of a geek at heart, though much less so than before. But the display and keyboard have always been crucial to me. Otherwise, so long as the system is reasonably responsive and has enough resources (don't you dare crash because a file got too big, or run out of space when I need to save something), I'm good. Those matter, but are more "set and forget", whereas it feels a bit personal with the display and keyboard.

Alas, I've nearly given up on modern mice. I really miss the old "three finger" design with three large buttons that cradled the fingers. I don't need a scroll wheel, personally. Here is my favorite:

I still have a couple at home but I need to pick up a PS/2 : USB converter. 8^/

Colin Smith said...

roadkills: I've been in IT for a while now, too (a little more than 20 years?), and one principle I think still holds true is to invest in the things that are least likely to change. That is, your keyboard, your mouse, your speakers, your monitor, and your printer. The only thing that has really changed about keyboards is the connector (PS2/USB). The mouse has developed some, (2 button, side buttons, wired/wireless, red light/blue light), but a good mouse will do the job for years. I'm currently using a pair of Boston Acoustics speakers and subwoofer that came with the computer we bought in 1998. Still going strong and delivering great sound. Monitors--the biggest change has been the switch from CRT to LCD or LED. Get a size and resolution you like and you're set for a while. And as long as your printer needs don't extend beyond basic printing and scanning, you're probably good with most quality printers for a few years.

That's my 2c on that topic, anyway. :)

roadkills-r-us said...

Well put, Colin. This is wisdom for most people, especially writers. Investing in a good printer is good for both the budget and the planet. A $50 printer won't really last, and when the ink costs more than a new printer, it's difficult not to just pitch the old printer. A good prinyer is a lot faster, as well.
I bought a ~$250, medium duty ink jet (I was going to buy a laser, and next time probably will, if only for the speed). 95% of the use is printing out manuscripts for my wife to edit and my beta readers who prefer paper. We're on the third set of cartridges in three years; they're about $100 for all four.
As a printer, the Epson WP-4020 seems a good deal. As a Linux printer, no. Epson doesn't support it and the third party drivers are lacking. I won't buy another Epson unless I switch completely to Mac. It works fine with my Mac laptop, but I still use my Linux desktop a lot.

Julie Weathers said...


Just ask them when you do the pitch. They'll probably be relieved not to be receiving another stammering pitch, to be honest. I had a pitch appointment with a Del Rey editor at Denver, but she had already seen my opening pages for a workshop she did. I started stammering through a pitch. She stopped me and said she was already interested. We spent the pitch appointment discussing the story in general.

Getting those first pages in good order is so important.


You usually don't see the agent until the pitch session so asking ahead of time if you can do a critique would be difficult. You could ask one of the conference "handlers", but I suspect they won't know an agent's preference.

If they aren't comfortable doing it, just say you understand and talk about the conference and the interesting workshops. Ask if the agent has had any memorable panels so far. Bring up something they recently sold or something about a client. You've already done your research about them so make the discussion about something they care about. Ask what books they've read and recommend.

Even when I do a pitch, I take pages with me. I don't offer them, but when I open my notebook to take notes, the pages are there. Agents often ask to see them. I shut up and let them read. I usually get feedback, as they make notes as they read. Then they ask about the story.


Well, that was scary. I'm glad everyone is all right. I just posted on Books and Writers I was afraid my new beginning was going so far off the rails that it may soon rival the wreck of the Old 97.

Re the keyboards. I've bought enough I pretty much know which brands I like. Logitech always has a good feel to me and they are solid until I spill a cup of coffee on them, so it's my go to brand. I'm no longer allowed to have anything other than a travel cup with a lid near a keyboard per IT son's orders. I've also had Razer and I like them. I tend to buy gaming keyboards as I like the response better. Being the frugal sort, if I can save $60-80 on equipment, I will in a heartbeat.

Having said that, I have an Alienware R2 Aurora computer. When it finally kicks the bucket if I have the money I will pay to have it rebuilt. I like my Dune navigator monster.

Writing quote for the day.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

E.L. Doctorow

Craig F said...

Panda, I am sorry for your loss.

I think it might be about timing. If you happen to catch said agent right after a particularly horrid pitch, or after a string of really boring ones, they might jump at the chance to do something different.

Other than that do ask nicely. It might also help to give the agent in front of you some sort of refreshment. Make sure it is in a sealed bottle.

Julie Weathers said...


Very sorry to hear this, but what a long wonderful life.

BJ Muntain said...

You have ten minutes alone with an agent, and nothing to pitch. What do you do?

At the Surrey International Writers Conference, pitch sessions are free with your registration. I tell people not to waste the chance, even if they don't have a novel fully written yet. I suggest talking to the agent, asking them questions about the publishing process, the markets, the industry - just use the ten minutes to learn something. After all, that's why you go to conferences, isn't it? And those agents are going to be sitting in those chairs anyway, listening to people try to sell them books. A couple of good questions may be a nice break for them.

In the OP's case, yeah. I'd definitely ask the agent if they would look at the pages. If they're not comfortable doing that, then have a couple of questions ready to ask.

Panda: I'm so sorry for your loss. It sounds like Mehitabel had a lovely life, and is having a wonderful afterlife.

Julie: Logitech for me. Whenever I need a new one, I just order it from the Staples website. My choice is the wireless Logitech ergonomic keyboard and mouse. Love it.

Steve Stubbs said...

I did not notice that anyone pointed this out, so let me add a thought,

If OP has a finished and polished novel ready to go as well as something that is still in development, why not take pages for both along? Get some manila envelopes so the pages do not get mixed up, mark them with a ballpoint pen so you know which MS the pages are from, and get an attache case to haul the whole load in and look professional. You can often find a used case at a Salvation Army Thrift Store for a ridiculously low price, so check that out before turning over your firstborn child to get a new one at an office supply store. Carrying a nice attachje case while everyone else has pages scattering around all over the place will have agents gasping and asking themselves, “What is a professional doing here?” They might actually prefer to work with a professional.

When you get to the pitch session you can decide whether to show your beautifully polished, ready-to-go MS or your it’ll-be-ready-some-day-but-I-dunno-when-and-I-hope-that’s-OK-eh? book. Tastes differ. Some agents might want a diamond in the rough. But you’ll have flexibility. Go with flex appeal.

CynthiaMc said...

Panda - Hugs. So sorry about your kitty.

Janet - glad you're okay

Colin Smith said...

Woo hoo! Just got a short story rejection! It was a bit of a long shot submission anyway... oh well, I guess I'll try another... :)

Unknown said...

Slightly off-topic, but picking up on the keyboard thread, I thought I'd submit a quick question to the Reef. I currently write on a ThinkPad laptop, but I don't think its ergonomics are great for my hands. I like to be able to write anywhere, though -- on a couch, on a plane, in a box, with a fox, ... Do any of you have opinions to share on laptop accessories or other models of laptops that have helped you write comfortably? (I know laptops are at an ergonomic disadvantage right off the bat.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sitting here cringing at the idea of showing anything but polished work to an agent. Then again, it would be great to get that kind of feedback. This would be one helluva difficult decision for me.

I know we each have a different process, but once I'm done writing something I almost always re-write (or delete) the beginning. I've discovered that much of the beginning is for ME to work my way into the story. I need to write it, for myself. The reader doesn't necessarily need to start reading there. Which is why I don't ask for critique (or give it, for that matter) until the entire thing is done.

Panda, I'm so sorry for your loss. My first cat was 21-1/2 when she passed a couple years ago and I know how tough it is to lose a long-term furry friend. All those empty spaces where you expect to see them.

Edit to add: Blogger hates me. Three times now I've gotten an OpenID error when I try to comment. Let's see if the fourth time is the charm. Nope. Going for five.

BJ Muntain said...

Mark: I'm afraid I can't help you there. As you said, laptops are inherently not ergonomic. I don't use a laptop for that reason - I've had repetitive stress injuries in my wrists from working on bad setups, so I only use a desktop computer for my typing. If I want to write away from the computer, I use pencil and paper.

I do, however, have a tablet that, should I ever decide to write on that, I'll be getting an external keyboard for. I'd find a way to set the tablet at a comfortable height to read, and the keyboard at a good height to type. I haven't seen an external ergonomic keyboard, but that doesn't mean they're not around. I just haven't looked for them yet.

Brittany said...

OP here! Thanks so much for answering my question so promptly, and right after the holidays, too!

Steve Stubbs, I shelved the previous manuscript because I came to the conclusion that it just wasn't debut material. The response I got from agents who read fulls was that they really liked it but weren't sure what it needed in order to be salable, and I realized that what it actually needs most is some name recognition. It's sort of in between in a lot of ways, and being a known quantity can mitigate that. I'm still terribly proud of it, and hope that it can get published down the line. Meanwhile, the one I'm working on is super high concept, in a niche that's doing well, and easier to categorize: altogether just a stronger debut prospect.

I never would have thought to use a pitch session in this way, but I think I'll definitely sign up for a session or two. (They're not exactly cheap, so I can't go nuts.) Guess that means I'll have to find time to fix the issues I already know are in the opening pages before the workshop...

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

His Grace's favourite keyboard is a Honeywell he bought twenty years ago.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

The kinds of conferences that include agent pitch sessions simply don't happen in Perth. Not even sure if they happen much at all in Australia.

Last time i went to one I went to the other side of the planet.

I need to find somewhere to crit my query letter, as I'm getting a whole bunch of 'this project is not for us' rejections.

Lennon Faris said...

roadkills-r-s - yes he is a gamer. He's all about the video capacity and quality... I dunno any of the lingo though.

Panda - so sad to hear that. Twenty one years isn't ever long enough but I'm sure she gave some great memories (it sure sounds like that). *hug*

Joseph S. said...

I like the idea of having an agent read the first three or four pages. Don’t expect super-keen insight, however. The agent will have to shift gears from listening to pitches to evaluating. He or she will be unfamiliar with the story, there is only so much time, etc.

The closest I’ve come to this was last February at a one-day conference. There was a session where the moderator read submitted first pages to a panel of four agents, who commented on the pages. One agent liked mine (yay) but said it could be improved (I forget her exact comment). Before she could explain, another agent spoke.

After the session I asked the agent for more specifics on what she thought I could improve. Now, she had already heard and read the page and had spoken her thoughts on it, so she wasn’t looking at it cold turkey. She took my pages and wrote notes and drew arrows on it.

I was earnestly grateful. That was very nice of her. I was eager to make the corrections.

Unfortunately, when I tried to make her suggested changes, they didn’t work in context. What I did was conclude she identified something that bothered her; and I had better focus on trying to work on that problem. Which I did (try anyway). But I realized it is unrealistic to expect a reader, even an experienced agent or even a successful writer, to pinpoint a problem and rewrite the page or chapter perfectly in less than ten minutes at a conference.

The takeaway: It’s nice to have someone working in publishing review your work, even a small part of it, particularly if they offer suggestions. It’s great input, but don’t expect miraculous end results. The writer still bears the burden of making it all fit together.

roadkills-r-us said...

I find that a Macbook Air works better than any other laptop for me. Not much help if you are sticking with Windows, but there it is. I still want a mouse almost all the time, and a keyboard for any serious amount of writing, though I can get by with the Air when I need to.

Unknown said...

BJ and roadkills, thanks, that's very helpful feedback. I've been wondering if it might be time to switch to Apple for my next laptop. But also, as you suggest, I may need to acknowledge to myself that typing on a laptop while slouched on a couch does not cut it.

Brittany, I really like the way you are thinking about both your current and previous manuscripts. Good luck in the pitch session!