Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Art of a Strong Pitch, Part 2

The Social Pitch

Yesterday I told you about that conference with roughly 50 pitch appointments. Well, what I didn’t tell you about were all of the authors who also pitched me in elevators, after panels, or at the cocktail reception. It never ended, and you know what, I hardly remember any of them. Except for two very nice men. Two guys I’m going to call John and Mike. John and Mike were not only active volunteers at the conference (they did that as a clever way to get to know the agents better), but they actually talked to me. At a conference of almost 300 attendees they were two of probably only five authors who made an effort to just have a conversation with me. Amazing, really, since I am a very clever and witty conversationalist ;)

Of all the pitches and of all the people, the two I remember most are John and Mike, and, when their material crosses my desk (whether now or five years from now), I’m going to remember them. They made themselves remarkable. How did they do it?

They bought me a drink. I know, I know, but I’m a sucker for a cocktail.

They wanted my honest opinion (and didn’t get mad when I gave it).

They could tell a joke. (Laughing is good.)

But most important, they just wanted to talk. They asked me how I felt about the conference, what my experience was, and questions about publishing as a whole. See, most agents and editors love their jobs and love to talk about nothing more. We go to conferences because we like sharing our insights into the industry, the market, and what’s what. And isn’t that information you want to know?

The one thing John and Mike didn’t do was line up to pitch. Yes, it’s true, I have had, more often than I wish to count, people literally form a line while I’m trying to enjoy my drink so that they can pitch. They don’t want to talk to me, they don’t want to join my conversation because it’s all about them (and really, we all know it should be all about me). Don’t do this! Whatever you do, do not do this! If you see a line forming, stop it. Save that agent. Buy her a drink and start a conversation with her and ask everyone else to join in. I can guarantee that you’ll always be remembered as her rescuer.

So, you’re asking, how do you go from this pleasant conversation to your pitch? You know what? You don’t. It’s not necessary. When time is up, things are winding down, or you’re ready to leave the agent to someone else, simply ask if it would be okay to submit to her and take a card. No need to pitch, because she’ll remember you. Leave the pitch for your letter.

If you don’t believe me, ask your fellow authors. I will bet that all will say the connections they made that are strongest were those made in social settings and those that didn’t have anything at all to do with a pitch.

Oh, one last thing. Thank you so, so much, John and Mike. You truly were the bright spot in a very, very long day.



JDuncan said...

Heh, it occurred to me that if all authors began to take this information to heart, you would likely spend most of a conference drunk and/or hungover. Though if we could then catch you at the appropriate time, we might garner a full ms request.

MsSnarkyPants said...

It must be completely exhausting to have to deal with that many people trying to get close to you just to see what they can get out of you. I just don't know how you and Paris Hilton do it! :D

Jduncan: You might get a request that way...but would she remember it when it arrived. :D I guess it depends on JUST how many drinks people had bought her at the time you ask. hehe

Kate Douglas said...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the "fifty pitches" thing. Sheesh.

JDuncan said...

Scheduling an agent to do fifty pitches in one day is just...rude? Absurd? Crazy? I know that many authors go to conferences with the main purpose of being able to pitch their proposals, but what was the conference committee thinking? There are numerous sources out here in the blogosphere about how agents/editors just kind of glaze over on the pitches after a while. It's a blur, one monotonous droning query that goes in one ear and out the other. So, how is it they thought it would be in any way helpful to agent or author to have soooo many? It's a disservice to both. Jessica, did you know it would be so many going into the conference? If you did, that is WAY accommodating of you.

Personally, if I knew ahead of time that I would be number 40 something out of 50 pitch sessions, I would have said thanks but no thanks and then hoped I could run into you under more casual circumstances in the normal course of things at the conference. You know, like offer you a drink or something :-)

That said, I'll be at RWA national and hope to get to run into you at some point among the massive throng of people and at least say hello and thank you for creating such a respectable and informative blog for us aspiring writers.

Linda C. McCabe said...

At the San Francisco Writers Conference they had three sessions of Speed Dating for Agents with ten minute breaks in between. Each writer had three minutes to talk with agents in the ballroom in a fifty minute time frame.

I was able to speak with three agents, but other attendees may have had more or less depending on the length of the queue in front of their choice of agents.

If you do the math, it works out to about 48 slots in the three hours for agents. I shudder to think of how fatigued any agent would be at the end of that time if they had not gotten their breaks.

At the opening of the conference Michael Larsen set down the ground rules that if agents or editors were wearing their name badge that they were willing to be approached for the impromptu pitches. However, if they took their badge off, we were to respect their need for some down time.

I was one of the conference volunteers and I made it a point to tell the conference speakers (who arrived after the opening remarks) about that ground rule, as well as where they could find coffee. The tip on the coffee alone, along with my smile, helped to make the agents and editors feel welcomed.

I heard one writer grumble about an agent who had responded with terse grumpiness when they tried to do a spontaneous pitch in the hallway. It made me wonder if the agent hadn't heard about that bit of info about wearing the badges, and it made me feel sorry for both the agent and the writer.

Ted Weinstein, one of my favorite agents, told me that he wouldn't need to take a break from talking with writers since he was there to schmooze. He then said that he "trafficked in human souls." Since then I have teased him by by calling him "Mephistopheles."

Which is why he is one of my favorite agents. He's funny, intelligent, and great to chat with. Too bad he only handles non-fiction.

Linda McCabe

Mark Terry said...

True story: Back in January, a writer friend of mine, Toby Buckell, was coming to a SF conference near me in Michigan, and mentioned we should get together. I was only about 30 miles away, so I went. We were chatting when an editor from Tor/Forge came along to talk to Toby, who introduced me, and Jim--the editor--asked out out to lunch. So we had lunch, just chatting. I didn't pitch him. One, I thought it would be rude, and two, it wasn't why I was there. I was there to chat with Toby.

At the end of the lunch, Jim handed me a business card and said, "Send me something." I said I hadn't been there to pitch, but I did have something in mind. He told me to go ahead and have my agent send it.

So she did. Jim hasn't made a decision yet, but who knows? I figured part of the appeal was I was just THERE, and in that Jim was probably getting hit up by all authors all weekend, somebody who was just willing to talk and eat and drink was probably a relief.

Travis Erwin said...

I have formed some very good frienships with people on the other end of the query process this way, and while nothing concrete has materialized from these frienships, I always learn more about the craft and business.

Besides I've gotten to spend some time with some incredibly nice and interesting people. That is always a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Yowza!! The 50 pitches at one conference does sound a bit extreme. I can't blame you one bit for wanting people to treat you like a "regular person" and quite pitching books at you faster than a tennis ball machine pitches balls to help you practice your backhand! ;)

But seriously, what can I do to make an agent remember me from vastness of the pack? I write fairly off-the-wall stuff, and I've got an off-the-wall personality. Wouldn't that make me stand out somehow?

Looking forward to meeting you in St. Louis... And I will buy you a drink if you like and don't mind that I sip soda. ;)

Cindy aka
Celine Chatillon
and Cynthianna Appel

Phyllis Campbell said...

I'm the President of the Utah RWA Chapter. This last conference we had, we did something new. At the beginnig of the conference, we had a social hour (which really lasted two hours). We had finger food and drinks, and did nothing but talk. We told everyone there was to be NO pitching during this time. It was a time to get to know each other - and let our poor editors and agents relax and be themselves. It was a success, and all of our agents and editors (and special author speakers) told us they really enjoyed it...mainly because there was no pitching allowed.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice to volunteer at the conference. I do the same for my local writing center because it's just plain nice and I've met so many wonderful people. As a result, I've met many agents and editors who've generously offered to read my work. In the end, I got my agent the old fashioned way, through the slush pile, but I was afforded a choice just through friendly conversation and volunteerism on my part.

Linda C. McCabe said...

I thought I'd let people know that Anne Mini is also giving her loquacious perspectives on writers conferences and pitching to agents.

Her first post on the subject can be found here:

I put a link on her blog about these posts as well.

I just love cross pollination, it works for more than just plants.

Bernie said...

I would never make a social pitch. It is just not professional. Agents are humans too and need to be treated accordingly. Agents are not stepping stones on the way to getting published. A social pitch seems like a sure-fire way of alienating an agent.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing to me that people forget courtesy when they want something.

J.L. Murphey said...

Jessica, I know what you mean...just to show you the other side of the coin. As a writer, I can rarely sit down for a drink without the conversation turning to writing (everyone has a story to tell). Would I be interested in seeing (helping) what that person has written, would I contact an agent for them, etc.I enjoy a simple drink now and again, and it is a joy to be able to be me and leave "work" behind...just like everyone else. One of the best times I've had in a while was last week during my daughter's birthday party...nobody knew who I was except for being Jenn's mother. :)