What to say to an literary agent, or what I learned from coaching authors to create their perfect agent pitch.

By CBramkamp Newbie Guide Comments Off on What to say to an literary agent, or what I learned from coaching authors to create their perfect agent pitch.

You are ready – you have your fabulous book. You make the drive to the city.  Once you found parking and found the building, what to do next?

The agent pitch on Newbie Writers GuideI volunteer to coach authors for WNBA-SF Pitch O Rama, an event (in March) focused exclusively on brining in 20 plus agents, editors and publishers into one building just so authors can talk with them.

It’s a great event, and many authors secure agents and publishers during the course of the morning.  This is what we’ve learned and observed.

Agents, publishers and acquisition editors attend these events because they, like you, want to see a face, hear a voice – make a connection.  Agent speed dating or Pitch O Rama, or a Pitch –  Fests are not  beauty contests.  There is no queen of the pitch (although now that I think about it . .  ).Pitching  is not a win/lose activity.  If there is a fit – celebrate!  If there are no fits, you’ve learned valuable information and can make more choices for your book publication life after the pitch sessions are finished. Or maybe after lunch.  Maybe after a bottle of wine.

Publishing is  is a business, these professionals attend in-person pitching sessions to find that great idea, to find that great author.  But know they are focused on how they can sell you and your book, because that is the point – sales.  Help them.

Agent Andy Ross has a few ideas of what not to do:

  • Read  from note cards
  • Repeat  a memorized talk
  • Explain the entire plot of the book
  • Tell  the agent that this is the next best seller
  • Announce that your book will make a great film.

Okay, you think, that’s was helpful, but what CAN I do to make this time and effort worthwhile? Here are more dos and don’ts culled from a number of agents who appeared on Newbie Writers Podcast or kindly volunteered to work at a pitching session:

  • DO- Start with a paragraph that delivers just enough about your book so the editor knows something about your main character’s motivation.  Just enough so the summary makes sense.
  • DO- Give the names of the two main characters and possibly the villain.
  • DO-  Deliver the turning points of the plot and subsequent hero’s emotional responses.
  • DO- deliver those turning point  in chronological order. (No I am not kidding).
  • DO- Add the black moment/climax and the ending.
  • DO-Add some of your voice and style to the synopsis so it doesn’t read like a step by step guide.
  • DO – remember  these are humans, they get tired, cranky and thirsty.  An author I know sat down to deliver her pitch and the first thing she noticed was the agent’s empty water glass.  The author rose and fetched more water for the agent.  Really, it’s like in fairy tales,  you help them, they will help you.
  • DON’T- Be cute- just give them the story.
  • DON’T- Use (or explain) the name of every character as well as all the pets and animals in the story.   
  • DON’T- bounce or meander around as you try to explain the story line, don’t  explain how a character  died in a fiery car crash  then abruptly backtrack to a scene when that same character was alive and committing a murder.     
  • DON’T- Leave out the ending with a cute, “you’ll have to read the whole book to see how it ends”.  Nothing is more frustrating. They want to know you wrote a clever ending- now- before they spend hours reading the submission to find out it has a contrived ending.
  • DON’T – write a contrived ending.
  • DON’T – worry about perfection, that’s not the point. Agents are here because they want to see you in person, so as much as you can, be yourself.

The Synopsis or Pitch

Synopsis/summaries  are not a blow by blow explaining the whole book. They are not the plot.

The synopsis is  the selling tool for the story. It’s like the back of the book blurb you work so hard on – only longer. Stick in the pertinent information to the story,  if it is a genre piece, add in what elements qualify the book for that genre. (Publishers need to be able to put that book on a shelf and into a category).

Ideally what you want to include in an agent pitch is what your book is about, that synopsis, along with the essence of your platform.

Tell me about the platform again

Platform is essentially what you stand for, and what the book’s purpose is.  Girl power?  Better living through chemicals?

Platform also includes you – why are you  uniquely qualified to write this book?

The third pillar if you will, to the platform is how you have prepared to promote the book.   I recently read about an comic/now author who landed a 3 million dollar advance. Seriously.  Then I saw that this comic had 10 million twitter followers.  That’s what the publisher bought – those followers.  Fair?  Of course not.  But this is not a blog about fair.

What if the agent doesn’t want my style of work?

At these kinds of sessions, you may well end up before an editor who did not list your subject in their “want” list.  Hell,  talk to  them anyway.  Use your time  to ask  them what they are looking for.   What books are  selling?  What genre is hot and what is the up and coming genre?   Tell them a bit about your book anyway.


Example of a good pitch

Hi my name is XXXX and I have written a novel based on my experience doing or being XXXX the novel is about a boy, a girl and social enlightenment and will appeal primarily to female readers who buy both e-books and hard copy novels.  I already have a following of 10,000 on my blog of the same name.  Would you like to hear more?

Do you have an agent/pitch story you’d like to add?  We will include the best stories in the collection – Don’t Write Like We Talk –  What we learned after three years interviewing Authors, Agents and Publishers

Catharine Bramkamp & Damien Boath  Producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast

Catharine Bramkamp is the author of Future Girls and Future Gold

Remember to listen to the  Newbie Writers Podcast

For more information: www.YourBookStartsHere.com

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