Friday, March 18, 2016

The Perks of the Pitch, Part 2

by Joe Siple

In my last post, I wrote that pitching to an agent is better than writing a query letter because it gets you straight to the decision-maker. In my experience, that may be the most important difference between the query letter and the pitch. But there are other reasons it makes sense to invest in your writing by attending conferences with agent pitch-sessions. One is the fact that you get more time when you pitch.

Admittedly, I haven’t done a scientific survey on the issue, but I have informally asked a couple agents how much time they spend on the average query letter. Their answer? Five seconds. Yep, you read that right. Agents spend an average of five seconds on that letter you spent hours crafting, rewriting, and polishing.
Now, it’s not actually that bad for most of us. If you’re reading this post, you probably run in writing circles, which means you’re more than just a hobbyist. You take your writing seriously.  So you won’t make the mistakes that cause agents to toss a query letter aside in less than that five second mark. Things like misspellings, type-os, and grammatical errors. Or any number of gimmicks that don’t follow the stated submission guidelines.

Or maybe the manuscript is in a genre the agent doesn’t represent. Surprisingly (or maybe not, considering my querying history) up to half of the query letters agents receive include one of those things in the first couple sentences. Those queries get more like one or two seconds, bringing that average down with it. A well-crafted query letter sent to an agent who represents the genre and follows submission guidelines, will get a fair shake (even if it is by an intern).

Still, the pitch is superior.

Even if your query gets ten seconds, or twenty, or the agent is interested and reads the entire thing, you still don’t get the kind of time you get with a pitch.  
Formats for agent pitch sessions can vary, but I’ve seen them range in time from two minutes to fifteen. What does that mean?

It means even if you screw up, you have a chance to redeem yourself. You don’t get kicked to the side (like a query letter), you get another chance. And another chance, and another, until the time is up. During that time, if you’ve prepared well for your pitch session, you’ll be dropping amazing point after amazing point about your book—and one of those just might be the thing that makes the agent say, “Oh!  I didn’t think I was interested at first, but now that I hear that, I think I’ll take a look at this manuscript.”
Bingo. That’s what we’re looking for. And it wouldn’t have happened without the extra time that comes with a pitch session. 
And even if you get the worst-case scenario and the agent simply isn’t interested in your manuscript (hey, it happens sometimes no matter how great you do) all is not lost. You have that time—you paid for it as part of your conference tuition. So use it. Even as an agented author, I’d love to have five or ten minutes with an agent just to pick her brain (amazingly, I’m not my agent’s only client, so even discussions with her have to be scheduled a week in advance). What would I ask about? Oh, I don’t know, a million things.  What’s selling right now? What’s not selling? What’s it like to negotiate a contract? How do you decide who to submit to? Is it different dealing with Big Five publishers than with independents? The list goes on and on. The point is, don’t let the time go to waste. That time is gold.
To find out more about what to actually DO in your agent pitch session, join me at Fort Collins Coffeehouse on March 26th at 10am for “From Rejection to Representation: How to Perfect the Pitch and Become an Agented Author.” We’ll get you all set for your next pitch session.  Follow this link to sign up:
Until then, keep writing! 

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