Tips for Pitching to Literary Agents at a Writers’ Conference

I’m thrilled to have Jeri Walker-Bickett as my guest blogger today. She’s given us an incredibly informative post on pitching to literary agents.Welcome Jeri!

Attending a live pitching session shows agents a devotion to craft and a higher likelihood that the writer can deliver a polished manuscript. Submitting a written query may be less daunting, but a face-to-face meeting increases the chance of getting noticed. These tips for pitching to literary agents will help prepare you for a successful encounter.

Even if you are pursuing less traditional paths to publication, any time spent clarifying the core essence of your work can only be a good thing. No writer writes alone, and as entrepreneurs, writers need to be able to sell themselves in all mediums. In the big picture, the costs of attending conferences and paying for editorial services are small prices to pay to ensure your work is top-notch.

Agent panel,JeriWB,Pitching an agent,

Agent Panel, JeriWB

#1 Completing the Manuscript

A million great book ideas exist, but bringing a concept to fruition has killed many drafts. An agent is looking for work to acquire for representation now. That being said, I’ve pitched my work in progress two summers straight in the name of practice. When you’re finally ready to submit, make sure the manuscript has also undergone revisions.

#2 Doing Homework

Conferences often list the agents who will be attending months in advance. Research each agency and follow their blogs and social media sites. At the very least, attend the agent panel at the conference where they will briefly state the types of books they are looking for.

 #3 Preparing Materials

This includes not only your pitch, but also a logline, query letter, and synopsis. If you don’t know the difference make sure to utilize the almighty Google to get informed. If writing nonfiction, a proposal is most likely in order as well. It’s also a good idea to have your social media stats available in case an agent is curious about your platform building efforts.

Pitching Line,,pitching an agent.

Pitching Line

#4 Perfecting the Pitch

Tons of advice exists for how to write a great pitch. I’ve gravitated toward the Place, Person, Pivot model (   described by literary agent Katharine Sands. Make sure you know comparable titles as well.

#5 Practicing Delivery

It’s not uncommon for conferences to offer rooms for writers to practice with each other. I like to practice by filming myself using my iPhone camera. No matter how much I think I have my pitch memorized, bringing along a half-sheet of paper to the session helps keep me focused.

#6 Looking the Part

Aim for business casual. Even though my favorite garb may be T-shirts and jeans, a grubby shirt from my Broadway musical collection isn’t likely to make a great first impression.

#7 Conquering the Session

Make eye contact, shake hands, introduce yourself. Dive in! Nerves serve the purpose of keeping us on our toes. A pitch session of three or four minutes will fly by, but if the session is longer, feel free to use the time to ask the agent to critique your query letter or answer a publishing question or two. Remember that agents are people too, plus it’s their life’s work to find the right stories for the market they represent.

Agent business cards,,Pitching an agent

Agent Business cards

#8: Line-Waiting Strategies

Do the math as you wait in line. If five people are in front of you and the sessions last four minutes each, that’s twenty minutes of standing in line. When the final bell sounds, if your current line is too long take that chance and pitch to an unlikely agent with a shorter line.

#9: Submitting Materials

If an agent is interested they will make a request and hand you a business cards. You should not hand any materials to them. The sooner the requested information can be submitted, the better. If querying more than a year later, try to see if it’s possible to re-connect with the agent at another conference before submitting. Emailed queries should indicate the conference name and year in the subject line. Also, don’t submit to more than one agent per agency.

#10: Gauging Interest

Not all agents will request material, and many will offer sound reasons why. If an agent merely says feel free to query according to the steps listed on their site, this might be their way of avoiding saying they’re not interested. Do they request ten, twenty-five, or fifty pages? What about the full manuscript? No matter what, don’t give up.

The more effort a writer puts into finding the right audience, the greater the likelihood for success.

Have you ever attended a pitching session? Feel free to ask more questions or offer points of your own in the comments below.,JeriWalker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) writes short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. The rough mining town she grew up in—with its mix of bars, churches, and whorehouses—populates her literary landscape. Food, travel, and photography also inspire her creativity. She lives in Idaho with her wonderful husband and their demanding pets. You can connect with her at where she blogs about writing tips, lit chat, and more. Please explore her titles via Amazon. She also works as a freelance editor.

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  1. I love the idea of how to practice while you wait. Great way to address nerves. My self-esteem may be a bit too fragile to pitch to an agent. Self-publishing is probably what I will stick to. But who knows… maybe one day I will be brave enough to do what you are doing my friend.

    • Pitching seems like a bit of a nightmare to me too Cheryl, but as writers we do need to put ourselves out there. Thick skins are essential whatever way we publish.

  2. Cheryl, I think all writers have fragile self-esteem. It just seems to go with the nature of our work. It’s hard to put one’s work out there for others to evaluate and judge, but doing so can also provide a good barometer for how the general public will receive our work. Whether a writer decides to go traditional, be a hybrid author, or self-publish, all the various paths require a lot of work!
    Jeri recently posted..Newbie Self-Publishing: Highs and LowsMy Profile

  3. Per usual, I think that you are right on the mark Jeri…such good advice. I love the dress for business casual! I’m always amazed at some of these conferences how some folks think they must appear like a disheveled but brilliant writer. I always want to say…hep people…you are making a business proposal here:) Pitching is scary… even after I have done it dozens of times, it scares the crap out of me:) Think I’ll read this before every pitch I make going forward:)
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted..Real estate and an aircraft… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • Jacquie, I think the most uniquely dressed author I’ve came across so far at one of these sessions as a guy who dressed in Hello Kitty clothing and also carried a matching lunch pail. I’m not sure what the agents thought, but everyone at the conference did Tweet about the guy quite a lot, which I suppose was his intention. I’d rather be remembered for my words than a costume 😉

      • Wow! That’s pretty out there for a literary conference, I have to say. Who knows , maybe his book was relevant to the outfit. But I’m with you Jeri on being remembered for my words rather than costume.

    • It is bizarre Jacquie if people think that the starving artist in the garret look is going to score any points with professionals. If you’re established then that’s one thing, but certainly not when you’re trying to make a good first impression. Thanks for the comment:-)

  4. While reading every word Jeri I was looking forward to the day when I would put your advice into a real world scenario. I have so much to learn and so many nerves to get past. Seems like the easiest thing to do is the writing part. Thanks.
    Tim recently posted..Sunrise Over BromoMy Profile

  5. Sounds like excellent advice, Jeri & AK. Once a writer has done what you suggested the waiting starts. Someone I know just submitted a book she has written to a publisher and expect to hear from them in about 2-3 months
    Catarina recently posted..Are grades being inflated?My Profile

    • Catarina, the waiting can be excruciating but I wish your friend the best of luck. I plan to submit my manuscript to the agents who have already requested material a couple of months before my next PNWA conference. After July’s 2015 conference, I will then start querying five agents a week and see what happens.

  6. Great tips Jeri. Thank AK for having such a knowledgable guest this week.

    Jeri, do agents work on commission or is it a flat fee?

    Good luck with YOUR agent.
    Patricia Weber recently posted..How Do You Get In The Flow When You’re Not In The Flow?My Profile

  7. Pat, the standard cut most literary agents take is a 15% commission if and when they sell the writer’s book. Thanks for wishing me luck in my search 🙂

  8. A lot of this is sound advice for making connections or promoting just about any type of product at any type of conference.
    Ken Dowell recently posted..Take Exit 0 for America’s Oldest Seaside ResortMy Profile

    • It absolutely is Ken. Any product needs promoting, and networking is a really important part of that these days. Thanks for stopping by:-)

    • Ken, attending conferences are definitely one of the biggest favors I’ve done myself as a writer. Networking opportunities are phenomenal, plus there’s a lot to be said for immersing one’s self in a community of like-minded people. That’s possible to a degree with the blogging and writing community, but nothing can still quite replace the value of face-to-face interactions 🙂

  9. Great advice as always, Jeri! I agree with the rest of the comments, it does sound scary to pitch your book. Maybe the Hello Kitty costume makes it a little better as they can’t see how nervous you really are. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Homemade Limoncello: #RecipeMy Profile

    • That’s a good point Susan! I’m sure shaking hands aren’t a ringing endorsement, but pink gloves might do the trick:-) I bet you’d do just fine in pitching whatever it was you felt passionately enough about though.

    • Susan, pitching is nerve-wracking, but in the best possible way. Nerves and adrenaline are the push many of us need to truly make our mark. I know I always perform better under fire, but then again, I’m also very extrinsically motivated. It’s that A-student’s need to please I guess.

  10. Jeri and A.K. I feel somewhat awed by the amount of knowledge you two have but also very grateful that I belong to a group that includes the both of you who are willing to share so much. I am going to bookmark this and refer to it again and again.

    • Thanks so much Lenie- so nice of you to say. It’s great for me to be able to share Jeri’s experience on this one that’s for sure. Thanks for stopping by:-)

    • Lenie, that’s a very gracious compliment to both A. K. and I and much appreciated. It would be alien to me to not want to share all the great info I come across 😉

  11. I’ve never attended a pitching session and have been intimidated by the thought of them. These are good tips and will make me feel more confident about attending one next time occasion arises. Thanks.

    • I’m with you on that one Donna. I think it’s the very few who really enjoy the whole pitching process. But great to have these tips from Jeri for those of us who are not in the nerves of steel category.

  12. These are such great tips. My favorites are: do your homework, and remember the agents are people too, with livelihoods to look after. I would be terrified to go to one of these conferences, but I can see where that is probably the best way to make an impression.
    Meredith Wouters recently posted..Diet: The Other “D” WordMy Profile

    • It’s certainly a good way to network Meredith. And Jeri makes a good point there. We tend to forget that when we’re not the person in charge whether it be pitching at a conference or a job interview. Having been on the other end of the latter it’s not necessarily all smooth sailing.

    • Meredith, there is so much misinformation about literary agents out there. Really, they don’t eat their young! Most agents are supremely passionate about literature and are honestly looking for books they can bring to a wider audience. It’s just the way of the work that not everything can be marketed to a mass audience, so thank goodness for small presses and self-publishing as well.

  13. I’m going to be sure I have these tips saved where I can find them again. You take the mystery out of it and that’s a good thing. Thanks Jeri and AJ.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted..Will They Trust You?My Profile

    • Thanks Beth. I’m lucky to know where to easily find them. Jeri’s work is really a great resource.

    • Beth, glad I could shed some light on the process of pitching to literary agents. Before my fist conference, one of my blogger friends in Seattle walked me through it on the phone. Otherwise I would have had next to no idea what to expect!

  14. This is good advice for any writer, not matter what stage they are in their career. I have not attended any conferences yet, but am planning on doing so, this will be a guide for me.
    William Rusho recently posted..Social Order in Medieval EuropeMy Profile

    • Glad this was of help William, and as you say for writers of any experience. Like you I’ve yet to attend a writer’s conference, but one of these days. Thanks for stopping by:-)

    • William, one of the biggest impressions I’ve walked away with from writer’s conferences is how there are people there at all stages and incarnations of their writing careers.

  15. Hello
    Unfortunately I have never attended such conference but have attended a lot of conferences related to my job and field.
    I really liked your advice and loved when you said to research the agency and look for the blogs and social media sites, and they are humans too.
    It is like when we are looking for our PhD supervisor we study a lot of their research papers and when we know that we can convince him/her then start writing to them keeping in mind their research.
    It was really nice to read and surly attending such conferences can have great impact.

    • I think it really does pay to do your homework in any situation where you hope to work alongside someone for any length of time, and you are trying to create a good match for yourself.

    • Andleeb, I can see how looking for the PhD supervisor bears a lot in common with this process. It also reminds me of how valuable I found a good number of the teaching conferences I’ve attended in in the past. There just really is no substitute for bringing a bunch of industry professionals together in one place.

  16. I have not ever attended any kind of writers’ conference but I still loved reading your tips. Especially the line-waiting strategies! While reading through all of them though, I learned yet another aspect to the publishing industry, a common thread that weaves through many of the members of this group. And I enjoy that!
    Pamela Heady recently posted..Let Hunting Season Begin!My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by Pamela. I can’t imagine waiting in line, getting all geared up and have the bell ring and time you out as it were. The whole thing does sound rather nerve-wracking:-)

    • Pamela, it’s such a gamble to stand in line but the organizers do let you know when there’s enough time for three more pitches. That way if a person is standing fourth in line they can leave that line and get in line with an agent who has a line short enough to accommodate them in those last few minutes. I just don’t get it when people leave with time to spare.

  17. I have never pitched anything to agents, but you have a few great ideas here for those that do. I’d like to know if a writer has a better chance of having their pitch accepted if their manuscript is complete. It would seem to me that they would!
    Lorraine Reguly recently posted..Tell Me (by Lisa Jackson): #awesome #bookreviewMy Profile

    • Lorraine, as I stated above agents would love to be able to receive requested materials right away, but it’s not uncommon for writers to pitch works in progress.

    • Most agents do say in their submission guidelines that the manuscript needs to be complete, but I think connecting with someone at a conference might occasionally change those ground rules if the project sounded particularly good.

      • A. K., when querying via email the manuscript most definitely should be complete. Conference pitching is a different beast and the ground rules more fluid. It really is good practice no matter what 🙂

  18. I think it is such a good idea attending conferences. So many corporations push conferences and in my business they want to make it interesting by handing out something free. There is nothing like face to face interaction with others. I am sure so many of us would love to see our follow bloggers face to face. Who knows maybe there will be a conference for all of us to meet one another.

    • Wouldn’t that be great Arleen? Conferences can certainly be overwhelming, but if you focus on what you want to get out of it – and take a giant amount of energy with you! – then as you say nothing beats face to face contact. Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • Arleen, like A. K. just pointed out it’s often necessary to focus on what aspects of a conference best suit your purposes. Next year I will definitely focus more on pitching and interacting with agents once the book is complete. This year I focused more on sessions that dealt with the business side of the publishing world.

  19. Such rich learning from the professionals we are receiving here. Thanks A.K and Jeri. I loved the statement “No writer writes alone, and as entrepreneurs, writers need to be able to sell themselves in all mediums”. So true.
    Welli recently posted..Seeing is beingMy Profile

    • Welli, you’re welcome. The more I immerse myself into the writing community, the more apparent it becomes how much writers need to be business-minded as well. It’s the reality of the world we live in for better or worse.

    • I agree with Jeri, on this Welli. It seems the days that creativity is all you need are gone. Promotion and marketing are skills we need to learn too. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  20. This is some very good advice. I think entrepreneurs can use some of the tips as well. They have to pitch ideas to potential investors all the time. You can’t let nerves get to you.
    Jason Butler recently posted..Verizon Wireless Prepaid: A Year LaterMy Profile

    • That’s a good point Jason. And not just investors – sales pitches have the same basis when you’re trying to win over an account. You have to psyche yourself up, and really believe in what you’re saying for the receiver to have faith in you.

      • A. K. and Jason, there was one agent who liked to give everyone a squinty-eyed looked which was very intimidating. I totally psyched myself out on that chance, but at least I got in line and pitched to him. The body language of some of the agents and editors doesn’t always convey they’re happy to see you, but most are excited to be there looking for good books.

  21. Good tips as usual. Practicing using the iPhone reminds me of when I had speech in high school and I use to practice in the mirror to make sure I hit my points. Preparing your material is a top priority.
    Niekka McDonald recently posted..Green Smoothies for Healthy Skin and HairMy Profile

    • I thinking practising before any kind of public speaking is a good idea, whether it’s to a single agent or a room full of people. Actually, even if you are reading some of your work from written text it’s a good idea to practise. There’s much more than just the words that go on in any kind of interchange.Thanks so much for stopping by:-)

  22. It takes a lot of courage to attend one of these sessions. But if you don’t push for your book who will? What’s sad is that even if your book is published by a well-known imprint it doesn’t necessarily mean the book will sell, even if it is superb. For one thing, publishers rarely promote any authors who aren’t already best sellers. And this is even sadder, fewer people are reading books — and, oh, how they are missing out on one of life’s great joys.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted..9-11 Remembered by a New YorkerMy Profile

  23. I agree with you Jeanette, it does take a lot of courage, and I certainly admire Jeri for doing so. It is a little discouraging to think that even if one is lucky enough to be picked up by a publisher that there will be little in the way of promotion provided for you. Certainly any author these days needs to be prepared to be a self-marketer. Thanks so much for stopping by:-)


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