So this weekend in Stockholm an awesome bunch of creative writers were all in the same room, alongside publishers, agents and some seriously heavy hitting authors.
As part of this event, you could book a 10-minute slot to sit face to face with a real-life agent and pitch your book.
If that sounds terrifying it’s probably because it was.
But it also means that I have some great tips for anyone that is about to go through the same process, from the mouths of the agents themselves.
Disclaimer: All of these examples are purely examples, it’s not a reflection of what I’m working on currently.
1. Keep your introduction brief and only highlight things that are pertinent.
Agents meet tonnes of authors and receive thousands of submissions.
They do not want to hear your life story.
They also don’t want you to bring any previously published novels with you – that alone isn’t going to convince them that you have a marketable idea.
Do tell them if you’ve been published previously, but keep it brief. For example, I’ve had short stories published in The Atlantic and 404 Ink. (I haven’t, this is just an example.)
Do tell them what your qualifications are. E.g. I have a masters in fine art or I have a bachelor’s in creative writing.
So your introduction could go something like this:
Nice to meet you, I’m Sophie. I’ve been writing for four years. I have a Masters in Creative Writing as well as a bachelors in Philosophy and I’ve had two pieces published in [journal[s])
2. Start your story pitch with the word count and a quick comparison
The quickest way for an agent to get a feel for your story is if you can provide them with a crossover example.
So say something like My novel, called [NAME] is [85,00 words]. It’s [Minority Report] meets [Twilight].
My novel, [NAME], is a steampunk/horror mashup. It’s Great Expectations meets Dawn of the Dead.
3. Continue your story pitch with two or three sentences highlighting the hook and the plot
You want to hook the agent as quickly as possible. But guess what? You already have that! Your hook in your first few chapters. So present them with that from the outset, and then give them a very condensed version of your plot.
The agent does not want to sit and listen to you outline every detail of your novel over the course of the ten minutes.
You need to be able to summarise it in a way that’s exciting and invites questions.
So let’s say you were Stephanie Meyer pitching Twilight. Your couple of sentences could go something like this:
A series of murders in a small town takes a sinister turn when the protagonist, Bella realises that vampires are real, and the teenage boy she has fallen in love with is one of them. The story follows them as they struggle to overcome Edward’s desire to kill her, his family’s fear of Bella revealing their secret and the vampire council’s stringent rules that could ruin them all.
4. Know your story back to front and inside out
Some agents want to focus on the plot. What’s the inciting incident, what’s the climax? What’s the story arc?
Others will be more character focussed: how does your character develop? What are their hopes, their fears? Their truths and their lies?
You need to have answers ready for all of this. Keep it short, keep it snappy and most importantly, keep it fascinating.
5. You’re there to pitch a book, so pitch *a* book. Don’t try and pitch a five-part series in one meeting.
It’s very possible that you’re writing more than one book. Your idea might be huge and unwieldy and it might span a number of books.
But focus on the present. If you can’t sell book one, you can’t sell books two to five.
So you need to make sure book ends with an incredible climax as if it were a standalone novel. There’s no point saving all your big-guns for book three if no one wants to buy book one.
6. Do your research
Make the agent feel like they are your number one. Know what they’re into, what they’ve gotten published and make direct links between their list and your piece.
For example, I’ve been following you on Twitter and I’m an avid reader of your blog. Given your interests and the books you’ve gotten published in the past, I thought my novel would be a great fit for you as it sits in the same space as [NOVEL YOU HAVE PUBLISHED] and would suit a similar readership.
You want them to feel like you already know they’re perfect for you and move from that point to convincing them you are perfect for them, too.
Don’t talk about other agents you’re seeing, don’t talk about other queries you’ve sent out.
Make that agent feel like you are seeing them and them alone.
7. Have your manuscript finished
The most disappointing thing for an agent is if you give them a great idea only for you to inform them at the end of the meeting that that’s all it is right now: an idea.
Have your manuscript finished because if they give you their card and ask to see it, they’ll want it in their inbox asap.
8. Bring business cards
There’s nothing more awkward than someone handing you theirs and doing that awkward pause while they wait for you to reciprocate.
Even if you print something right before the meeting, have something ready to hand back.
9. Don’t gush
Flattery doesn’t get you far and at the end of the day, this is the person you may very well be working in a close partnership with for a number of years. So start the meeting on equal footing. Try not to gush at them too much as it tips the power balance in their favour from the get-go.
10. Don’t read off note cards
Reading off of a note card shows that you don’t know it. Now, that’s not going to be the case. You are going to know your stuff. And it’s normal to be nervous and to want to have a few things written down, but if you bring anything in, bring in bullet points to keep you on track, don’t bring in your full speech.
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