Often times when you attend a writers conference, you have an opportunity to sit down, speed dating style, for 3-15 minutes with various editors and agents. A common question is, what do I have to do to convince someone in a short pitch to represent or publish my work?
The short answer is, you can't. Except for exceedingly rare circumstances, no editor or agent worth their salt is going to make a snap decision in that setting. You have to realize that the agents and editors are trying to provide a service more than they're expecting to actually find a diamond in the rough. They're going to give you pointers, what's working, what isn't, and talk to you about your big idea or try and help you figure out how to explain it if you even have one. They're not really expecting to meet new clients or authors. It happens, but again, that's not the expectation.
But before you get discouraged and decide to blow off the meetings, let me tell you why I think this actually opens the door for you to get serious attention.
If an author sits down in front of you, has actually done their homework, polished their pitch, and presents a compelling idea, that won't be the norm. You have a chance to stand out from the crowd by being prepared to do your very best. If you accomplish this, then the editor or agent may actually invite you to formally submit your material for consideration. So what do you need to do?
Whatever you do, do not bring a 50 page document with the expectation that the editor or agent is going to take this from you. They may be polite, but it will not make it out of the hotel room. You should have a 1-3 page, easy-to-read and cleanly styled document with your name, contact information, a short bio, the title of your work, a 2-3 sentence hook, and 5-6 paragraph description of your main thesis or idea. And that's it. If you do a good job in the pitch, they will take this document from you and it will have the information they need to follow up with you. If you cannot boil down your idea to a compelling presentation in this format, you're not ready to present your idea.
You should also prepare a ninety-second pitch that you are going to deliver verbally. When you first sit down, you'll introduce yourself, the agent or editor will do the same, and there may be some small talk. But the whole point is for you to make your pitch. Be prepared. Again, if you can't tell me in 90 seconds or less what your big idea is, why it's important, and why you're the right person to write it, you're not ready to present your idea.
If you really want to stand out, research the editor(s) or agent(s) you're going to be meeting with. If your opening ice breaker is a statement about why you are excited to meet with this person because you know they work with a specific author or have published a specific book or set of books that are similar to you or what you're working on, you'll have their undivided attention. Again, be prepared. This isn't a must, but it will go a long way toward helping you stand out. If you begin this way, nail your 90-second pitch, and have a solid 1-3 page document you can leave behind that is equally compelling, you will get positive feedback, and just might land yourself an editor or agent.
Finally, I'd practice your pitch and let a few friends read and respond to your document. Let them ask you questions, poke holes in your presentation, press you a little bit. An editor or agent asking you questions and engaging you with your idea can't rattle you. You need to be prepared to answer questions. Think through specific questions someone might have about your project. Some obvious questions you should be able to respond to: Are there other books similar to yours already in the market? If so, what is your unique contribution to the topic? What other writing have you done similar to this? Have you built an audience and is this the type of work they'd expect from you?
I've said it a few times now, but I can't over stress this: Be prepared. If you follow the above advice, you will be ready to make the most of your short window of time, and you will leave a good impression. That's the most you can hope for from these meetings. Most editors and agents will be happy to meet with one person that is worth following up with. This will help you be that person.
Have a question for our Ask An Agent series? Submit your question here.