Pitching Your Book to a Literary Agent

This past Saturday, I met with a literary agent at a writer’s conference for a pitch session. I should have been nervous, but I wasn’t.

I wasn’t nervous because I was prepared. I am going to pass on what I’ve learned.

  • Introduce yourself. Politely. With eye contact. Extend a hand.
  • Be confident. If you are not confident in your book (yet), what are you doing there? Your book doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good, and only you can make it good. Confidence is knowing in yourself that your book is a quality product. Arrogance is pride in something that is not real. Confidence comes from doing your homework.
  • Be yourself. Be your honest, at-ease self. Breathe deeply. Nerves come from the anticipation of rejection. Hold a different, brighter picture in your head, like I am about to learn some cool stuff. Woo hoo!
  • Be prepared to answer these two important questions: How long is your book? (in word count, not manuscript pages.) And, Is the book finished?
  • Pitch your book, briefly and with enthusiasm. To prepare for this moment, write your pitch down. Make it brief, between two and four sentences. When you give your pitch, be coherent, logical, and passionate. Talk about your characters as if you know them personally and deeply. Practice your pitch over and over, out loud, to someone else—yes, to another human being. Caution: Don’t drone on and on about your book. Be concise. Share the juicy details, then pause.
  • Put a sock in it and listen. This is your chance to get some important, valuable, and critical feedback. If you can’t take feedback effectively, you won’t get very far in your writing career.
  • Ask meaningful questions. How could I best position this book for the market? How was my pitch? What else do you want to know about me or the book? As a new writer, really, what can I do to help you succeed? What kind of books do you want to see in the next year?
  • Be willing to change your story. If your book is too long, are you willing to cut it? Are you willing to cross into another genre? Would you change the age of a character? Are you willing to let go of something in your book so you, your agent, and your publisher can succeed? Let the agent know that you are flexible, that you are a mature writer who prefers strategy over ego.

Even though I wrote down my pitch (and rewrote and rewrote it), even though I practiced it out loud with my wife, I never actually gave it. I gave something else. Something that was better. But without the preparation, I wouldn’t have been able to give the real pitch I wound up giving.

I am happy to report that my pitch session was a success. My cross-genre novel was well received. I got a page request. The agent was very nice. She was not only easy to talk to, she was fun to talk to. I was at ease the whole time because I was prepared.

I want to say thank you to Celesta Rimington for her advice and for pointing me in the direction of great tips from Janet Reid, Jennifer Laughran, Shannon Messenger, Holly Bodger, and Sisters in Scribe.

2 thoughts on “Pitching Your Book to a Literary Agent

  1. Well done! I think being prepared to put a “put a sock in it” may be one of the most difficult things in the pitching process. The agent needs an opportunity to think about what you've told them and formulate their questions and response. Sometimes it's tempting to talk to fill the silence, but then we miss the golden opportunity of the conversation that will follow.

    Glad your face-to-face experience went well! Thanks for the mention!


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