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Agent Pitch Guidelines

Why a Short, Pithy Pitch?

It is important to understand that agents receive hundreds of proposals every week. That is the reason that you must spend time, energy and creativity figuring out how to entice an agent in a very few minutes. You need to hone and hone your pitch so that your most distinctive and intriguing points leap out at the agent immediately. Remember, if the agent loves your project, he or she will have to pitch it in just as short a time to a publisher! And then the publisher to the bookseller, and the bookseller to the reader! As you perfect your pitch, you will be able to use it for back copy on the book, on talk shows, and to many potential readers.

Perfecting your short presentation can be the difference between a successful pitch and a “no thanks.” It is a great place to spend time.

For fiction, it can be a challenge to summarize a complex plot, and create a synopsis. There are websites and books that help you do this. But also talk about why readers will be excited about this book. Relate it to current events, to a current bestseller, or to something you can demonstrate that the public likes.

For non-fiction, a useful formula is:

  • Why is there a need for this book? What information do readers lack? What is the pain readers or society is experiencing? What’s the problem? Where is the void? Use a dramatic statistic, a one-sentence eye-opening anecdote, or a shocking quote by a famous person.
  • How will your book supply this information, resolve this pain, eliminate this vacuum, fill this void?
  • How is your book different from every other book on this topic? What is your book’s original contribution?
  • Why are you the best person to write this book?

Here is a useful exercise: Pretend you are to be on a talk show, and write the five or ten second promo blurb for the show. “(Your hot blurb) – Tomorrow on Oprah!” – Why should everyone read this book? Who will be interested in this book, and why? Emphasize the distinctive contribution your book will make, the novel twist.

We have provided a Suggested Outline for your Pitch Session below.

What You May Pitch

Pitch sessions are an opportunity for you to present a completed project to an agent. This is not a time for you to run an idea for a book past an agent. If you pitch a book and the agent is interested, you need to be able to send a complete proposal (non-fiction) or manuscript (fiction) right away.

If you are sitting next to an agent at lunch, then you may discuss an idea for a book, if the agent seems open to this. But that is not the purpose of pitch sessions.

Do your Research

Don’t ask the agent what she is looking for. Research the agent ahead of time and pitch only to those who represent your genre.

Practice your Pitch ahead of time

Don’t use cue cards or read from a script. You need to know your book well enough to speak coherently about it for 10 minutes. You may want to memorize your opening three or four sentences, because they need to be very tight, compelling, and convincing. But try not to sound memorized.

Be relaxed, normal, and friendly. Pretend you are telling a friend about your book project. Don’t put on any special airs because it’s an agent. Be excited about your book, and convey your excitement and passion about your project.

Bring a one-page sheet with you

It should state clearly:

  • your name
  • your contact information
  • the title of your book
  • the genre
  • a short paragraph summary of the book

That way, you have something to leave with the agent if she asks for it. Usually, the conversation will end with the agent saying, “This is not something that fits my interests,” or “I would like to see the full proposal” (non-fiction) or, “I would like to see the first 50 pages” (fiction.) Be sure to ask if the agent wants to receive it electronically. That’s almost always true these days, but check to be sure.

Do not ask for the agent’s card. You should have all his or her information from the research you have done. It is definitely okay to ask if the agent would like a one-sheet.

Agent Pitch Session – Suggested Outline

1. “Hello. My name is XX.”

2. “My (specify the genre as specifically as possible) book is entitled XXX.”

Don’t just say fiction or non-fiction but literary fiction, sci-fi, YA, self-help, business advice, memoir, etc. Be very specific.

3. “It is written in the style of XX.” Or, “It is a cross between XX and XX.” Or, “It is X meets Y.”

It helps agents to think of a general category of book, and it is a good idea to associate your book with well-known best sellers. You want to establish a general framework here and demonstrate your knowledge of the genre and current literature in the field.

4. In about five or six sentences, describe the main points of the book or summarize the story.

What you want to emphasize here is how your book is distinctive from every other book on this topic. Why does the world need one more book about this? Who will be interested in this book, and why? Emphasize the distinctive contribution your book will make, the novel twist.

5. “I am the only person who could write this book because                                            .”

Describe your unique qualifications with regard to the topic of your book and any previous writing, published works, and awards. (If you don’t have any, don’t worry. Agents are looking for new talent.)

6. “I am in a good position to market and promote this book because                                          .”

As you may have heard, publishers are looking for “platform,” that is, your public profile. Have you offered workshops? Do you have a website, a radio show, a popular blog? Are you a speaker or teacher with a following? Do you have a large e-mail list? Are you a member of a professional association? Again, don’t worry if you don’t have much of a public platform (but do start thinking now about developing one!) Do not spend too much time on this in your pitch, but if you have excellent marketing tools or know-how, it’s good to mention. If you have nothing remarkable or unusual to offer, omit this step.

7. My (manuscript, proposal) is complete and is                                       words.

Or give the status of the manuscript or proposal. Generally, non-fiction books can be sold on the basis of a (superb) proposal. Fiction requires a completed manuscript. Unless you are 90% finished, you should not be pitching.