As someone deciding which path to publication fits my goals, I would like to thank Carol for her willingness to provide advice and for hosting this post. I attended my first writing conference this July in Seattle, Washington. The PNWA sessions provided a crash course in how to find a literary agent. The simple act of attending greatly increases an author’s odds of securing representation. If your plans don’t include traditional publication, pitching a book to literary agents will still help bring laser-focus to your work. Besides, who knew that agents don’t bite?
Pitching a Fit: How to Find a Literary Agent
Do I smell? During the biggest moment in my writing career thus far, such drivel flits around in my brain. Perhaps I am about to find a literary agent, but instead I obsess over personal hygiene. Again, I wonder if I smell. Nope. Clinical-strength deodorant rocks. But what if I have pit stains?
The first bell rings and my malodorous discontent gives way to the realization that nerve-induced blotches cover my pale skin. Never fear. The long-sleeved shirt I’m wearing hides them well. But I can’t hide my hair. It must look freakish under the florescent lights. Surely everyone I meet will wonder if I really asked the stylist for such a crass shade of white-trash blonde. I did not.
Beep. Four minutes feels like an eternity when waiting in line like cattle headed to the slaughter. Beep. Four minutes to practice my book’s pitch just one last time. Beep. Four minutes to ponder whether or not I really want to cross that line. The temperature of the room rises as a mass of bodies pump adrenaline. Beep! Showtime.
Breathe. Speak. Pitch. Words pour out of my mouth and they make sense!
Never mind that I must glance at the half sheet of paper folded in front of me to make sure I hit certain points, no small thanks in part to the Pitchcraft presentation given at the opening of the conference by agent Katharine Sands. The formula helps form an establishing shot that invites potential readers in.
- Place: Describe where the story starts.
- Person: Who is the main character and what qualities do they possess?
- Pivot: What is the inciting incident that introduces the conflict the character will face?
Due to the agents I’ve picked, I am able to only speak to four during the ninety-minute pitching block. Next year I will do better with a bit of experience on my side, not to mention being much more knowledgeable regarding which books on the market I can compare mine to. With each pitch, I find myself adlibbing a bit, but still careful not to give away all of the twists and turns of Lost Girl Road, my psychological suspense ghost story that takes place in the woods of northwest Montana.
Each agent I speak to requests submission, and one even asks for a full manuscript. Granted, it’s now up to me to continue my revisions and only submit my book when it’s ready. The last thing I would want to do is be hasty.
Why would any reasonably sane person want to put themselves through such torture? Me. That’s who. And so should you.
Besides meeting a ton of people who came together to be part of a writing community, food, wine, and laughter abound. Plus, given the uncharacteristically warm weather for Seattle, the mountain was out (as in Rainier), and the pool area made a great place to work on my pitch. It’s safe to say I’ll be headed to more PNWA writing conferences in the years to come. I might even find an agent. Once my book is finished, I’m willing to devote a year to the task before I self-publish.
Have you pitched your book to agents in person or on paper? What did you learn from the experience?
Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) is an author, editor, and teacher. She primarily writes contemporary fiction and psychological suspense. Such is Life, her short story collection, is now available. Her forthcoming novel, Lost Girl Road, is a ghost story set in the woods of northwest Montana. She blogs about literature and writing on her twisted book blog: What do I know? Please connect with her at JeriWB.com.