Elizabeth: What’s it Like to Meet With an Agent?

Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue-300x200

“Cain venant de tuer son frére Abel” by Henri Vidal, (1896) in the Tuileries Garden, Paris

Today I’m wrapping up a series of posts on agents. You can read the previous post s about how to decide if you need an agent here and how to find an agent here.

Last week I had a pitch appointment with an agent at the RWA National conference in San Antonio.   I had never pitched before, so I was looking forward to it with equal parts anticipation and anxiety.

Pitch appointments are typically held on the second day of the RWA conference and are scheduled in 10-minute intervals. Not much time if the conversation is going well, but a lifetime if you find yourself floundering. My appointment was in the late afternoon, so I had all day to make myself nervous and wonder if I was crazy to even think about pitching. Fortunately I had several great workshops to attend beforehand to keep me sufficiently distracted.

Based on what I’ve heard from other writers, there is no fixed format for a pitch appointment. They may start with “tell me about your book” or the editor/agent may have a set series of questions they ask. Regardless of the format, you need to be able to clearly describe your book and convince the person on the other side of the table that it’s something they want to read and sell.

I got to the area of the hotel where the appointments were being held about an hour before my scheduled time and found a quiet spot to relax and mentally run through my story and the possible questions I might be asked.   Previously, I had come up with one-line, two-line, and three-line summaries of my story and I went over them, making sure they were as polished and engaging as they could be. I chatted with another writer who was waiting for her own appointment and she assured me that pitching was a piece of cake, nothing to worry about. (Frankly I had been thinking about it more like a colonoscopy – something potentially unpleasant but good for you to do.)

When it was time to check in for my appointment, things took a turn for the unexpected. My name wasn’t on the list. When the volunteer checked again, she couldn’t find the agent’s name on the list either. While the other writers with appointments were alphabetically lined up and herded into the staging area to await their timeslot, I cooled my heels, only to find out that the agent I was meeting had unexpectedly been unable to make it to the conference and her appointments had been cancelled. Something I would have known had I brought my computer (with my email access) to the conference, rather than leaving it at home so I could focus without distractions. Live and learn.

All that anticipation and nervousness for nothing. It was a bit of a let-down. On the plus side, the cancellation email, when I finally got home to read it, requested a synopsis and sample chapters, much like would have been requested at the actual pitch appointment (assuming I hadn’t completely tanked it). So, I missed out on the personal connection and chance to network with an agent, but didn’t go away empty handed.

Now it’s off to polish up the synopsis so it shines before I send it out tomorrow. Fortunately, one of those workshops I attended while keeping my mind of pitching was all about writing a great synopsis.

Perfect timing.

So, have you ever pitched to an agent or editor?  If so, was it what you expected?

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What’s it Like to Meet With an Agent?

  1. One of the things I’ve discovered doing pitches is that it doesn’t really pay to rehearse. Whatever you think they want, that’s not it. The first time I ever pitched, I practiced in front of the mirror for two hours. And then the agent asked questions and didn’t want a narrative from me at all. The good thing about the face-to-face meetings, as you say, is that you get a feel—even from the 10 minutes—of whether you’d be a good fit with that person. And that’s important—although if I had to choose, I’d chose an agent who could sell the heck out of my book, even if I didn’t much like her personally.

    Sorry you didn’t get to meet your agent, but yay for the offer to submit!

    • Rehearsing is tricky, especially if you have no prior experience to base it on. My goal was just to make sure I had a really clear explanation of my story and could answer questions that might arise. Not that much different than a standard job interview.

  2. I’ve met with several agents. Some I liked, some I didn’t. I didn’t make any appointments this time, but last year, I did. I used what we learned in the McDaniel publishing class to ask questions of the agent to make sure it would be a good fit (it wasn’t). I usually make myself sick with nerves but have found that they are all very nice and essentially interested in hearing about the story. I did have one bad experience with an editor, but I think that was an anomaly – most are very nice in a pitch appointment.

    • Michille, I think it’s easy to succumb to nerves, even knowing that the editors/agents are likely to be nice and interested in hearing about your story. I think it helps to think about it as a business encounter, to avoid taking things personally.

    • Preparing was a very helpful part of the process. It forced me to really think about my story and distill it down to its basic parts, which is a good thing to do.

  3. How incredibly annoying for you Elizabeth. But on the plus side, perhaps this agent will want to represent you from the submission she asked for and you ending up never having to pitch – that would be a great result!

  4. Oh, boy! It’s so hard keeping up with email and other things these days. In the old days, they’d probably have put up an announcement or at least the people at the check-in desk would have known. But, at least you get to submit your pages! I wish you luck!

    • This was a lesson learned for me. Next time around, I’ll make sure to reconfirm the appointment first thing in the morning. I’ve been in the professional world long enough to know that schedules do change on occasion, so it pays to be proactive. Thanks for the good wishes.

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