The following advice is good for BOTH writing query letters and verbally pitching your novel to an agent.
I’ve only verbally pitched to two agents, but both asked to see my manuscript. I’ve also attended a seminar on how to pitch, listened to agents discuss what they like in a pitch, and read loads of articles on the subject. So here’s what I learned and what worked for me.
You need to be prepared. This has several components.
Research the agent(s) and make sure he/she works in your genre. If not, don’t bother pitching to him/her at all—it will only annoy him/her and waste time.
Google the agents and find interviews, bios, and subscribe to their twitter feeds—that is a great way to find out their views and interests! You might be able to slide some kind of comment into your greeting, or you can compliment their blog, say you like a book he/she represented, etc. They appreciate the fact that you’ve done your homework.
Write a fantastic, but brief, pitch. It should have a great HOOK. After that, you can get straight into WHAT HAPPENS. You don’t need to get into themes. If they want to know, they’ll ask (so be prepared for that, too!). As quickly as you can, mention the following: something interesting/uncommon about the protagonist, what the main conflict is, and explain the inciting incident (what happens that really gets the story going).
Okay, you’ve done your homework. Now you have to actually talk to them.
Don’t worry about being nervous. These agents go to conferences all the time and they’ve seen people far worse than you. And honestly, all the agents I’ve met have been super friendly. Remember this crucial bit of info: They are here to find new writers! They want to like you! If they reject everybody, they go home empty handed, having just wasted a weekend.
Be personable and professional (use the agent’s last name in your greeting). Smile. Be polite. Try to relax but don’t worry if you can’t.
Be excited and confident. They want people who are enthusiastic about their work. If you’re nervous—just cover it up with the joy that is your story.
After your cordial greeting, you may want to mention something that let’s thm know that you have researched him/her. After that (or just start with this), tell them the following information before your “rehearsed pitch” so that they have some basic context about for your book:
- Word Count.
- That it is completed (unless it is not, in which case, don’t mention it).
Now launch into your amazing pitch . . . but be ready for them to interrupt you. Why would they do that? Because they also want to make sure you can talk about it “on the fly.” I was one sentence into my ridiculously awesome rehearsed pitch when the agents cut me off and asked a question like, “Why did that happen?” and then I was off script. Luckily, I knew my book pretty darn well and could answer whatever they threw at me, but the point is—be ready for that! They will cut you off—so be ready to rock n’ roll!
If they request a partial or even your full MS, make sure you find out EXACTLY how they’d like you to send it. Email? Paste in the body or as an attachment? What should you put in the message subject line? What is the email address? Do they want your Query as well? Do they prefer snail mail? To what address?
When it is over—whether they requested anything or not—thank them for taking the time and wish them well. Keep your dignity if they didn’t ask for a sample of your work. For God’s sake, don’t argue with an agent after he/she decided to pass on your project: you will not win that argument. If they asked for something, don’t stick around long enough to gush and become an idiot. Once you have their contact info, say “Thank you,” and get yourself out of there!
If you did not get a request, don’t despair, but do try to figure out where your pitch went wrong. Perhaps the agent gave you a clue in a question he/she asked. Take some time to think it over. Should you revise your MS? After one rejection—probably not. Get a second opinion. Your MS might be fine. Maybe it is your pitch that needs revision or maybe that agent just didn’t think he could sell your book! That’s how agents work. If they don’t know editors who might be interested, they won’t waste their time OR yours by requesting it. So not getting a request might mean absolutely nothing. Think it over, certainly, but try not to over think it.
And if you did get a request—Yay! Take the time to celebrate! And then come back to reality because it will probably take the agent a few months to read your book once you send it (they always have a long back-log of things to read plus are busy working with their clients—something you’ll be happy about once you have an agent and he/she is not reading new submissions because he/she is working so hard on your project!). Oh. And I read that most agents still only sign about 1 – 2.5% of the clients they actually request material from. So . . . yeah. Reality.