Pitching in Those One-on-One Appointments
Yesterday there was a comment about pitching agents and editors at conferences that I thought was important enough to address here. The question was whether a “newbie” unpublished author should pitch during their one-on-one appointments, or simply use the time to get to know an agent/editor and learn more about the process.
In the past I’ve advised newer writers to spend the one-on-one time telling about their project, and asking for feedback about story or marketability, rather than simply trying to sell it. In other words, use the meeting to learn more about how your own writing fits (or doesn’t fit) into the larger publishing arena. As an in-house editor, I never minded when writers used my appointment time to pick my brain and gather good feedback about their project. And of course, if it interested me enough, I was sure to ask them to send it to me.
However, lately I’ve been exposed to an entirely different opinion. I was with five other agents at a recent conference, all mainstream (not CBA) agents, and their stance was firm to the point of practically, shall we say, snarky:
“Do NOT take up my valuable appointment time if you don’t have something to pitch me that’s ready to sell. I am spending my time and money to be at this conference, I’m here to find new clients, and those one-on-one meetings are my only chance. Use other times – panel discussions, mealtimes – to get your questions answered. The appointments are for pitching only.”
Ahem. Let me tell you, I was shocked at the firmness with which this attitude was conveyed. I’d never heard it like that before. (And I never appreciate the “you’re wasting my time” approach.)
And yet… as a new agent, and as someone who really does spend my own money to go to a conference, and my own time away from my family since it’s usually on a weekend… I could see the point. If I don’t find a solid business prospect at a conference, then I’ve probably made a bad business decision in being there.
So now I have to tell you, I’m not sure how to answer the question. There are bound to be editors and agents who don’t mind if you use the time to pick their brain (and I know many of them in CBA personally). There are also going to be those who prefer to take appointments only with people who have something to pitch.
Here is the safe answer:
Editors: It’s probably safe to pick their brains, ask for feedback, etc. In other words, probably okay to make an appointment with them even if you’re not ready to sell your project.
Agents: Probably safer to make an appointment only if you are ready for agent representation.
You are ready for agent representation if you have a completed, polished manuscript (fiction), or a completed, polished book proposal and 3 sample chapters (nonfiction).
And about those incomplete fiction manuscripts: Be aware that an agent or editor can’t do anything with you or your project until it’s done. The best you can hope for is someone will say, “Send it to me when it’s finished.”
Someone else asked about pitching at meals, saying they’d heard that you should only do it if the tables are each hosted by a faculty member. This is good advice. But in all cases at conferences (as in life) just try to use your best judgment. If an opportunity presents itself where it seems an agent or editor would be receptive to your pitch, go for it. Look around you, gauge the situation, figure out if you will have both the time and the attention of the agent/editor, and make your decision.
And look, don’t be so hard on yourself if somebody tells you that you “did it wrong” or something. If you are a polite, smiling, kind person, that goes a long way toward smoothing over any (perceived) protocol breaches.
Sorry if all of this is confusing, but conflicting advice is everywhere and there is not always a single right answer to your questions.