How to Talk with Publishers and Agents

women talkingAs a literary agent, I love attending conferences and meeting authors. My career is about helping writers share their words with the world, and at conferences I get to sit down with them and spend a few minutes getting to know what they’re passionate about. There’s nothing more rewarding.

When I meet with you, my goal is to get to know you and your book idea. I’m rooting for you as you sit down and we begin our conversation. Every writer has something valuable to offer, and I’m always on the lookout for the golden nugget you’ll share.

But what if you’re nervous?

Many writers feel self-conscious when sitting down with a publisher or literary agent. In any social situation, the key to reducing butterflies is to take the focus off yourself. (Tweet this.) Don’t worry about what they think of your ideas, whether or not they like you, just focus on the other person. The easiest way to do this is to ask people about themselves, about their writing, about how their day is going.  If you are genuinely interested in them, you will become interesting to them.

So what do you say to a publisher or agent?

The secret to success is thoughtful preparation. Assuming you want to talk about your book idea, remember this is a conversation, and start like you would in any conversation: with a bit of context or background. Take a moment to introduce yourself and establish rapport.

The best book pitch will begin with some background information. (Tweet this.) For example:

My name is _____ and I wanted to meet with you because _____.

I’ve been blogging for ______ (how long) and my blog is about _____ (brief description).

I work as a _____ (if related to your book). Or, My ministry is _____.

Today I want to tell you about my book which is currently called _____ .

Then, launch into your pitch. This should be a maximum of 2 to 3 minutes long, and after you’re finished, the agent or editor will ask questions. Have a 1-minute pitch prepared, too, in case of mealtime or elevator pitches. (See “Crafting Your Elevator Pitch.”)

Here are some guidelines:

→ Include a closing line in your pitch—you don’t want to trail off in uncertainty, creating an awkward moment. A good closing line expresses your intent, such as, “I’m hoping this book will encourage women to become more socially conscious in their daily life, and give them practical tips for doing so.” Sometimes the best closing lines are questions, such as, “Is this something you’d like to hear more about?” Or, “Those are the basics. Can I answer any questions?”

→ Don’t get ahead of yourself. The purpose of your pitch is not to close a deal. It’s to pique your listener’s curiosity and desire to continue talking. (Tweet this.)

→ Be prepared to talk “numbers.” Know your blog stats and number of email subscribers, Facebook fans, and Twitter and Instagram followers. Letting me know the work you’ve put into your project tells me you’re willing to undertake the work we have ahead.

When you go to a conference, I hope your publisher and agent meetings are among the most enjoyable moments. It’s such a great opportunity to make positive connections. Be yourself, and try not to stress too much.

You may also like this post: What Should I Bring to a Conference?



What are your biggest concerns about meeting with publishers and agents?  (Tweet this.)

Comment below, or by clicking: HERE.



Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Terry Heaton on January 31, 2016 at 9:14 AM


    I love this: “In any social situation, the key to reducing butterflies is to take the focus off yourself.” Many years ago, I worked for a very interesting, private research company. Their expertise was the study of power and influence in communities for big companies (at&t) that were thinking about doing business in those locations. These researchers had developed a unique formula for how to do this. Understand they this was highly secret research that took place outside the purview of, for example, the chamber of commerce. A part of this formula was the use of “the currency of ego” in discussions with movers and shakers. It was a slick way of interviewing big shots, because they all – to a person – like to talk about themselves, and it takes a real pro to keep moving the conversation in that direction. It enhances trust, and when the interview is over, these people think of the interviewer as a friend, simply because they played the currency of ego. Fun, huh?

  2. Laura C. Brandenburg on January 27, 2016 at 11:12 AM

    Thanks for this advice, Rachelle. Last year was my first attempt at pitching, and it was incredibly nerve-wracking.

    Is it unwise to pitch the same story idea more than once to an agent at a conference?

  3. […] How to Talk with Publishers and Agents, from Rachelle Gardner: If you get the opportunity to speak with an agent or publisher at a conference or in some other situation, you definitely want to take advantage of it. But what if you’re not sure how to go about it? Excerpt: “When I meet with you, my goal is to get to know you and your book idea. I’m rooting for you as you sit down and we begin our conversation.” […]

  4. Jeff Payne on January 27, 2016 at 1:53 AM

    Excellent article. Very helpful. Thank you.

  5. Debbie Baskin on January 26, 2016 at 10:19 PM

    Thanks for your article. I have been reading your stuff quietly for a while.

    My question, I sent a query and my book to a publisher. She responded that her team is reviewing. How long does this normally take? Should I continue submitting my book? (non-fiction working title: Broken Faith: Picking Up the Pieces.)

  6. Doris Swift on January 26, 2016 at 7:01 PM

    Hi Rachelle,thanks for the great advice.

    When pitching fiction, should you allude to plot twists in the pitch? Does revealing too much take away from the allure that would cause an agent to want to see more?

  7. Peter DeHaan on January 26, 2016 at 4:43 PM

    My favorite part of pitching is when it’s over!

  8. Richard Mabry on January 26, 2016 at 1:26 PM

    Rachelle, Good advice. Although most writers have a different picture of them, agents and editors are real people, and acting “normal” around them is the way to go.
    To the suggestions James Scott Bell gives–Don’t be dull. Don’t be desperate–I’d add the gist of your post. Be prepared.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 26, 2016 at 1:28 PM

      Thanks, Doc! I like “don’t be boring.” Good advice!

  9. Crystal Storms on January 26, 2016 at 11:59 AM

    Your timing for this is perfect for me, Rachelle. I’m going to the Florida Christian Writers Conference next month and plan on putting your tips to good use. Thank you. : )

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 26, 2016 at 1:28 PM

      Excellent! Enjoy that conference.

  10. Robin Steinweg on January 26, 2016 at 11:22 AM

    Thanks, Rachelle–I feel much more equipped now for upcoming conferences!

  11. Cindy on January 26, 2016 at 8:01 AM

    Good morning Rachelle,

    Thank you for all the information. I am attending a workshop next month and I did request an appointment with an agent. But now I’m having second thoughts. Here’s why.

    I thought that I would have at least a complete first draft before I met with her. I don’t. My manuscript is fiction, a thriller, and I believe what could be several spin offs as a series. It seems to fit what she is looking for.

    I have the beginning, middle and ending as of now. I am a 3 act structure writer, and I’m presently working to “connect the dots.” I do have summaries and partial outlines for the series ideas as well.
    Am I wasting her time by approaching her with an unfinished first draft?

    Secondly my platforms such as blogging, my Facebook page, and Twitter, is mostly directed to my small business of social media management, content provision, working from home and managing a small business. Do I need to take time and change that or do I need to create a different blog altogether? I am on various SM platforms and have no problems with expanding if necessary.

    Thank you for any advice you can offer. Enjoy reading your blog ?

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 26, 2016 at 1:32 PM

      Cindy, I think you should just bravely go ahead with your plans and meet with the agent, based on what you have. For fiction, the platform isn’t such an issue, it’s really about the story and your writing.

      My only caveat would be: read carefully her submission guidelines, and her bio on the conference website. Some agents are very clear that they DON’T want you to pitch if you don’t have a complete manuscript. If the agent doesn’t seem to be saying this, then have the meeting.

      Have fun!

  12. Deb Haggerty on January 26, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    Great article–you’re right on.