Pitching to a Literary Agent Live: What It’s Really Like

A couple years ago, I attended the last annual Longview Literary Festival in Lee’s Summit, MO. It was an incredibly fun experience as always, but different from previous years in that, for the first time ever, I got to pitch a novel series to a literary agency in person!

Here I am going to tell you what it was like, how I prepared, and what you should do if you happen to get the rare chance to present your own work to an eager agent.

The preparation stage is probably the most stressful. It was for me, anyway. I started by looking up all kinds of online articles like this one, trying to figure out what the experience was like for others. Then I followed their suggestions: know your material and know yourself. These are undoubtedly the most important areas to have prepared talking points on, as these are the most relevant matters. I also created what you might call a “writer’s resume” at the suggestion by a former instructor of mine just in case (see my previous post on how to make one here).

Now, as to expectations: I suppose everyone has their own doomsday scenario about what the 2 to 10-minute session (depending on how busy the agent is) will go. I was fortunate enough to know the setting in which the session would take place, as I had attended this event at the same building for the previous three years. And I would make the suggest to you that, if at all possible, you try and at least get to know the surroundings where your pitch session will take place, as it will eliminate some of that aura of mystery about the whole ordeal and allow you to focus more. This won’t always be possible, as you may be from out of town or the facility might be an office you will not have access to before the pitch, but do the best that you can.

Even with my advantage I was uneasy. I had assumed that the pitch session would take place inside the building’s theater: a panel of agents sitting like sharp-eyed hawks waiting to pounce on me if I did the slightest thing wrong, and all the other people signed up to give pitches sitting in the bleachers behind waiting to make witty remarks or laugh at my mistakes. This assumption proved false.

The actual session, for which there were only three people signed up, took place in one of the other little rooms: a much cozier, carpeted setting with a single agent on one side of a little desk with a notepad, me sitting opposite, and nobody else in the vicinity. We shook hands, sat down, and began our discussion. The agent was very polite, and I felt completely at ease for those few short minutes. I didn’t even have to reference the resume in my folder. When it was over, we shook hands again, and I left the room to the next person in line.

So, as you can see, working yourself up into a frenzy is neither desirable nor necessary. Just know yourself, know your subject (which should be easy enough, since you created it), be professional, and be polite. You will also want to dress for the occasion. While a full suit and tie may not be necessary, you do want to at least make an effort not to look like a complete slob. The agent may get the impression that this session was not that important to you, and treat it accordingly.

There are no guarantees when you walk into a pitch session, but it is not like you can lose by going for it as long as you are prepared. If they say no, at least you gave it a try; if they ask for more material, you can walk away feeling a great sense of accomplishment. It may not lead to the contract you so dream about. But then again, it might.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series 'Sauragia' and the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children, as well as several shorter works in various online and local venues. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favourite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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