Five tips for pitching to literary agents

As I struggle to better understand the world of writing and publishing, I frequently encounter the topic of pitching.

What’s that?” you ask.

A pitch is the author’s means to persuade an agent or editor that her book is marketable and worthy of their time and effort to get published.

Recently, the Atlanta Writers Club facilitated a seminar titled “Pitch, Please: An Agent’s Guide to Pitches and Queries” by Caroline George, who is an Associate Agent with Cyle Young Literary Elite.

I enjoyed Ms. George’s seminar because, in addition to sharing a loads of useful information, she was funny, relatable, professional, and encouraging. She definitely came across an agent with whom most people would want to work.

The statement she made which I appreciated most was this: If you stay in the (writing and pitching) game long enough, you will be successful.

So here are my takeaways from Ms. George’s seminar about pitching to literary agents:

1. Agents are looking for business partners

The key word is partners. Your pitch should be to an agent who’s interested in the same genre as your book and someone with whom you’d like to work. If the agent sees your book as marketable and your potential for positive collaborations, you’ll ideally be offered a contract. Signing a contract with an agent means that the two of you are entering into the business of getting your book published together.

According to Ms. George, the industry standard for agents is 15% of your payments from the publisher. For example, if you were to receive a $10,000 advance on book royalties, your agent would get $1,500 of the advance.

2. Check the submission guidelines before pitching

Check the agent and agency’s website for submission guidelines to ensure that the book you want to pitch is in a genre they are currently looking to acquire. It will not serve you to pitch your memoir to an agent or agency that is seeking fantasy novels.

3. Avoid…

Literary agents are not impressed by gimmicks, so think again before deciding to walk in the door wearing a bunny costume. Instead, present yourself professionally as someone with whom they’d like to work.

Agents also want to know that you are specifically interested in them as unique individuals, so avoid a generic copy-paste query letter that is vague enough to apply to anyone. Tailor your message to the agent receiving your pitch by including in your letter or conversation why you chose them or even any shared interests you may have.

Definitely do not send your letter to multiple agents at the same agency. Again, they want to know why you’ve selected the particular person to whom you’re pitching.

Oh, and don’t give away the end of your book unless the agent requests it.

4. What should you include?

In addition to making the pitch personal, you should also include key information such as the title, genre, word count, target audience, and comparable titles which your target audience reads. It’s a good idea to look at places like Amazon’s book rankings to see how well the comparable titles you’re using have actually sold.

Know the difference between a elevator pitch (one sentence), a premise pitch (three sentences), and a book pitch (five sentences). The shorter your pitch, the more time you’ll have to talk about your book with the agent.

Lastly, include your credentials and platform, which can be anything from previous work you’ve written to organizations you’re affiliated with to your audience platform on social media.

5. Don’t downplay yourself or your audience platform

Ms. George’s advice was to positively frame your accomplishments regarding audience platform. Rather than confessing up front that you don’t have much of a platform, it’s better to reframe through the lense of a quantifiable increase (i.e. “my audience has grown by X number of readers in the past year).

I hope these tips will be helpful to you as you begin articulating exactly what your pitch will be. If you have any experience with pitching that you think others could benefit from, will you please leave a comment? I’d love to learn more first-hand experiences.

Questions? Comments?


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