Yesterday I went to a session put on by Diaspora Dialogue on the topic of pitching your work to agents and publishers.
I had assumed that the format would be a presentation style, but when I arrived I discovered it was more a round table format, with the four agents and publishers answering questions from the room.
I didn’t have any specific questions ready, but that was okay, because the others in the room asked about several topics of interest to me.
Transcribed below are my notes from the event.
General notes on pitching
- Your manuscript (MS) should be as polished as possible
- It’s okay to change from your 1st draft [note: I assume it’s generally necessary to change from your 1st draft]
- It’s better to have an agent when trying to sell a book-length piece
Benefits of having an agent
- First and foremost: their contact lists
- Agents will work closely with the author, providing another set of (expert) eyes on a MS
- the Big 5 publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster) generally require agented submissions
- Agents will know what the editors at the various publishers are looking for; those editors trust the agents
- Some publishers (usually small presses) will accept unagented submissions
- Agents are also good at reading contracts for the author [the current brouhaha surrounding ChiZine Press was mentioned]
- Agents can be “author’s therapists” and will go to bat for their authors
- Agents are also able to broker international sales
What will help with pitching & proposals?
- Most important: the contents of the MS
- Also important: MS comps (ie, comparative titles; titles you hope to be compared to)
- Publications in the short story markets can help, because they offer a track record
- Know your book
- Know the publishers or agents you’re pitching to (do your research; have names; or at the very least don’t use “Dear Sirs” in your correspondence)
- Bio: the more your work has been published, the better
- Book description: think in terms of jacket copy (ie, one page at most)
- Don’t be afraid to name-drop your friends in the industry, especially if they’re willing to blurb for you
- Don’t oversell your book (it’s not, eg, “more controversial than the Bible”)
- Ensure that you address the correct person in your pitch
- Aim for 85,000−90,000 words for a 1st MS [note: it wasn’t clear if this was a general rule or a lit-fic guideline; I’ve heard 90,000−120,000 for spec fic]
How important is an author’s “platform”?
- By “platform” we mean social media presence and website
- Consensus: if it’s not something you’re good at, or not something you’re interested in, then don’t do it
- Goodreads: meh (no agent or publisher present felt that an author’s Goodreads presence would sway them one way or the other)
What are agents looking for?
- You don’t need to be previously published to get an agent
- Agents look for unique voice: energetic and enticing
How long does the process take?
- Generally it’s at least 1½ years from pitch to books on shelves, but can be longer