Pitching Agents & Publishers

fountain pen on notepad

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 85,00090,000 words for a 1st MS [note: it was­n’t clear if this was a gen­er­al rule or a lit-fic guide­line; I’ve heard 90,000120,000 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