So you’re pitching to an agent or editor at DFWCon this year. What an exciting moment! What a nervous moment!
What should you expect? What should you bring? What should you wear? So many questions. Never fear, we have some answers for you!
Do I have to do a pitch session?
Nope. Totally optional. And there are plenty of other reasons to attend DFWCon even if you’re not ready to pitch your work yet. Of course there are advantages to meeting with an agent, not least being that agents tell us they pay more attention to submissions from people they met at conferences.
How do I sign up for a pitch session?
After you register for the conference, you’ll receive an email with instructions on how to sign up. The emails are going out on Thursdays and Sundays. You get one optional free session with your registration. But you’ll be asked for three choices in order of preference. This is in case your first choice is already booked.
Pitch sessions are assigned in order of conference registration date.
How do I know who to pitch to?
A list of agents and a chart showing their genre interests can be found on this page. Use the chart to help guide your decision. But genre preferences can have a lot of nuance, so be sure to research agents independently. For example an agent could say they like historical fiction, but could still have no interest in stories set in the 13th Century.
Do I have to have a completed manuscript in order to pitch?
Some of the agents require that you have a completed manuscript in order to meet with them. If they are interested, they want you to be able to email it to them immediately. These agents are identified on the signup form. If that’s the case and you want to meet with them, wrap that sucker up or be extremely close, like just a few days away from being ready to ship it.
Other agents are fine with meeting with you to consult on your work or your ideas for projects even if your manuscript isn’t completed. This is also indicated on the signup form.
What should I wear?
We’d recommend that you be comfortable so you can concentrate while also looking like you have your act together. Agents like writers who have their act together! For many people, this means business casual. Others can pull this off while being more informal. We’re not going to tell you precisely how to dress, but we will say don’t look like you’re not taking the whole thing seriously. And we don’t recommend a gimmicky approach, like wearing a costume or drastically overdressing in order to be memorable, because that could backfire depending on the agent.
How do I pitch?
Boil that pitch down to its bones! Don’t give them a bunch of ancillary information—until they ask! You should be able to sum up your story in a sentence or two. There are variations on the formula for a successful pitch, but very broadly speaking, the idea is to briefly get these items across: title, genre, word count, protagonist, protagonist’s problem, and how the protagonist grows or changes while resolving the problem. Focus more on character, not all the intricate details of the plot. Once you’ve done that, time to be quiet and let the agent ask questions, which you answer briefly.
How does the pitch sessions process work?
It’s quite a logistical operation! Your email with instructions will tell you the exact time your pitch session starts. If you do not receive an email, check your spam folder first, and if it’s not there then notify us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please arrive at least 10 minutes before the start time of your session. Check the big screen at the pitch desk for your name, and verify your time and assigned agent. There will be a roped-off area with tables where you can sit and talk to the other authors waiting to pitch. You’re all in the same boat, so support each other! Take turns practicing the pitch on each other.
If you don’t find your name on the monitor, check with the pitch session coordinator, who will work with you to resolve any scheduling issues.
Don’t be late! You won’t be admitted into the pitch room after a time slot has already started. If you don’t show up, your agent is likely to leave their table to take a quick break. If you miss a session, we’ll try to get you in with an appropriate agent at a later time, with whoever still has slots available – but we don’t make any guarantees.
A volunteer will be in the waiting area to answer questions and walk you through the process. You will barely be listening because your nerves will be in your throat and your hands will have a slight tremor. You’re about to present your baby to the world! What if they call it ugly!?!? Don’t worry. Agents are people too and they got into this business because they like writers and writing and books and talking to writers about writing and books! Of course there is no guarantee they will tell you what you want to hear, but remember – agents like writers, and most of our agents flew across the country just so they could meet with you!
When the time comes, a volunteer will walk your group down the hall and let you into the pitch room. As you enter the room, look for your agent’s name on the signs displayed on the tables they’re sitting at, take a deep breath, and go meet your agent.
You have 10 minutes. Make it count.
Introduce yourself and shake hands, and sit down. They’ll greet you and ask what you’ve got. Dive straight into your pitch – you want to make the most of the 10 minutes, don’t waste it on chitchat. After you finish your pitch the agent will ask questions.
do nOt give the agent anything. Not your card, not your query, not your first page—nothing! Do not bring your manuscript – that will mark you as a beginner. You can have business cards readily accessible on your person, but don’t bring one out unless asked for one. (Which most likely won’t happen.)
Right now, YOU are the query letter.
It is at this point where the entire rest of the world will disappear and it will only be you and the agent. I’m not kidding. The rest of the world will figuratively cease to exist (NOT literally). It’s an epic moment – you’ve got a real live literary agent’s undivided attention! — and many of you will only barely remember what was said.
Make sure that if the agent requests materials, you are certain of what they want. Listen closely. Take notes. If they say they want a query, a synopsis, and the first fifty pages, write that down. Don’t get it wrong. That’s key when they receive your submission that you take your craft and career seriously.
Then your quiet bubble of existence with the agent will come to a resounding halt, the sounding of the gong! You need to listen for the gong. The gong will sound twice, once at nine minutes, which indicates that you have one minute left. Please wrap up your pitch and gradually stand up to show you’re wrapping it up. You can keep talking, but you must stand so our volunteer knows you’ve heard the first gong. Many times, it’s the agent who keeps the conversation going, but if you stand, you signaling to your agent that you’ve heard the first gong and that you’re on your way out.
The second gong will sound at the 10-minute marker. Your time is up! You now have to un-yoke yourself from the agent and let the world in. Time to find the exit – even if the agent or editor is so fascinated with you that they don’t want to let go! So say goodbye to the agent and exit the pitch area to make room for the next group of authors waiting to pitch. Please do not linger in the pitch area after the second gong. Your time is up, and it’s someone else’s turn. If you do this, the volunteer doesn’t have to intercede and potentially tarnish the end of your pitch session. We have to keep the pitch sessions moving on schedule to get everyone in with the time they’ve been promised.
Please note the writers will be entering the room through one door, but exiting through another, for traffic flow. Don’t try to exit the way you came in.
And that’s it! Now you can go on your merry way and enjoy the rest of the conference.
Once outside, the second guessing will start. Did you say the right thing? Did you talk too much? Too little? Don’t worry about it. If the agent requested materials, be happy with that and get ready to send them what they asked for! If you didn’t get the result you wanted, that’s OK! You have some options. Additional pitch sessions will be on sale at the conference. And don’t forget — you can also pitch to as many agents and editors as you want at the Saturday evening reception. You can hobnob to your heart’s content! Remember to be courteous to the agents and other attendees. Try not to hog an agent’s time for too long. Give others an opportunity to talk to them.
And if you’re really brave, you can stop an agent in the hallway and pitch right there, if they have a few minutes to stop and chat.
Talking to agents gets easier the more you do it. Good luck with your pitch session. See you at DFWCon!