Speed Dating with Agents

How I Pitched My Novel in Three Minutes

The most exciting, yet angst-filled moments for me at the San Francisco Writers Conference came during Speed Dating with Agents.

No, not that kind of dating, though that would have been interesting. Speed Dating with Agents is a pitch session in the speed dating format. Literary agents are set up at different tables. Writers take turns sitting down with the agents of their choice for three-minute pitch sessions. At this conference, there were four consecutive time slots for pitching, each one 51 minutes in length. That meant a writer had 51 minutes to reach each agent, which included waiting behind other writers who had queued up to see a particular agent.

So, no pressure, right?

Yeah, right. However, there are steps to take some of the pressure off and help you appear more professional. And it is to your advantage to be professional. Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Here are the steps I took to prepare for the pitch.

Find out which agents will be attending the pitch session. They should be listed on the conference website or brochure. Find out which ones are interested in acquiring books similar to what you’ve written. Pitch to them. If you have a novel, do not pitch to someone looking for non-fiction and visa-versa. Agents will often state what they don’t want. Someone looking for women’s fiction may not be interested in paranormal romance and will probably say so.

Perfect your hook. A hook is your novel in a nutshell. Easily grasped high concepts work here. For example, my hook is “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”

Know your novel length and genre. Don’t guess. Know exactly what you are going to tell the agent.

Know your audience. Who will this book be marketed to? I was asked several times and I had an answer: Readers who like stories with cross cultural fantasy and emotionally driven characters.

Have your novel synopsis ready. Don’t ramble. If you can keep it down to a paragraph, you’ve hit the sweet spot. I know it’s really hard to do. The best advice I’ve heard is to look at back cover blurbs of novels similar to yours. Those are usually about a paragraph long and condense the story nicely. I have my synopsis memorized, but I still had a copy on my phone displayed before me as I spoke. This is perfectly acceptable, as are index cards. Here is my synopsis:

After his parents are murdered, 15-year-old Paul Lau runs away. He winds up in Haight Ashbury, hiding among the ragged street kids who beg for spange. As he learns to survive, he runs into and afoul of other members of the Crossroads, an underworld society of warriors, wanderers, beggars and assassins. He makes an ally when he meets Rhian Nolan, an Irish gypsy trapped in a lie. She’s honest with him, but he’s fake with her. No one can know his true identity, not until he’s ready for revenge.

Have a pen and paper ready to take notes.

So, how did I do? Pretty good, I think. I targeted five agents and received requests for partials from all of them. This is how it went:

I greeted the agent. Introduced myself. Named my book, genre, gave the word count and hook. Then I moved on to the synopsis. All this took less than a minute. The agents asked a couple of questions about marketing and audience. Then they gave me their contact info and submission details. In most cases, I was done before the three minutes were up.

I probably sound more confident than I actually was. Believe me, inside, I was quivering jelly. What helped was that I had attended the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference and went to sessions that helped me hone my pitch craft. I’ll forever be grateful to the editors and agents at the 2012 conference who patiently listened to my different versions and gave me valuable advice.

Will I get an agent out of this? I certainly hope so, but regardless, I’m glad for the opportunity to build my confidence as a professional writer.

Need more advice? No problem. I’ve listed a few resources to help you hone your pitch. One is about query letters. A good pitch fits nicely in query letter.

How to Pitch Agents at a Writers’ Conference

How to Pitch to an Agent at a Writers’ Conference

How to Write a Query Letter

If you are looking for a literary agent, AgentQuery is an excellent resource.

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