Pitching at a Conference

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Recently I was asked whether a “newbie” unpublished author should pitch during their one-on-one appointments at a writers’ conference, or simply use the time to get to know an agent/editor and learn more about the process.

In the past I’ve advised newer writers that it’s okay to spend the one-on-one time telling about their project, and asking for feedback about story or marketability, rather than simply trying to sell it. In other words, use the meeting to learn more about how your own writing fits (or doesn’t fit) into the larger publishing arena. As an in-house editor, I never minded when writers used my appointment time to pick my brain and gather good feedback about their project. And of course, if it interested me enough, I asked them to send it to me.

But there are other opinions out there.

I was with several New York agents at a recent conference, all mainstream (not CBA) agents, and their stance was firm:

meeting“Do NOT take up my valuable appointment time if you don’t have something to pitch me that’s ready to sell. I am spending my time and money to be at this conference, I’m here to find new clients, and those one-on-one meetings are my only chance. Use other times—panel discussions, mealtimes—to get your questions answered. The appointments are for pitching only.”

That had never been my stance. And yet… as someone who really does spend my own money to go to a conference, and my own time away from my family since it’s usually on a weekend… I can see the point. If I don’t find a solid business prospect at a conference, then I have to question my decision to be there (unless I’m primarily there to support my clients who are present, which is sometimes the case).

So now I have to tell you, I’m not sure how to answer the question. There are bound to be editors and agents who don’t mind if you use the time to get more general feedback about your project. There are also going to be those who prefer to take appointments only with people who have something to pitch.

Here is the safe answer:

Editors: It’s probably okay to make an appointment with them even if you’re not quite ready to sell your project. You could still pitch it and get their feedback, and learn something about your market, your genre or your idea.

Agents: Probably safer to make an appointment only if you are ready for agent representation.
This is when you have a completed, polished manuscript (fiction), or a completed, polished book proposal and 3 sample chapters (nonfiction).

And about those incomplete novels: Be aware that an agent or editor can’t evaluate it until it’s complete. The best you can hope for is someone will say, “Send it to me when it’s finished.”

Someone else asked me about pitching at meals, saying they’d heard that you should only do it if the tables are each hosted by a faculty member. This is good advice. But in all cases at conferences (as in life) just try to use your best judgment. If an opportunity presents itself where it seems an agent or editor would be receptive to your pitch, go for it. Look around you, gauge the situation, figure out if you will have the time and the attention of the agent/editor, and make your decision.

And hey, don’t be so hard on yourself if somebody tells you that you “did it wrong” or “broke a rule.” If you are polite, smiling, and kind (never pushy or overbearing), that goes a long way toward smoothing over any perceived protocol breaches.

Sorry if all of this is confusing, but conflicting advice is everywhere and there is not always a single right answer to questions!

What are your comments or questions about those one-on-one meetings at conferences? Do you do them? Do you like them? What kind of results have you gotten?

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