After two conferences in a row, there are a few things I want to share from an agent’s perspective on this rite of passage.
I’ve met a few agents who are “tough love” types when you meet them (which I secretly wish I could be), but the majority of us really try our best to be encouraging and as helpful as possible no matter the outcome of the pitch.
However, the first thing to keep in mind is that despite the fact that you only get 10-15 minutes to try and sell us your story, WE are sitting in that room for hours at a time. Sometimes (hopefully) breaks are thrown in throughout the day, but generally, we are dealing with back to back to back face time all day long. Take the last conference I attended. It started at 8:30 in the morning and I met with someone every ten minutes until noon, and then every ten minutes from 1pm to 2pm.
Needless to say, despite how encouraging and helpful we try to be, sometimes, our patience snaps mighty thin.
So without further ado: what is pissing me off after the past two conferences (the true title of this post)
Lying to Agents
One of my fellow agents approached me last weekend and said, “You know, I had a funny thing happen the other day.”
“I got a submission from a man who then called me and explained that he’d been represented by you three years ago, and had left because you didn’t do anything with his book.”
She tilted her head sideways. “But the funny thing was, I’d seen your bio recently, since you were coming to this conference, and I said to him, ‘are you sure it was Natalie Fischer at Dijkstra? Because she’s only been agenting for a year.’ He assured me it was.”
(As a side note, no sh**t nothing happened with your book if you thought I was representing you three years ago dude…)
I’ve said this many times. Most people just don’t get it: our community is smaller than you think. You lie to us, and guess what – we’ll know.
The most common things people lie about are:
-Worked with so and so agent
-They are sending a “requested” submission
-They have an offer from another agent
-Have x amount of fulls out with other agents
-met/spoke with me at so and so event (read here for THAT terrible story…)
It really sucks that people go and ruin the exciting truths for others, but honestly, when we see any of these things in your letter, red flags go up – especially if you’re cagey about who the agents you worked with or made the offer are. And yes – we will speak to each other to verify the truth.
Teens Writing for Teens
This subject holds a very special place in my heart. I absolutely adore teen writers – I was one myself – and I encourage and will give feedback as much as possible to them.
This weekend, I had a pitch session with a twelve year old girl. I was amazed. She told me she’d written a YA about 18 year-olds – and at that point, I was still on board to be blown away.
Then she told me it was 20,000 words long.
As gently as I could, I said to her, “You know, I think it’s just a little too short. Most YA novels are at least 50,000 words long (yeah, I shortened it for her – no need to give her a heart attack). But I’ll tell you what – why don’t you send it to me. I’d love to read it and give you some feedback on where it might be expanded.” I gave her my card, spoke with her some more on whether or not it might really be MG (b/c then it could be only 30,000 words), recommended some writing sites, and again, told her how amazing she was for being there.
Apparently, after the door shut from her session, she was hysterical. She was a sobbing mess – because I’d told her that her story was too short. Mama bear was livid; she wanted to march in and kick my ass.
I was heartbroken. I couldn’t have been more supportive. And yet, she’s twelve; of course she’s going to cry! Grown adults cry at feedback like that! And my mom would have wanted to tear the head off anyone who made me sob too.
No one’s actions, in my mind, were unjustified here; but the truth is: I would have either said it to her then, or in a rejection letter. So parents, please please please take your child’s emotional maturity into consideration before tossing them to the wolves. That girl should not have been in that pitch session – alone, no less! Yes, it is ok to be supportive, but this is a business; as much as we want to help cultivate talent, that’s not our job.
The Pushy Pitch
I consider it pushy when an author has a query or synopsis with them, sits down, pushes it forward, and says, “Here. Read this.”
Oh no no no. Honestly, I can’t focus on your written words; I’ve been bombarded with pitches all day – I have no idea what I’m reading! This is not in your favor, and definitely not a good use of the time.
I also really don’t like getting business cards from authors. I have your contact information in your submission (hopefully); pushing a card to me seems pre-mature (and annoying; I get so many, and they end up flying out everywhere, and I have to try and make sure they don’t get lost or separated from the submission, etc.).
Don’t try and shove your writing on me. It just pisses me off.
The Bitter Pitch
Generally these are made by people who have been pitching their manuscript for quite a while without favorable responses. I could also call this “the complaining pitch.”
My “favorite” was a person who made absolutely sure that I didn’t represent said person’s genre before proceeding to explain how another agent had had said person’s manuscript for over a year, and finally gotten back with a rather rude letter – and could I just comment on that situation?
I’m not going to bad-mouth my colleagues with you. And I’m not going to take kindly to you when you sit there and explain to me how stupid the pitch process is, and how really, publishers say you can’t get published without an agent, but agents don’t want to speak with you unless you’ve been published, so wtf?
Deep breath. Calm. Down. Drink some wine. Bash the world in your notebook. Then you can talk to me.
The Entitled Pitch
So far, I’ve seen this most often with romance and picture book authors, but only because these are two of the only genres left it is possible to be published without an agent in.
I once had a woman sit across from me and ask me to pitch myself to her – because she was agent shopping. I’ve also had authors inform me that they’ve been published so and so many times, and do I want to work with them or not?
Well…send me a sample, I’ll say. I really still need to see if I connect with your voice.
Blank, affronted looks will follow.
Sorry folks, but there aren’t any shortcuts here. Even a published author has to query like everybody else. They’ll get more attention, sure; the process may be faster, and far easier – but it’s still the same process.
I will absolutely never sign someone who thinks they are doing me a “favor” by doing so; I want to sign clients who are with me because they appreciate what I do and can do for them – and vice versa. Even published authors need agents to help build careers; we know how to move you from a small press to a big publisher, how to move you from a publisher with no marketing to a publisher who is going to back you with 1 million dollars in marketing support. So please, don’t act like you don’t need us; if that’s really what you think, don’t speak with me!
Lessons from all of this?
Avoid the above and you’ll be golden!
The Best Pitch
My absolute favorite pitch sessions happen when an author is prepared with questions. I love to chat. I can read any day; anyone can submit to me for free, any time. This is your chance to actually talk to me. Sure, I like to hear your pitch, but I remember the conversation a heck of a lot more if we had something to talk about! There seem to be plenty of things people ask on #askagent; why not in pitch sessions?
Above all, don’t worry about being nervous. It is VERY rare that someone sits down in front of me who is NOT shaking. Or talking so fast they barely breathe. Or mispronouncing words they’re so nervous.
Don’t worry about it. Just be yourself; ask me some questions, mention if you know something about me (I LOVE when people mention my blog or twitter), share your hook, smile…and breathe. No matter what happens, use what I say as constructively as possible…and move on.