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How NOT To Pitch Agents: 21 Tips For Writers

How Not to Pitch Agents

If you want to pitch agents, you have come to the right place. One of the most oft-hit articles on B2W is 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent by BFLA’s Carole Blake. So, with LondonSWF around the corner, I thought now was a good time to invite another agent to give her tips … So please welcome Jennifer Johnson-Blalock!

The LondonSWF Pitchfest in action
The LondonSWF Pitchfest in action

Jennifer is a lit agent in New York and is offering her top tips on how NOT to pitch at conferences and pitchfests. There’s some stellar advice here on how to pitch agents, so make sure you read through the full 21.

Over to you, Jennifer …


Pitch sessions can be fun. I spend so much time at my computer that it’s a joy to get to meet writers face-to-face and talk about their work.

I want every pitch to be a productive, positive experience for the writer— with this advice, I hope it will be! Here’s my top advice on how to pitch agents.

1) Don’t be too nervous

Some nerves are inevitable, but remember, I’m hoping you succeed. Take a deep breath; there’s no need to be terrified. MORE: 7 Things Agents, Producers & Filmmakers Can Tell From Your Pitch

2) Don’t be unprepared to pitch

Pitch to friends, your pet, the mirror, other conference attendees. It feels awkward, but you don’t want to forget anything important.

3) Don’t leave key details out of your pitch: genre, category, hook, stakes

Make sure I know what the book or screenplay is about and why it’s unique.

4) Don’t fail to tailor the pitch to the specific agent

If you’re pitching to me for a reason (something I tweeted about for example), tell me! That’s a great way to start.

5) Don’t talk for too long

Give me time to say yes or no. If it’s only a 5-minute pitch session, your pitch shouldn’t be longer than 2 minutes. Short and clear is best.

6) Don’t be unprepared for questions

I’ll probably have follow-up questions. When you’re practicing, encourage the other person to ask questions so you get used to talking spontaneously about your book.

7) Don’t be surprised to hear “no.”

It’s a horrible feeling, but we’ve all been in situations where we’re upset but have to smile gracefully. This is one of them. Remember that logistically, I can only read a tiny bit of what I’m pitched.

8) Don’t be surprised to hear “YES!”

It does happen! Make sure your manuscript is ready to go before the conference so you can send the pages ASAP. If it’s not, tell me that so I’m not expecting it.

9) Don’t fail to take careful notes on how the agent wants the manuscript or screenplay submitted

We all have preferences (I like a Word document for my Kindle). Take note and follow instructions.

10) Don’t argue

If it’s “no,” of course you’re disappointed. But arguing won’t make me want to represent you.

11) Don’t leave unused time

Instead, use the time productively. Ask for feedback on your pitch or to look at your query if we have time. Ask questions.

12) Don’t push the boundaries of the pitch session

When it’s time to go, it’s because someone’s standing right behind you. Be respectful.

13) Don’t pitch more than one work

Take your best shot. If it’s no, use the time to learn more about the agent’s taste. You can always send a query later. But it’s overwhelming when a writer sits down and says, “Okay, I have five projects…”

14) Don’t pitch an agent who doesn’t represent what you’ve written

If you have a choice of agents, choose wisely. At a small conference, there may only be one agent, but be upfront. Ask for feedback on your pitch and/or query, and ask for recommendations.

15) No party favours

I can’t take query letters, proposals, chapters, books, etc. home. I will take a business card, but honestly, I’d save your money. Following up with an email or saying hi on Twitter is a more effective way to make me remember you.

16) Don’t miss opportunities to pitch

Some conferences encourage pitching during cocktail parties and such. Take advantage of that—it’s why I’m there. If a line has formed, stand in it! If I need a break, I’ll go to a writer-free zone for a few minutes.

17) Don’t pitch in uncomfortable places

The bathroom is not a place to pitch. Waiting for an agent outside the bathroom is also a bit creepy. If it’s after official conference sessions (perhaps you see me at the bar), just ask. If I’m not ready to hear a pitch, I’ll tell you when and where to find me.

18) Don’t think of the agent as a rejection robot

We’re human; I swear. We empathize with your mix of nerves and excitement and exhaustion because we feel the same way.

19) Don’t assume the agent doesn’t want to help

I may pass on your work, but I still want the best for you as a writer. I want to make our time together as helpful for you as possible.

20) Never forget it’s a long game

There are so many stories about agents passing on someone’s work only to make an offer on their next one. Keep the door open with a positive interaction.

21) Don’t think that pitches are the only way to find an agent

Query letters work! The vast majority of my clients have come from the so-called slush pile.

Johnson-Blalock HeadshotBIO: Jennifer Johnson-Blalock is a literary agent @LizaDawsonAssoc. All nonfic, thrillers, women’s fic, contemp romance, YA, and MG. Adore travel, film, food, and sports. Follow her on Twitter as @JJohnsonBlalock. 


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