I’ve been posting about my experience at the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, VA this past weekend. You can tell how rich and full of things to do it is by the fact that it keeps giving me fodder for my blog. However, this time I thought I would get a little more personal. I found out ahead of time that I would be pitching one-on-one with a literary agent. So I thought I would write a little about the experience.

Having never pitched before and never really having a manuscript that I felt like I could pitch in the first place, I was a floundering, nervous fish out of water. I was extremely fortunate to get a literary agent that represented authors who wrote in my general genre of middle-grade and young adult. An added bonus was getting to know a few people at the conference (and making some lasting connections) who were willing to help me hone my pitch before I walked into the room on Sunday, the last day of the conference. I gave some tips on creating a pitch in yesterday’s post. Here are a few things I learned about pitching directly to an agent:

1. Research the agent – Before I stepped foot in the room full of agents sitting at individual tables, I made sure to look up as much as I could about my particular agent and her management company. That way, I could tailor my pitch to what I knew she already liked. It so happens that the agent’s company created their own children’s and young adult division. I looked up the books and authors that they already represent. That way, I could show my knowledge of her company and how it could be a good fit with me as a writer and my manuscript.

2. Practice the pitch – As said before in “Pitching A Home Run“, you have to know what you’re going to say before you sit down. That way, you can stay on track and be clear and concise. You don’t want to amble around. The agent should get an idea right off the bat what your manuscript is about. If they don’t, then you haven’t done a good job conveying that. How can you narrow down your book into one to two sentences? As I witnessed, agents and publishers make decisions quickly about what they’re interested in. If you’re practiced and focused, chances are if you’re turned down it’s because it’s not what they usually represent, not that your idea isn’t good.

3. Know what makes your work different – Agents and publishers hear pitches and read queries all day long. We all know what’s been popular in our genre because chances are it’s what interests us already. So if you’re writing in fantasy, are you just writing about people with magic or is there something different about your world that makes it stand out? Find what’s special about your work and make that the focus of your pitch.

Before I stepped foot in the room full of agents sitting at individual tables, I made sure to look up as much as I could about my particular agent and her management company. That way, I could tailor my pitch to what I knew she already liked.

4. Lead with your strengths – I don’t know if this applies to everyone, but it was something told to me by a very kind and enthusiastic experienced pitcher. When he asked me what my book was about and I explained it was a middle-grade book I could see being used in schools, I told him about my teaching background. He immediately told me that I needed to lead with my experience as a teacher and my passion for my former students. I do believe that when I conveyed a bit of that passion, that made my pitch slightly different and memorable.

I’d like to make a small caveat to address whether to pursue self-publishing or traditional publishing. While the conference aimed at those wanting to go with traditional, I constantly research and keep an open mind. Publishing is a changing beast, and one that we as writers need to keep track of what’s happening. I know very happy self-published authors who wouldn’t consider traditional publishing. I know happily traditional published authors who are looking to self-publish. Publishing is a fluid world right now, and the most important thing to do is to choose the right path for your work.

Back to my pitch. The seven minutes went faster than I could have imagined. The agent asked me more specific questions after I pitched my two sentences, and it allowed me to show a little about what makes my manuscript special. It’s a good sign when a moderator has to come and break up the conversation and the agent is still talking to you. I walked away knowing that it wasn’t 100% perfect, but that I felt like I had done well.

So who did I pitch to, what is my manuscript about, and how did it go? I won’t divulge the agent with whom I spoke. As far as what my manuscript is about and the outcome to my seven minutes, it went really….oops, sorry. We’re out of time. You’ll have to stay tuned to see how things progress.