Tuesday, 8 November 2016

NCW Graduate Fair 2016 - Part 2: Pitching to Agents by Sophie Claire

On Friday, Sophie Claire and Louise Marley attended the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University. Organised by Comma Press and The Manchester Writing School, there were panels and workshops on a variety of subjects, AND the chance to pitch to a literary agent!

In this post, Sophie shares her experience of pitching to two literary agents.

Pitching One to One:

I must admit, I couldn’t concentrate on the talks and workshops (which Louise blogged about here) because I was so nervous about pitching to agents! I've never pitched 'live' before, so I spent the morning rehearsing in my mind what I wanted to say and trying to anticipate questions the agents might ask. Which was a shame because there were several workshops which looked good – for example,  perfecting your elevator pitch and using social media to support your writing career.

Those of us who chose to pitch to agents were each given two slots – 15 minutes each – with an agent relevant to our genre. It all looked a little intimidating: rows of tables laid out as for school exams, and an organiser blowing her whistle to signal when the 15 minute slots were over. But it turned out that my agent meetings weren’t half as terrifying as I’d expected. Agents are human, after all, and I got the impression I wasn’t the first nervous writer they’d had to deal with! 

So what did we talk about? We discussed my French ancestry and how I draw on this in my writing. We also talked about why I use a pseudonym, what agents are looking for at the moment (they don’t always know until they find it, a compelling hook, voice, heart), and our shared admiration for Jojo Moyes’ books.

I took written copies of my pitch because I tend to muddle my words when I’m nervous, and one agent reassured me that an author isn’t often – if ever – required to pitch their work verbally, and these things are usually done in writing. The only question which I found tricky was ‘sum up the plot for me’. Yikes! I wish I’d answered this more concisely and not missed out some key elements.

When it comes to preparing a pitch for your book, the main thing I took away with me was to look at the blurbs and covers of books in your genre and learn how to tempt your potential reader into wanting to read your book. There are key words and questions in each genre, and common hooks which readers seek out. For example, in psychological thrillers, questions often revolve around ‘Can the protagonist stay alive/solve the puzzle before time runs out?’ (I noticed a lot of fellow writers were working on psychological thrillers). Also, a pitch isn’t about condensing your plot into two lines; it’s about setting up the story, then throwing in a point of intrigue to make the reader want to know more. Here’s a condensed version of the blurb for Paula Hawkins’ Girl On The Train to illustrate:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses …

And then she sees something shocking.

Approaching an Agent:

We were told several times throughout the day how important the cover letter is when an agent receives your submission, and the key points for a successful one are:

a) Tailor your submission to that agent. Tell them why you’ve chosen to approach them specifically (eg you think your book would fit with their client list, or you've heard they’re looking out for the type of book you’ve written)

b) A concise and compelling hook, which makes them want to read your book

c) Put yourself in their shoes – if they like your book, what will they need to sell it to a publisher? The hook we’ve already mentioned, but also a unique feature which makes your book different from the rest, a description of where it fits in the market (eg: name other books in the same category) or who your potential readers are 

d) Keep it short and relevant.

In Summary:

Chatting to other writers on the day made me realise that we were all nervous about pitching, but I'm so glad I took this opportunity. It was a rare chance to get feedback on my pitch, to make a personal connection with the agents, and to learn more about the business side of publishing.

Have you ever 'live pitched' to an agent? What was your experience like? 



  1. I went on a half-day course with an agent about pitching, hoping to learn how to 'sell' my police procedural crime novel. The first thing she asked me about was the setting - not just geographically but, for instance, is the story set in big business or academia? I couldn't really answer, and I knew I had to strengthen that part of the story that incorporated corruption in local government, so that the corruption had an identity of its own - in my book, an apparently above-board scheme called Revyve that refurbished empty houses. Once I'd made Revyve a more rounded concept, I could weave it through the whole of the book in different ways. That challenge from agent Jacq Burns was invaluable and the book is all the better for it!

    1. Good for you, Nikki! Feedback is always invaluable, but especially so if you can use it to improve your work.

  2. Hi Sophie, thanks so much for sharing that! Having never 'pitched' I would have been as nervous as you, probably more, so your post is really reassuring, as well as useful. Good luck with your new book!! xx


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