Tips and Etiquette for Perfect Pitches and Quality Queries

At the June 2021 conference, we will offer the following virtual meetings with agents and editors:

One-on-one pitches. While supply lasts, attendees may register for a maximum of three pitches. Authors should have complete or near-complete manuscripts. Pitch sessions run from 8-10 minutes.

-and/or-

Small-group query-letter critiques. At registration, attendees may sign up for one or two query-letter critique sessions. These are intended for authors who either 1) would like feedback on a work in progress or 2) have a completed project for which they’d like to refine their query letter. These sessions will run an hour.

ABOUT PITCHES

Pitches will take place one-on-one with your selected agent(s) and/or editor(s) in Zoom breakout rooms. You will have 8-10 minutes for your pitch. After registration closes, you will be referred to signup.com to sign up for your appointment(s) on either Friday, June 25 or Saturday, June 26. You will be sent a reminder message about your appointment time(s) shortly before the conference.

ABOUT QUERY-LETTER CRITIQUES

These small-group sessions (eight people plus one industry person) will take place via Zoom. Each agent or editor running one of these sessions will be assigned to a time block, and the time slot will be set after registration closes for Thursday, June 24, and communicated to you before the conference. You should come to the session with an electronic copy of your one-page, 12-point-font query letter to be shared on the screen. You may use this session to either get feedback on your novel concept or to refine your query letter. Be sure to indicate what kind of feedback you’re interested in at the beginning of your critique time. The primary purpose of these sessions is to get feedback on your concept or query letter, although agents and editors are free to request material if they wish.

SOME SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE YOUR TIME A SUCCESS

1.  Do your homework. Learn what you can about the agent or editor you are meeting with and understand what s/he represents or publishes. It is also good to know your own work, what recent publications like it are out there, and how yours is different or fills a niche. Agent and editor bios can be viewed here.

2. Be professional. Conference attire is typically casual business wear.

3. Be friendly and polite. Smile and offer your name. Make eye contact with the camera and speak clearly. Test your audio and video before the session.

4. Relax. Take a few deep breaths and smile before you go to the session. It will relax you. Have fun!

5. For pitches, start with your premise/high concept/pitch. The elevator pitch comes from Hollywood and as such can seem anathema to the novel writer: “A small boy sees dead people”; “A self-centered young woman grows strong as she struggles to keep her family’s plantation through the Civil War and Reconstruction.” These are examples you might recognize from popular culture. You can start with something like this and then expound a bit, but it’s best not to go over five minutes. Leave time for the agent or editor to ask any questions s/he may have.

Agents and editors at the Historical Novel Society Conference often ask, “Why does everyone here start with their time/place?” This is sometimes what we think of first, having immersed ourselves in these places for so long. But consider catching your agent or editor’s attention first with the universal problem(s) of your characters that may make them interesting.

Nonetheless, for historical novels, it is probably a good idea to mention time and place, especially if it’s popular, like World War II. You might also mention your subgenre, such as action/adventure, mystery, or romance, and whether you are incorporating real historical characters, especially if they’re well-known.

6.  If it will help your pitch, mention something about your qualifications to write this tale: degrees, other publications, or experience.

7.  Be prepared to continue talking after your pitch, focusing on what excites you about the story. Be coherent, use note cards if necessary. Be ready to share your manuscript’s word count.

8.  Don’t plan on distributing your manuscript at the meeting. If an agent or editor is interested, s/he will ask you to send a few chapters or more and give you an email or snail-mail address. This is good. This means you can put “requested material” on the envelope or in the subject line and find your way out of the slush pile.

9.  Make lemonade out of lemons. If your agent/editor isn’t enthusiastic about your pitch, use your remaining time to learn the name of someone s/he knows who might react differently or inquire about what s/he is interested in. It’s your time. Don’t let it go to waste.

10. End the right way. Finish your thought when you’re told your time is up, part cordially, and move on. Afterward, jot down a few notes to jog your memory about revisions to your query letter, addresses, or material requested. This is particularly important if you’re seeing more than one professional as meetings might blur together.

11. If you’re offered representation by an agent who has read your material, be sure to ask about the agency’s contract. Reputable agents will offer authors a contract that addresses all aspects of the agent/author relationship. And it’s always prudent to have the contract reviewed by an attorney or other knowledgeable person. If you’re a member of the Authors Guild, their legal department will review your contract at no additional charge.


Check out our exciting lineup of agents and editors here. If you’ve already registered, you can add pitch sessions or query-letter critiques to your registration by going to this link.