Finding the right editors and agents to pitch

One of the most important reasons to attend a writers conference is the opportunity to meet directly with editors and agents to pitch your manuscript. It’s been my experience that pitching in person has a much greater success rate than sending query letters. By “success” I mean getting a request for the proposal.

If you’re dealing with an editor directly, the submission process usually goes something like this:

  1. Pitch the book in person — or send a query letter
  2. Get a request for the proposal
  3. Get a request for the full manuscript
  4. Get a contract

If you’re dealing with an agent, step 4 will be representation rather than contract, and then the agent will repeat the process with editors until reaching step 4. Obviously a no at any stage results in your having to start over again at the beginning, and nos are depressingly common in this business.

My point is that if you pitch in person at step one, you are far more likely to advance to step two than if you send a query letter. It’s even quite common for editors and even agents to skip step two and request the full manuscript after hearing a good pitch. But I have never heard of an agent or editor requesting the full manuscript on the basis of a query letter.

Photo by tetmc from iStockphoto
Photo by tetmc from iStockphoto

Some conferences give a limited number of agent or editor appointments as part of the registration fee, and then charge for additional appointments. Others charge for all appointments. At a minimum, take the free appointments available, assuming that the faculty includes appropriate people for you to pitch to.

A list of available agents and editors should be posted on the conference website in advance of the event. Read this list carefully and note which genres agents and editors accept. You may have to visit each agent’s website to do that. Do not omit this step. For example, many nonfiction editors specifically exclude memoir. If you’re pitching a memoir, be sure the editor you’re pitching is looking for that.

Fiction editors often have narrow specialties. For example, they may want historical fiction, but only from the Renaissance through the Edwardian era. Or they may want suspense, but not romantic suspense. It is vitally important not to waste your time or the editor’s by pitching something they won’t acquire.

What if you commit to attending a conference, maybe because it’s local, but none of the agents or editors there are working in your genre? This may only happen to Christian Speculative Fiction writers, but I suspect there may be other genres with similarly small niches. In that case, it may not make sense to schedule an appointment. You can still chat with editors and agents during networking time or at meals, and ask them for referrals. For example, you might say, “I know you’re not looking for inspirational memoir, but do you know anyone who is?” Show some curiosity about what they are doing, beyond what they might do for you.

One of the most important reasons to attend a writers conference is the opportunity to pitch editors and agents. The single most important reason to attend a writers conference is to build relationships, not only with other writers but also with agents and editors, regardless of whether they will publish your book.

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