Plan to Pitch

If you're ready for it, a good writer's conference can send you into warp speed toward your publishing goals. Faster than the query letter, you can pitch several agents at once, get valuable feedback, and even get an agent. Rather than sending out a query letter and hoping the agent is taking on new writers, you can be confident the ones at the conference are looking for new clients. Also, you can skip the picayune "pet" criteria that agents will demand if you query through their website, as long as you produce a solid pitch and standard-format book proposal.

Two of my favorite writer's conferences are coming up in early 2012, the San Diego State University Writer's Conference and Michael Larsen's San Francisco Writer's Conference. If you plan on attending either one of those, you'd better begin to prepare now.

To get your book proposal together, I recommend that you read Michael Larsen's How to Write a Book Proposal. If you want some more in-depth personalized help, visit my friend, the Literary Agent Undercover, Mark Malatesta for some great pointers and tips.

If you pitch your idea and get an agent's interest, chances are they will have some follow up questions. It's easy to forget about that part when you prepare. I don't want you to stand there and stumble, mumble and bumble through an unremarkable follow up conversation, so I've provided these five common questions agents are likely to ask when they are interested in your book.

Prepare and practice your answers to these, and agents will see you as a poised and polished professional.

The first question any agent will ask when you engage them in a conversation at a writer's conference is  some version of “What’s your book about?” which means, essentially, "tell me your book concept in about 10 seconds."

If you answer with a brilliant, compelling statement that leaves the agent wanting more, the agent probably will ask some or all of the following:

“How does it do that?” This is a logical follow up question to the statement you just made about what the book will do for its readers. Be ready to briefly explain the methodology or structure of the book and how it delivers on its promise. Keep your answers short and to the point.

“What genre?" or "What’s your category?” Basically, what they want to know is, if this book were to be published, where in the bookstore might one find it? Humor? Self-help? How-to? You get the idea. Agents need to know, because it will help them figure out if your book is a fit for the type of work they represent.

“What’s it like?” This question may be phrased in a number of ways, but they are really asking you to use two other books to give them the gist of the tone and overall approach of the book. It’s best to compare top-selling, notable books, because agents like to represent books that have a fresh twist on themes that have already done well. For example, a book on using the law of attraction to grow your business might be pitched as “It’s The Tipping Point meets The Secret.” One warning, while it's good to mention strong sellers, don't use examples that are likely to have been overused. For example, not every memoir is the next Eat Pray Love, and if you don't want agents to roll their eyes at you, neither is yours.

“Why are you the best person to write this book?” This question goes to your status as an expert. If an agent is interested in your idea, they are already thinking, How am I going to sell this author? So, help them out. Be prepared to explain why you are not only the BEST person to write the book, you are the ONLY one who could write it and why.

And MOST Important: It’s natural to be a little nervous when talking with agents for the first time, just don’t let your nervousness keep you chattering away, never giving the agent a chance to ask you more questions. Answer the question and shut up. Remember, the idea here is to generate a conversation, not a monologue.