My experience with part of this is not extensive, the pitching part. As far as submitting to agents, this I have done quite a bit but as far as pitching an agent, I have done that only once. But it was a great experience and one I recommend if the opportunity arises. My pitch experience took place at a writing conference and it was nerve-wracking but it helps you to fine-tune your pitch. Chances are you’re not going to be polished and have your pitch perfected the first time out but that’s okay. Learn from the pitch and understand what could have been done differently or better, then change it for the next pitch. More on that near the end of this post.
First, submitting to agents has been an interesting experience, a good one but more time consuming than I initially thought it would be. I have to say that I am happy to be able to submit electronically instead of how it used to be done, by snail mail. What a slow, cumbersome process that must have been. And expensive! I feel fortunate that the process has caught up with technology. It still takes work and diligence to make sure what you are sending out is to the correct agents and that you submit only what is requested by those agents.
Submission requests, as all the advice I have read tells me, are to be submitted exactly as the agent asks. If they ask for 10 pages, don’t send 12 or 15 (I have been told by agents that it is okay to go over a little if the paragraph ends on page 11). Send 10 and only 10, in the format they ask (most likely 12 pt. Times New Roman, double spaced). If they want a bio, include it and the same with a synopsis of the story or whatever else it is they ask of you. If you do not want to do all they ask then do not expect for your submission to be reviewed. If you take it seriously, so will the agent. If you show you can follow directions, they will appreciate your efforts and give your submission the time and consideration it deserves.
As far as responses to submissions, do not set expectations. From my experience, overall, I have received about a 50-60% response rate. One of my last rounds was actually much better. I submitted to 8 agents and so far, I have received 6 responses, a 75% response rate! The one before that, I submitted to 7 and received 4 responses. Of those responses, 2 were genuinely nice and encouraging, even though the piece was not what they were looking for at the moment (quite a common response). The other was short and to the point, “This is not for me, but thanks for the look.” I thought it was nice of the agent to respond as over half have not. Do not expect feedback from the agent as it is rare to receive. That’s okay, I expect rejection and a majority of no response. I understand why some do not respond. I’m sure they are inundated with submissions from first-time authors like you and I. Same as when you apply for jobs during this strange time.
Rejection is all part of the game and you really need to have thick skin to handle all the rejection you will receive. I keep referring to Stephen King in these posts but, if you haven’t figured out by now, I’m very fond of his work. In his book, Stephen King|On Writing, (great read, I recommend it!) he talks about rejection, specifically the rejections he received during his early years. From his book, he wrote, “The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.” I believe he said it was 6 years between his first rejection letter and his first published short story. Here is a great lesson in patience from one of the masters. If he had quit over the frustration of the number of rejections or length of time before an acceptance, we would never have had all the fun, entertaining stories he has provided us for somewhere around the past five decades. And he’s made quite a decent living because he stuck it out and believed in himself.
Ok, didn’t mean to derail the subject of submitting and pitching to agents. Submitting to multiple agents in one sitting is very time-consuming. The last 10 agents I submitted my work to took me between 4-5 hours. Maybe it’s me and I’m just slow but I want to be sure what I’m sending is going to the right agent, the right agency, and has the correct information according to a given agent’s submission guidelines. I’d rather take the extra time and get it right. If I don’t get it right, it’s a waste of my time and of the agents. The time it takes me is to first look through the listing of agencies and decide which ones work with the fiction I write. From there, I need to see which agents within that agency handle my kind of fiction. I will get online and research the agents, finding one I feel is my best shot for my work. From there, I look over their submission guidelines and get to work submitting what they ask. Once that is complete, it’s on to the next agency and agent. I myself really enjoy the process.
As far as pitching is concerned, I mentioned I have only had the opportunity to do this one time. At a writing conference in Chicago last year, I was unaware of the opportunity to pitch to an agent (it was my first writing conference). Once there, I ended up with a great, last-minute opportunity near the end of the day. Earlier in the day, most of the agents were fully booked for pitches. An opening for one of the agents I would have chosen to pitch opened up (at the conference, I researched the agents available for pitches). When I found out about the opening, I only had about 3 minutes to decide and prepare for the pitch. Nervous as could be, I took the slot and winged it. I wish I had been more prepared and had researched the do’s and don’ts of pitching a literary agent but there was no time. With my daughter’s help, we came up with my 30-second elevator pitch and I went into the session.
My nerves were on edge and I felt like I was going to hyperventilate. Long story short, the pitch seemed to go well. The agent was genuinely nice and being the end of an awfully long day, I’m not sure how she was still smiling as much as she was. She asked me to send her 20 pages and gave me the submission link specifically from that show. It was exciting and I felt this was the first step of getting my book published. Not so much. The agent read it and sent me a nice rejection within a few weeks. I was bummed but it was only one of the thousands of agents out there.
I went to work putting together a game plan on submitting to other agents since I had now lost my pitch virginity. Next conference I go to, I will sign up ahead of time for pitches with multiple agents and be more well versed in what to do when pitching (unfortunately, writing conferences all went virtual this year due to COVID but pitches are still part of these virtual events). I don’t think the nerves will be as much of a factor the next time around. I’ve been rejected plenty to this point so I have no fear of rejection anymore!
One piece of advice I have read over and over; make sure your submission piece is as polished as it can be. Go over it with a fine-toothed comb, do a spell check, look for any grammatical or punctuation errors and make sure the copy you send to the agent is your best foot forward. The agent will appreciate it. If the work is good and the agent is happy, who knows where that could lead.
In my opinion, outside of your work, spend the greatest amount of time perfecting your query letter. The synopsis and bio are important but not near as much as the query letter. This is the resume of your work and just like when looking for a new job, your resume is what opens the door for your interview. Some agents never even read the synopsis but it is important to have one ready to go. The query letter is your foot in the door if done right. This is the first thing the agent will read and there are standards for a query letter. Do your research and create the most kick-ass query letter you can. Pay attention to the universal rules for query letters and follow them. If you open the door with this initial piece, it could mean opening the door to one day getting your book published.
I will cover what I have learned about query letters in a future post.
Happy reading, happy writing!