Literary agent Janet Reid recently ranted that Pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan.
She’s right. Pitch sessions at writers conferences – wherein a writer sits across from an agent or editor for some pre-determined period of time and tries to succinctly describe their project in an effort to obtain representation (or at least, get the agent to read the damn thing) – are awful, nerve-racking meetings that turn otherwise rational people into quivering piles of…well, something unmentionable.
It can be a terrible thing to witness. And a worse thing to actually participate in.
And yet, I met my own wonderful agent at a conference. The Atlanta Writers Conference, to be specific. Yes, I pitched my project to her in one of those very pitch sessions. And, eventually, a few weeks later after reading my work, she offered me representation.
This isn’t, however, why The Atlanta Writers Conference is awesome. The reason it’s awesome is because it comes so close to Ms. Reid’s proposal for what a writers conference should offer.
Here’s the solution:
I’ll sit in a room for 14 hours straight if you feed, water and burp me periodically. I’ll meet with every writer at the conference who has a query letter. I’ll read the query and I’ll offer suggestions for improving it. I’ll read the revisions. I’ll help every author there as much as I can. And I’ll be GLAD to do it.
And here’s the best part: when I read the query, I’m essentially getting the same information a writer should be giving me in a pitch.
Writers might still be nervous, but if all they have to do is hand an agent a query, and take notes on what she says, and ask questions, I guarantee there will be less vomit involved.
– Janet Reid, Pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan
Ms. Reid, I think maybe you need to come to Atlanta! Our conference takes place over a Friday and Saturday, twice per year in May and November. The main activity on Friday is the Query Letter Critique . We pair the agents and editors together in teams of two and do just about precisely what you’ve suggested.
The writers bring their query letters to their fifteen minute sessions with these teams. During the first five minutes, the writer waits outside while two copies of their one-page letter are passed in to the team to read. Then the writer is invited into the room and receives a critique of their letter.
As Ms. Reid suggests, the agents and editors on the teams who get to read the letter essentially get “pitched to” indirectly – by hearing about the writer’s project without a nerve-racking pitch session being required. So the writer clearly benefits by getting help with his or her letter, which then can be used to later query other agents, making this activity very valuable. But, as it turns out, not just the writer benefits. So do the agents and editors.
And not just because they get to hear about lots of potentially interesting projects. Because they are paired into teams, the agents and editors learn from each other as well. They’ve told us this makes our conference unique.
Now, admittedly, the Atlanta Writers Conference still has pitch sessions in the Saturday portion of the agenda. No, we haven’t completely done away with those. But even during these sessions, the writer brings their query letter (potentially revised after feedback received the previous day) to the pitch.
Again the letter is handed in to the agent / editor just before the meeting, to read behind closed doors before inviting the writer in. Hopefully this helps turn the pitch session into a better conversation. The writer no longer needs to memorize portions of the query letter because the agent / editor gets to read it in full beforehand.
So I’m sure everyone now agrees…the Atlanta Writers Conference is awesome. And, as of today, registration is open!
Writers, if this all sounds good to you, click here to learn more. Please come from far and wide.
And agents and editors, if all this sounds good to YOU (especially Ms. Reid), please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to participate in a future conference. We’d love to have you!