By Sarah Parker-Lee and Erlina Vasconcellos
Last month brought us the annual SCBWI-LA Writers Day. Quite a few attendees took advantage of assigned one-on-one pitch sessions with the awesome literary agents on faculty. Some pitchers used the opportunity to work on their query letter or aspects of their pitch with the agent in an advisory role while others went all-in with hopes the agent would request their full manuscript – AKA be interested in representing them professionally. Several folks did get a partial or full request and everyone walked away with some great feedback.
After the pitch sessions were over, we asked our agents how things went, what they liked, and what they recommend so you can put their answers in your toolbox for your next pitch!
Q: With only 8 minutes total, what was your ideal ratio for the writer talking vs. you talking? Why?
SETH FISHMAN (The Gernert Co.): With 8 minutes total, I’d love to be able to spend at least 2 minutes giving feedback. I suppose the only real concern I have is when an author takes up the entire time pitching. If they spend the entire time asking questions, that’s great, or pitching and conversing, great. But if it’s a long pitch, that wastes some of the time.
EVE PORINCHAK (Jill Corcoran Literary Agency): I like having the author speak to me and pitch for at least the first 4 minutes or so. Sometimes it takes a minute or two for people to get into the groove and feel comfortable pitching their work to a stranger. Then, I like for the remainder of the time to be a discussion between us covering what works and what needs still needs some clarification.
KARI SUTHERLAND (Bradford Literary Agency): I’d say the writer should take the first 3 minutes and then the final 5 should be split 50/50. I like to hear enough about the project that I can then ask the questions which will help me find out more about the story, the author, etc. to get a stronger overall picture of the project and other ideas the author has in the pipeline.
Q: Some folks brought their query letters in for you to read and others pitched from memory. Are there benefits to both methods?
KAREN GRENCIK (Red Fox Literary): I think those pitched from memory showed the amount of extra effort that the author had put into their craft, which was very impressive. However, I tend to prefer to read pitches and stories at my own pace, so I didn’t mind it at all when they handed me their query letters to read. And to be perfectly candid, I don’t like to be verbally pitched to by someone in a random situation, such as in the elevator pitch. If I have a moment to think my own thoughts while riding in an elevator, I may need that time to decompress from all that I had been listening to. But that’s just me
HANNAH MANN (Writers House): I think with kids’ books, being able to read is actually a little helpful. There are so many great ideas, but ultimately it’s about the skill of putting the pen to paper. I find that query letters are very telling in terms of how good a writer someone is and whether they can pull an awesome idea off.
EVE PORINCHAK: Oh, definitely! Because I’m more of a visual learner, I can read a query letter and whip it into shape in no time if it’s right in front of me. So, if people ask for help on revising their letter, it’s better for me to see it. That said, it’s interesting to hear from people pitching from memory, because it shows me how well they know their story. I was delighted to see that every single person who I met with during Writer’s Day 2018 was thoroughly prepared and knew his/her story inside and out. I was very impressed with the concise and well thought out pitches!
Q: What’s an important “pitching do” you were happy to see on Writers Day?
SETH FISHMAN: I like when an author knows their own book, and is comfortable in it’s skin.
KAREN GRENCIK: I was happy to see that most of the authors were very professional and welcomed my comments with grace and gratitude. Only a few seemed to want to use me as just a sounding board, and those few did not want any input from me.
HANNAH MANN: Smile and relax! Listen. And definitely ask questions! That’s how you get your money’s worth.
EVE PORINCHAK: Again, everybody was well prepared, which is the number one “DO.” It was also nice to see that many of the attendees could whittle their stories down to a logline (one line pitch) which, in my opinion, is the sign of a real pro!
KARI SUTHERLAND: Voice is so important to me, so I enjoy when someone reads me the first page or so of a manuscript (or at least two minutes’ worth of material)! That really gives me a stronger sense of whether the project is something I’d want to request versus when I’m just given a conceptual pitch. Another great pitch tip is when a writer can boil their project down into a log line for me: i.e. it’s Hogwarts with dragons as students or it’s The Matrix starring Daria. (Oooh, I want that last one!) Beyond books, TV/film comps are helpful in this and using characters/personas versus whole books/films is a great way to capture an element of your story.
If you missed this year’s SCBWI-LA Writers Day, fear not! You can read a recap by author Charlotte Offsay. And there are plenty of other events coming your way, including several where you may get a chance to pitch an agent or publisher. Check out our tri-regional events calendars for info: SCBWI-LA, SCBWI-SoCal, SCBWI-CenCal.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.
Sarah Parker-Lee is a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member & the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, a content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, & is available to edit your writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history, sci-fi, & is the creator of Dogs & Zombies: Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies
Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she writes pictures books and middle grade. Find her on Twitter: @noterlinda
Images provided by Christine Van Zandt.