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When it Comes to Getting an Agent…

by Wendy Lawton
Books & Such Literary Agency

When it Comes to Getting an Agent. . .
A Pitch May Not Result in a Catch

More writers attend pitching workshops than ever before. They hone their hooks and polish their pitches. You’ve heard it: you need to be able to communicate your book to an agent in the time it takes to get from the first to the tenth floor in an elevator. It’s even called the “elevator pitch.”

Don’t you hate the thought of pitching your book? Relax. All is not lost if you can’t wow the agent in 150 words or less. This pitch frenzy is born of a publishing myth– that the best way to catch an agent is to pitch him. It’s time to debunk that myth.

I’m not saying it’s not important to be able to give a great summary of your book. It is. I’m saying that the traditional fifteen minute pitching sessions at conferences and the quick one-on-ones in elevators and hallways are highly overrated. So much pitch-tutoring has taken place in writing groups and at conferences that we hear nothing but stunning pitches these days- one after another. When every writer has perfect pitch, how does that help the agent? There’s no doubt writers can pitch. The harder question is: Can they write?

The obvious thing for an agent would be to request a partial from every writer who presents an interesting project. Unfortunately, it’s simply not feasible.

So if pitching doesn’t work, what is the best way to find an agent?

1. Write a Stunning Book- This almost goes without saying. If your book is anything less than remarkable, don’t expend the energy yet to connect with an agent.

2. Meet the Agent in Person- A perfect way to get out of the gruesome realities of the slush pile is to meet the agent at an event or at a writer’s conference.

3. Meet the Agent Repeatedly-I find that I take note of writers who interest me. If I eat with them once or twice and meet them in the lobby or watch them onstage at a conference, I start paying attention.

4. Become Memorable-In an over-saturated market, the key is for a writer to become memorable to his target agent. This needs to be done in a winsome, often humorous way. The I-have-chocolate-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-use-it approach.

5. Connect with the Agent Online-I admire several writers who do this with great finesse. I noticed when our agency began blogging that there were several writers who left regular comments. Brilliant. Don’t you think we take note of those writers who are doing the hard work to find out who we are and what we’re thinking?

6. Connect with Friends/Clients of the Agent-One of the best ways to come to an agent is with the recommendation of one of his clients.

Your turn. What do you think of pitch sessions? What makes you crazy about this process? What works for you?



Wendy Lawton feels equally comfortable on a computer, at a writer’s conference or with a cool lump of clay in her hand. She’s been an artist, a writer and a literary agent.
She enjoys helping her clients develop their ideas and chart their careers. She’s adept at working with authors to discover the core of their writing style, leading to a brand recognition for each author in the marketplace of books.
Wendy is Vice-President of Books & Such Literary Agency and acquires Adult Fiction & Nonfiction books.

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13 Responses to When it Comes to Getting an Agent…

  1. Melanie Fyock says:

    It is good to hear someone say that getting an agent is more about personal relationship than pitching.

  2. Casey says:

    I love what you said about being unique. I know from personal experience that making a positive impression (and making someone laugh!) is a great ice breaker. If nothing else, it makes me feel more comfortable. :)

  3. What a breath of fresh spring air scented with lilacs this post was! As a professional storyteller, I can tell a 90-minute historical story to hundreds and feel only one or two butterflies beating themselves nearly wingless against my heart, but a 90-second elevator speech to an entrapped agent is another story. Next conference, I’ll remember your advice and try not to anguish. BTW, I’m Sharon Kirk Clifton. What kind of chocolate do you prefer?

  4. So good to see you here, Wendy! What a great list. I’ll admit pitch sessions do make me nervous but in the end I convince myself there’s only so much I could do. If it’s meant to be, God will guide me.

    What works for me? I find coming up with a one line pitch before I start the project and test it on others help a lot. If I get a good response, then I know I’m on the right track.

  5. Everything comes down to relationships. Something that takes time to develop. But we want those requests in an instant…so don’t be surprised if you’re showered with chocolate at your next conference! Thanks for a great post with tips on how to develop a relationship with an agent.
    You gave me the nicest not now, maybe later rejection email a couple of years ago. Oh, and I probably won’t use chocolate…I might try pottery. :>)

  6. Mary F. Allen says:

    Wendy, I’ve decided that an on-line presence is going to be essential for moving toward publication and have already taken steps in that direction. This has been fun and I’ve been relaxed, right up to typing this post. Shyness set in simply knowing you’re an agent Thanks for the reminders for creating a relationship, but I don’t think I’ll bring chocolate to a meeting –it’s not likely to make it there. Then I’d be on a silly sugar buzz as well as a incredibly nervous.

  7. Heather says:

    This is such good advice. Thank you for sharing with us!

  8. Pitch sessions terrify me. I’m always afraid I’ll forget my lines or I’ll have a piece of lunch stuck in my teeth. (I know, stop in the bathroom and check in the mirror first, but that doesn’t always stop the irrational fear.) So I appreciate your suggestions and the opportunities to connect with agents and authors in forums like this one, where I can check my grammar and spelling before I hit “Post Comment.” Thanks, as always, for the encouragement.

  9. I was just glad that my years of stalking you paid off! :) If we hadn’t met so often over the years I was agented by someone else, I don’t think we would have been as sure of our fit when I became available, do you? Getting to know you as a person and a professional at conference after conference gave me great confidence that you had the ability to represent your clients, but also–and most importantly–that I wanted the kind of representation you offered.

  10. I love this! I think connections and relationships are so, so important. It really IS about who you know…well, to an extent, anyway. :) Of course, you have to have the talent and skill to back it up, but I think the number of writers who genuinely connect with agents and are offered representation because of that probably outweigh those actually pulled from the slush pile.

  11. Pat Jaeger says:

    Okay, Wendy, I have a LOT to learn. I’m not on a website, I have no cyber-address for folks to look me up, and I’ve never been to a conference for writers. This dog has to learn some new tricks, fast. Thanks for your insight into attracking an agent’s attention…..

  12. Great advice, and a welcome relief for those of us who continue to rewrite, and rewrite, and start over, and rewrite. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. We know we only get one chance to make a first impression, but perhaps it’s that first impression combined with the second, third and fourth that make a difference.

  13. Pat Lee says:

    You make it sound so simple. Thanks for sharing. Pat