Chip MacGregor

April 27, 2015

Ask the Agent: How can I get ready for my conference pitch?


I’ve had leftover questions from our “ask the agent” segment, so I thought I’d do some housecleaning. Always love it when writers send me interesting questions…

How many books does it take to not be considered a new author?

Probably two. By the time you’re releasing your third book, nobody considers you a newbie any more.

If you’re a writer who gets an award or accolade for your work, is it true that these can be used to the writer’s advantage? If so, what can we do to capitalize on the award?

Absolutely. Publishing houses tend to really like award-winners, since it reveals that the work was judged best at whatever contest it was in. So by all means include that in your cover letter, stick the info in your bio or publishing history, and if there is a logo or sticker they give you, put that somewhere in the proposal so it gets noticed. One warning: There are some contests that aren’t really contests… they will give an “award” to everyone who enters, so long as you can pay the entrance fee. These don’t count. Most agents and editors hate scam awards. But most of them love to hear about genuine award-winning writing.

I currently have three titles with a very small publisher. Is there a sense that until an author has a book with a major house, she is always “unproven”? Perhaps on a par with self-published authors? 

Not with me. Some of the best writers in history have remained with small houses. But I think among authors there is more of a pecking order (“You’re with little Coffee House Press? Ah… I’m with Little Brown.”) Listen, don’t buy into the BS. Publishing is hard enough without spending your life comparing the size of your publisher to someone else. My advice? Write what you love and feel called to write, become the best you can at the business side of things, and understand that some authors will be given a chance at a large house while others may always fit best with a smaller house. That’s life.

As an agent, would you prefer an author to have a website and/or illustrations for a novel attached to his/her query? How far should I go? Should I create the page, and start getting the book a name via the internet, even if nothing is published yet? Should I place a few chapters as a sample? 

For a NONFICTION book, a website is almost required, since the publisher is going to want to know that you’re already reaching out to your readership. But for a NOVEL, it doesn’t mean much if you have a website when I look at the query. If I were to take it on and land you a contract, you figure it’s going to be at least a year before there are copies of your novel on store shelves. So you’ve got plenty of time to create that website, and your publisher will probably be interested in having a say about how it looks. And no, having illustrations for your novel means nothing to me.

I’m trying to get my proposal ready for the upcoming RWA conference. My problem: Even though I’ve got some great ideas for books and have a new novel ready to pitch, I always panic right before and completely lose confidence and my train of thought. More than once, I’ve embarrassed myself with a rambling answer to an editor’s or agent’s question. I can’t seem to convey my thoughts clearly, when normally I’m very pulled together. How can I get ready for my pitch meeting at a conference? Do you have any advice for those of us who nerve out at key moments?

Sure: Practice. Out loud. Create a script of what you want to say, and get comfortable saying it, out loud, even if you have to lock yourself in your bathroom to rehearse it. (Don’t worry about your family thinking you’re crazy. You are a writer – which means they already think you’re crazy.) Then practice again while watching yourself in the mirror. Then try doing a mock pitch meeting with a writer friend. Don’t read the script to the agent or editor – just practice it enough so you know what you want to say. Many people find it helpful to create an outline of their words, and have that nearby. It keeps them from sounding “canned,” but helps them move forward in a logical progression.

Got a question you’d like to ask an agent? Send it to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. 

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  • Patricia Cox says:

    If you do another blog on “Ask the Agent” could you include what your agency’s attitude/opinion is on agents or publishers asking for exclusive submissions? Thanks!

  • Deanna Fugett says:

    Gosh, I would be thrilled to get published with a small publisher. I would think any author that gets published at all would feel ‘proven’ at that point. Now that I know all that it takes to actually succeed in this industry. Its extremely difficult to break through. I just think it’s a little amazing that someone would even ask that question or feel that way after all the hard work they they went through.
    Great article BTW! I’ve already been connected to my FB group ( band of dystopian authors) and trying to make connections, so that someday maybe, if I ever do manage to get published, they will hopefully accept my book with open arms.

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