The National Creative Writing Graduate Fair on the 3rd November is just around the corner, and so is your chance to pitch your novel, short story collection, memoir, or anything else your mind can cook up, to some of the best literary agents in the country. But what are agents actually looking for in a pitch? How can you do your work justice in all of a few minutes?
To give you a hand in preparing, we asked the agents themselves a simple question: if you have one piece of pitching advice to give to our writers, what would it be?
Below you’ll find their responses, each a personal piece of advice, in their own words. Every project is different, every agent is different, and so of course every piece of advice is different too – but hopefully you’ll find material here to help you with your pitch!
For those who haven’t booked yet, tickets are still on sale for this dedicated event for emerging creative writers. Join us for a full day of panels, talks and workshops exploring topics like working with agents and editors, writing the perfect synopsis, and digital opportunities for writers. Plus, pitch your work to two literary agents – and you can find out what they’re looking for right here!
Full programme, more info, and tickets available on the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair website now.
Kerry Glencorse – Susannah Lea Associates
Keep it short, relevant and personal in tone. Don’t compare yourself to wildly differing, very successful authors. If you do reference other authors or works, make sure the comparison stands up and is useful. Think about who you are pitching to. How you pitch your work to an agent is different to what might end up on the back of the book, for example. I’d like to hear (briefly) about what inspired you to write the book and why you feel passionately about it, as well as a synopsis (again, keep it brief). And no extraneous biographical information either – where you live and your age can be useful, as can relevant professional and writing experience, but I don’t need to know how many pets you have (unless it is important to the book).
Hayley Steed – Madeleine Milburn
My one piece of advice for someone preparing a pitch is to make it succinct and original – if we’re hearing several pitches a day, we need yours to stand out. You should be able to sum up the hook in one line, before telling me more.
Julia Silk – MBA
The most important piece of advice I’d give is to be very clear about your pitch (a few lines rather than taking up too much time with a full recitation of the plot) and also about what you want from the session.
So, first and foremost: keep it brief. You want to leave room for discussion! But what should be included in the pitch?
Laetitia Rutherford – Watson Little
Now you’ve written (or are writing) a novel that people will want to keep talking and thinking about, can you pitch it in one sentence that describes both the genre/style of it and what it is about?
Lucy Morris – Curtis Brown
Focus on the central conflict in the novel. You need to know it inside out, and how it boils down into a concise and punchy pitch.
Jonathan Ruppin – the Ruppin Agency
An agent is looking for an author to take on, not just a single book, so do tell me little something about your writing history and plans for the future.
It can also be important to establish where you think your book fits in the market, especially for commercial writers. But how?
Emily Yau – Quercus Books
Honing an elevator pitch can be tricky, but it’s oh so worthwhile. The best we ever had was for ‘The Martian’: it’s like Robinson Crusoe, but on Mars. Find your comparison (it can be a book, a film or … I don’t know, surprise us!) and then find your point of difference, why it’s unique. That’s how you get our attention while at the same time conveying the heart of your novel.
Kathryn Taussig – Bookouture
Do some research about the market you think your book fits into. For commercial writers especially, having a few comparison authors/titles up your sleeve can make your pitch stand out in the crowd.
Chloe Seager – Diane Banks Associates
I think my piece of advice would be know what makes your book different, but the same i.e. what makes it unique but also where it fits into the market.
So comparison can provide a useful tool when pitching, but remember, keep it concise. But as we said at the start, each agent is different, and it’s important to keep in mind you’ll have to adapt your pitch to each person. A good pitch asks for work, so don’t be afraid to put some effort into it.
John Berlyne – Zeno Agency
I have two pieces of advice for someone preparing to pitch. The first is “Work out whose readers you want to steal” and the second “Don’t spend a year writing your novel and only five minutes writing your pitch.”
Becky Thomas – Johnson and Alcock
My one piece of advice is: make it personal! Do your research and tell the agent why you’re targeting them and do so in the way that their submission guidelines advise.
Rebecca Richtie – AM Heath
Practice makes perfect! Make sure you prepare and then practice your pitch before the day – you want to feel confident that you’re going to cover everything you want, in the way that you want, rather than worrying that you’re going to forget something key.
Last but not least, now we’ve drowned you in advice…. breath. The pitching sessions are supposed to be a friendly, open discussion about your work. The worst that can happen is you’ll receive advice from a pro on how to improve.
Sandra Sawicka – Marjacq
If I had one advice it would be to remember agents go to events like this hoping they will find an exciting new talent, so we really want to hear from you. All you need to do is relax, practice your pitch a little and enjoy!