The Value of the Verbal Pitch

Last week in Secrets of a Great Pitch I gave you some tips about talking to agents and editors at writers’ conferences. A few people raised a good question: Why pitch verbally at all, when it’s the writing that matters?

Yes, the writing matters most. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained from a face-to-face meeting.

A verbal pitch is the equivalent of a written query, but with some advantages. Your verbal pitch (just like a query) can tell me whether or not I like the idea of your book enough to want to see the writing. But the face-to-face connection also allows you to express yourself not only with words but facial expressions and gestures. It allows a conversation to develop, in which the agent can ask questions and probe for more information if needed. If you get lost in your pitch or you’re not being clear, the agent can redirect you or help you get focused. There’s also the possibility that you’ll “click” with the agent and she’ll really want to work with you, secretly hoping your manuscript is awesome so she can rep you.

None of this is possible with a simple email query. The verbal pitch is usually more memorable than a query too. Both the query and the verbal pitch serve as an introduction to you and your project, leading the agent or editor to make a decision about whether they want to read some of the manuscript.

The in-person meeting also allows agents and editors to see how you present yourself. As a published author, you’ll need to be able to talk to people about your book. You may be interviewed, you might do book signings, you’ll probably have some events in which you’ll need to interact and discuss your book. Taking into account that you’re probably nervous at the pitch meeting, agents and editors can still get a good feel for the “public persona” you’ll have as an author. It probably won’t be a deciding factor in whether to request your manuscript, but it’s one piece of information contributing to the whole picture of “you.”

Some agents and editors find it helpful if you have the first pages of your manuscript available during the pitch meeting. We can take a glance, read a few paragraphs, and between that and the verbal pitch, we’ll know if we want to see more.

Some agents/editors ask almost everyone to send their manuscript after the conference. This is an acknowledgment that it really is about the writing. Writers are nervous when they pitch and might not be presenting their book in the best light, so by requesting pages from everyone, an agent ensures she doesn’t miss something. She wants to make the most of her conference attendance.

Some of you asked last week whether meetings at conferences were worthwhile and wondered whether anything ever came of them. Well from my perspective, they’re definitely valuable. I have several clients whom I wouldn’t be working with except for conferences, including Richard Mabry and Karen Witemeyer, both in the middle of 3-book contracts. So yes, things do happen because of those face-to-face meetings.

Q4U: Which do you think is more effective, the face-to-face pitch or the email query? Which do you prefer?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • writer jim

    >For me a face-to-face is far better than email, or phone.
    When someone looks me in the eye; I'm confident they believe me…even though I may have just told them something almost unbelievable.

  • Adam Heine

    >"Why pitch verbally at all, when it's the writing that matters?"

    I used to feel this way as well, especially since I can't go to conferences (wrong side of the planet, etc.).

    But pitching verbally isn't just about agents and editors. Hasn't anybody ever asked you (offline) what your book is about?

  • Josin L. McQuein

    >At present, email pitches are my only option short of cold calling agents and blurting "So, I have this book…" (<— sarcasm. I am far… well, at least somewhat… more sane than this and don't wish to commit career suicide.)

    I can see the value of having a verbal pitch at the ready in case some random person asks, though. Without one, I'm more likely to just make an odd noise and speed through some dodge of an answer that tells them nothing.

  • Jessica Nelson

    >I prefer e-mail. In the past I've been too nervous to make a good impression, I think? I don't know. Hoping in the future to do a better job of acting normal. LOL Gotta remember to put on my bank teller face/voice and not talk too fast.
    I see what you mean about verbal pitches. It's the same for a writer. One of the editor chats I went to made it pretty clear that the editor was someone I might not click with, so that was helpful. Guess it's the same for agents.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Face-to-face! But then, I'm bias because that's what worked for me. :)

  • Tina Eisenbrandt

    >I can see the value in the verbal pitch. Although we put a bit of ourselves in everything we write: e-mail, query, manuscript. It is just a part, during a face-to-face interview an opportunity is provided to give so much more. I would covet such an opportunity, but as I don’t live in an area that hosts them I am limited to that small part.

  • Sandie Bricker

    >I have the same issue as Jessica. In person, I tend to feel flustered and self-conscious. It becomes more about me than about my book. So the email pitch is my comfort zone. That being said, I have a pretty stellar agent because she impressed me so much at a luncheon table at a conference. :-) And apparently she liked me in person enough to give me a shot.

  • Heather Sunseri

    >I'm excited to make some in-person contacts at a conference. I like the idea that if an agent has questions about the pitch, we can talk about it right then. What could have turned out to be a form-rejection could turn into a "maybe" with a little discussion.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >Although I'm nervous about it, I can't wait to pitch face-to-face.
    ~ Wendy

  • Lisa Jordan

    >Face-to-face pitches can be nerve wracking, but I prefer them over email or phone for a couple of reasons.

    Face-to-face allows me to watch the agent's or editor's body language to see if they are truly interested in my story or going through the motions because I've made the appointment with them. Also, I love putting a face and voice to the name. Tone can be interpreted differently in an email or on the phone.

    Face-to-face gives me the opportunity to work on my own public speaking skills. Once I sell, I'm sure others are going to ask what my novel is about. By having a verbal pitch ready, the words can roll off my tongue without hesitation.

    I believe my face-to-face connection is what helped provide the foundation with my new uber agent. :)

  • Lynn Colt

    >I prefer email, because I find I can always write whatever it is I want to say better than I can say it in person. An emailed query worked for me, and I've never done an in-person pitch to an agent.

  • Judy

    >I don't see how you can have one without the other if you're really serious about being a published writer. The written query demonstrates how capably you use language, while the face-to-face opportunity shows that you can engage with others comfortably and purposefully. Both pitch and query are a great way of letting agents and editors know that you're capable of connecting with a potential audience.

  • Kelly Bryson

    >I haven't started querying, but had my first pitch, and I choose to believe that the agent requested pages because he loves my concept and wants to see if I can pull it off;)

    Prepping for the pitch about gave me an ulcer, but now that it's done and went very well, it's a lot more exciting, because I could watch the agent responding to my pitch. Nodding along. Asking questions.

    And I didn't sum up the ending conflict with the resolution of the conflict from the opening, and he was able to say, "Well, what about that? You dropped that conflict," and I was right there to say, "no, no, that's the major climax. It's in there."

    So for today, I prefer pitches. But preparing to send out queries is way less stressful.

  • Cynthia Reese

    >I can credit the start of my entire published career to a verbal pitch, and a lovely editor who didn't mind that I blanked out and had to read it from the 3×5 index card.

    Hats off to agents and editors who agree to do these things!

  • Terri Tiffany

    >Now that I've done both, I think I still prefer the query. It is a little easier to be rejected by email than face-to-face:)

  • A. Townsend

    >I agree with Adam. Conferences are out of the question for me right now for financial and distance reasons. However, I'm refining my verbal pitch line for those who ask face-to-face about my book. For agent contacts, I'll make my written query package the best that I can and leave the rest in God's hands.

    ~ Angela

  • T. Anne

    >I agree with Adam. You need to be ready to answer someone who wants to know what your book is about.

    Regarding a verbal pitch, the thing that throws me is I never know a good place to stop. I have about a paragraph blurb I like to use, but it doesn't include any major plot twists that I consider spoilers. The problem with not including spoilers is it can make my novel seem dull, on the other hand it takes away the surprise element and so much of my emotional pull is counting on that.

    The pitch is about details, and if I'm gun-shy to give them I wonder how effective my pitch is?

    I'm working on this.

  • Arabella

    >I'll have to get back to you on this once I find an agent. I've had materials requested using both avenues, but have no offer of representation yet.

  • Rose

    >I'm very comfortable with written correspondence because I've worked in a business setting for over thirty years but I do think they're are benefits in face to face pitches.

    Even though the writer is nervous, it lets the agent see their personality. I am a very direct person, who appreciates honesty without "sugar coating" but how can an agent or editor "see" that in my email correspondence?

    At a recent SCBWI conference, I had an agent begin a critique by asking me questions to "size up" my personality so he knew how to approach my critique.

  • Keli Gwyn

    >I see value in both, but there are definite advantages to a pitch session over an email query. Sitting face to face with a publishing professional can be intimidating for those of us who are reserved, but the back and forth communication is helpful. If something I say is unclear, I have an opportunity to clarify my point.

    My first pitch sessions with an agent and editor went a long way toward putting my fears to rest. Publishing professionals are people, too, and my experience showed me that they're not as scary as I once thought. In fact, those I met with went out of their way to put me at ease.

  • Jason Black

    >Excellent advice.

    I think many writers (myself not least among them) are drawn to writing by its solitary nature. There is a certain comfort in the solitary, almost solipsistic isolation of writing, of living within your own mind.

    And yet, as you say, if we're going to make a career out of it we'd better darned well learn how to talk, too. We'd better figure out how to get comfortable standing up in front of real live human beings so that coherent words may issue forth from our mouths.

    That's hard.

    As a recovering public-speaking-ophobe, the best advice I can give in that regard is to join your local Toastmasters International club. Chances are there are several active Toastmasters clubs in your town or city.

    Toastmasters provides a safe, supportive environment in which to practice public speaking, in a program that is based on _constructive feedback_.

    I'm just one data point, but Toastmasters turned this nervous, stammering introvert into someone who can not only face the prospect of speaking to large groups, but now also has the skills and practice to prepare and deliver a solid speech.

    Put another way: I'm still as much of an introvert as ever, but thanks to Toastmasters I at least know how to pretend to be an extrovert for the duration of a speaking engagement. :)

  • Michael K. Reynolds

    >There is another huge benefit of a face-to-face pitch which you won't receive by a written query. Not only do we want a "Yes", but a "Yes" with the right agent or publisher.

    Going to conferences allows you to observe how agents and editors interact with other authors and their peers. It's helpful to see how they handle both the bad ideas and the good ideas they hear.

    You'll also get to measure their level of enthusiasm for your concept and your writing, which will be crucial in not only getting you published, but in helping to forge a partnership that will generate strong sales.

    This will give you powerful insights into whose basket you want to put many of your career eggs.

  • Raquel Byrnes

    >My first experience with verbal pitching at a conference was terrible…I was too nervous and worried about missing my "one chance" to sell my idea.

    My second experience was wonderful. More relaxed and a bit wiser, I realized that editors don't bite and actually want to find something promising. That was a big help.

    At a recent conference in Seattle, the editors were gracious, encouraging, and attentive. I was nervous, sure, but the smile across the table really helped me get over my anxiety and get excited about sharing my passion.

    Definitely like the face-to-face now.

  • Janet

    >I think, if it possible to get, I would prefer the in person pitch. Though I would be nervous, I wouldn't have to wait and wait and wonder if the written query has even been read yet, or if it is in a slush pile somewhere. I am very impatient.I'm doing a pitch in June at the WVWriter's Conference at Cedar Lakes, WV. Wish me luck.

  • Emily Ann Benedict

    >I think writers have a tendency to believe we are only capable of expressing ourselves through e-mails and manuscripts, but the world does tend to prefer face to face contact. I’ve noticed people are willing to look at my work much quicker if they’ve met me in person. It was uncomfortable at first, but the more practice I got the easier it was.

  • Dave Cullen

    >There are so many advantages to meeting in person, including a huge one for the writer:

    Is this the right agent for you?

    Nearly all my published writer friends, and me, are on our second agent. Most of us jumped at the first person who said yes. Bad move.

    Good writers and agents mate for life, and finding the person who fits your personality, talent and temperament is crucial, but difficult.

    The traditional written process (query, then manuscript, etc.) gives the agent 100 pages of material to "meet" the writer, but almost nothing in the other direction.

    Remember that like all job interviews, both sides ARE INTERVIEWING EACH OTHER.

    When you're seeking a job, you're trying really hard to land it. But then if they offer it, you're the one who has to work there for the next ten years. Do you want to?

    Same with agents. This is a great chance to assess the agent, too. And even if the agent says no, you have learned a lot: a peek one more agent: what she's like, how she operates, etc.

    This will help a great deal when an agent finally says yes, and you have to ask yourself: But do I want her?

  • Kristi Holl

    >Once you get past the first pitch and don't die from it, it's easier to see the value in them. 8-) People can be a real surprise in person, for one thing! And the face-to-face contact gives the editor or agent a chance to ask for more details about things you might not think are important–and things you never would have included in a written query.

  • Care

    >If my self esteem wore Lynda Carter's red, white, and blue wonder woman suit I would say face to face contact for sure!
    Sadly, my confidence has been nicked a bit in life, I don't even have the wrist bands… :)
    I thank heaven I have the chance to use email.

  • Anonymous

    >I rarely hear about agents offering to rep writers after meeting in person, so what's the big advantage? All agents talk about is how exhausting it is to hear pitch after pitch and after a while, they all run together.

    Seems to me the agent holds all the cards…the writer can muck up in so many different ways and make a bad first impression, and vice versa. Why bother?

  • Dara

    >As much as I see the advantages in face-to-face pitching, I still prefer email because I don't stutter and act like a complete dunce like I do in person :P I know it's necessary to have a good public persona, although some writers will definitely have better ones than others.

  • Kathryn Magendie

    >The one that gets the "yes!" :)

  • Emily Casey

    >I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the pitch I gave at last week’s conference. It’s like replaying a first date over and over in my head. Did she request those pages just because I was there? Was she genuinely intrigued or was she just being nice? And what about all those stupid things I said?
    But I know I’m not the only one thinking about these things. And I know worrying about it won’t do any good.
    Overall, I think the verbal pitch helped me. Thank goodness for agents like you who are willing to hear them!

  • Michelle DeRusha

    >I would say email hands-down, because I am a great big chicken about the thought of pitching face-to-face.

    I looked at your list of Christian writers' conferences. If you had to recommend one or two, which would be your topic picks?

    And this is probably a dumb question…but do you have to make an appointment at a conference to speak to/pitch an agent or editor, or is there opportunity walk right up and start talking? I've never been to a conference, so I don't know how the process works!

    Thanks!

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