Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Is Pitching With The Pros (Literary or Film Agents) Worthwhile?

TheWillamette Writers Conference last weekend was a blast!  Thursday night started with a few panels, for one of which I was the moderator; you know, the one with the microphone who introduces everyone and keeps time of the speeches.  Though it was much like running a Toastmasters meeting, which I’ve done, I’ve never been moderator nor participated in a ‘pitch with the pros’ session where writers/screenwriters have the opportunity to pitch their project to agents.  

Honestly I never saw the point of getting all nervous and pitching my project in front of agents that I may or may not be interested in working with (or them me), and certainly did not see the benefit of doing this dreadful thing in front of a group of my peers.  And I certainly did not want to open myself up to some angry New York agent whose plane was late, luggage lost and hadn’t slept in 24-hours and who now would seize the occasion to exact a toll on the first thing that got in his/her way, and rip me apart.  Nope, did not appeal to me, because I’m a coward, but, I’d certainly introduce others for whom this was a golden opportunity.

The room was set up with about 75 audience chairs, a stage with a long white table-clothed table with four microphones for the agents and a side table with one microphone for the ‘pitchers’ and myself.  I took a picture so I could show you but it came out looking like a shot of paranormal activity from some weird ghost show; figured that would not inspire you to go pitch to the pros any time soon.

At the door was a volunteer who took names from a group of anxious writers already queuing up to give their pitch to the literary agents who would soon arrive.  

As I got set up the first agent strolled into the room, introduced herself and explained that her flight out of Philadelphia had been late and she was sleepy.  My first impression was, Wow, she’s young! She looked like my granddaughter.  I wondered what she could know about good storytelling and how she could be a benefit to someone pitching a book about, say, a glorious mid-life crisis.  I know what you’re thinking, but, let’s face it we’re all ageist at some point in our lives and apparently, to my shame, that was one of my moments. Naturally, I also thought, oh great! Here’s the cranky east-coaster I worried about.  Instead, she was bright and charming. I liked her immediately. 


Jennifer Mishler, Literary Counsel

Anyway, then the rest of the agents showed up – all jovial, wine in hand, smiling; no angry NY agents so far, just a sleepy Philly-girl –  then the anxious writers being held back at the door spilled into the room and filled the empty seats – all microphones checked out, and it was on. I introduced the agents, Ken Sherman, Jennifer Mishler, Annie Bomke, Gordon Warnock, and myself, then invited the first writer up to give a three minute pitch about their project to the panel who then had seven minutes (collectively) to respond.

From 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm we listened to eight pitches and the agents responses. What I learned from listening to other writers pitch and what the agents who were friendly, generous with their feedback, and who not once ripped into a writer, is immeasurable.

That young granddaughter like agent was Jennifer Mishler from The Literary Counsel and her feedback was thoughtful, spot on, decisive and heartfelt.  The legendary Ken Sherman and Gordon Warnock were so generous with their insights, suggestions and feedback that if I weren’t standing there with a microphone, I would have been taking notes.  And Annie Bomke listened attentively to people as if she was searching and hoping for them to be the writer she was looking for.  This panel of agents certainly changed my mind about what ‘pitching with the pros’ was about.  They were kind, generous, and sometimes brutally honest, but always professional and perceptive.  

The writers who stood, often visibly shaking, up in front of that room of peers and agents to give a three minute pitch, were open to suggestion, full of hope, and just plain brave. The audience (some who pitched and others who came to watch and learn) was supportive with smiles and applause.  I will never again hesitate to ‘pitch with the pros’.  You shouldn’t either, if your book/screenplay is ready to pitch – it’s a golden opportunity to get feedback or to sit in the audience and learn from the pros who critique.  It was an enjoyable night and the community-feel of it, contagious; kicking off what was a fun-filled and eventful weekend at the Sheraton Hotel with 750 other writer friends.

So, if you’ve ever been nervous about pitching, or wondered if ‘pitching with the pros’ is worthwhile, I’m here to say IT IS!

More about the conference next time….

Check out my previous article, Speed Pitching is Not for The Faint of Heart and this article on preparing your pitch.

13 comments on “Is Pitching With The Pros (Literary or Film Agents) Worthwhile?

  1. dianabaileyharris
    August 12, 2013

    After winning the Kay Snow second prize for non-fiction for the first chapter of “Tenacity is my Middle Name,” I plan to pitch at next year’s Conference.

    • Mindy
      August 15, 2013

      You should! That’s a huge achievement. Good luck.

  2. pam
    August 10, 2013

    Mindy, Vivid piece.

    Like Jack I’d love to hear specifics from the listening end.

    Maybe one of us could write a piece about how times/the process have changed/is changing. Ever since I read a wonderful bio of Max Perkins twenty years ago I’ve had romanticized notions, such as, in the olden days writers wrote and other people did the other stuff that turns writing into books. Introverts must now learn the ways of extroverts… (Not saying I’m an introvert! Nor that I’ve learned the ways!) We live in new times. Good to have posts describing them.

    • Mindy
      August 10, 2013

      Thanks Pam. Yes, I’ll do a piece on what I learned – just busy this week and haven’t had time. I’d welcome a piece from you on the times they are a changin’….

  3. scottsblog13
    August 9, 2013

    You do a good job making the agents sound sympathetic. Did you happen to ask them what percentage of pitches received at such conferences actually turn into client relationships? Even a ballpark figure? Are they really looking for new talent do you think?

    • Mindy
      August 9, 2013

      Great question, Scott. What I do know is that yes, they are looking for talent, that’s how they make their income. At the conference I talked with at least 20 writers who found their agents there at the conference after pitching. So, it certainly happens, and it happens with regularity.

  4. Roxana Arama
    August 8, 2013

    Your post made me both excited and terrified, like when waiting to step onto a rollercoaster. Good thing my book is not ready to pitch yet. Phew!

    • Mindy
      August 8, 2013

      When yours is ready, you’ll be amazing.

  5. Arleen Williams
    August 8, 2013

    Sounds like an interesting event. I’ve pitched to agents one-on-one, but never to a group and never, never in front of an audience. Scary indeed!

  6. Jack Remick
    August 8, 2013

    Thanks, Mindy. It’s good to hear that you were on top of it. Can you share some of the agent insights? Be specific. J

    • Mindy
      August 8, 2013

      Thanks Jack, and I will, as soon as I digest my notes and can write clearly on what I learned, I’ll share. I’m tired and fuzzy brained right now. See you soon.

  7. Paddy
    August 8, 2013

    Great information! Sounds like you learned a lot and had a good time while doing it.

    • Mindy
      August 8, 2013

      I did, Paddy, Thanks. See you at WOTS?

Comments are closed.

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