Speed-dating for agents

On Saturday, I attended the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam at which seemingly every agent in the universe sat around the perimeter of a Sheraton ballroom in midtown while aspiring authors lined up for the opportunity to pitch them. Here’s the kicker: every three minutes a bell would ring, and we were supposed to move on to the next pitch. This went on for two hours. If all went according to schedule, we’d be pitched by 40 authors. So how many people had sat down with me before I got completely off the bell schedule? One.

I actually felt like I killed the event. I flew through those pitches so fast that I think I squeezed a few extra in. And no one was present at my table for two bell ringings, so I’m pretty sure no one went over. When there are 15 people staring at you, you really start to worry about them getting the perception that you’re unfair. At least, I do.

Personally, I prefer pitches that are about ten minutes so that I can actually converse with people and tease out some detail. It also helps to be able to take notes and allow a little more time for information to sink in. I don’t know about the attention spans of others, but past the 90 minutes mark without a break, no matter how much I try to pay attention, that 31st pitch is probably going to be damned hard to follow. But maybe that’s the point? Because you know at that point that if something stands out, it REALLY stands out. And there was a late in the game pitch that really stuck with me, so I’m hoping when that project crosses my desk, it will be as good as it sounded.

Going to these events is always interesting because you just don’t know what you’re going to get. This particular pitch session was delightfully crazy-free, and there wasn’t a single person who pitched me in the bathroom OR who needed to be forcibly reminded that it was time for them to leave. It was like a belated Christmas miracle. But what I’m curious about is what the experience is like from the other side of the table. Surely some of you have been there. Is speed-pitching as hellacious as it appears to be?

9 Responses to Speed-dating for agents

  1. Tracy says:

    I’ve never soft-pitched an agent, let alone fast-pitched one, but I have to say that sounds like the most potentially awkward situation. Ever.

    I’m afraid I’m too social (a/k/a chatty) for a flash fire introduction, and there’s a good chance by the time I got around to talking about the story my time would be up. Though I know it’s kind of the whole point of the exercise, sitting down with someone you’ve never met and just jumping right into talking about your novel seems . . . rude.

    But one of my blog buddies was there this weekend and he got four requests from the pitch slam, so it must work. *shudder*

  2. Kirk Kraft says:

    I read about the pitch slam and I must say I admire you and all the other agents for hanging in for that period of time. On the one hand, it probably was a blast for many writers (and agents). On the other, as you mentioned, it has to be exhausting. I would think your eyes would glaze over.

    I’m with you – 10 minutes seems to be a much more reasonable time, I believe, for both the agent and writer. You have some time for small talk, to pitch the book and ask questions, receive feedback.

  3. Teri C. says:

    This whole concept of fast-pitching to an agent — 3 minutes, wow — just sounds painful. For the agent and the writer. There’s got to be a better way.

    I guess the million dollar question is: After sitting through that, did you offer to represent any of those writers that pitched to you?

  4. That seems like it would be so nerve-wracking for the authors, and possibly mind-numbing for the agent. At least the authors would have a little time to prepare in advance, but so much of that would depend on the presentation instead of the writing. Of course, the same would be true in a longer, ten-minute pitch, but the stakes would seem to be higher if one only had three minutes, like there was no room for mistakes.

    It makes me curious. How many authors at the pitch session would you request more work from? And would the numbers be the same if they had sent you written queries only? Would there be overlap, or would you have requested work from different authors through each venue?

  5. Dara says:

    Well, I’ve never actually pitched a project to an agent. Not yet anyway. None of my WiPs are close to being at the point where they’re ready for that.

    I have to admit though, the thought of it is slightly terrifying 😛 I know it shouldn’t be, but I’m one of those people who stutters and rambles too much when I’m trying to impress. Heh. Something I have to work on… :)

  6. Karla says:

    A pitch slam sounds like a really interesting concept. On one hand it must be difficult for all sides, but on the other hand everyone wins. The author gets the chance to practice and get the pitch down perfectly over and over again in front of his target audience. If the author is already comfortable with the pitch, he/she can practice rapidly tailoring it to each agent as an experiment. I know three minutes doesn’t sound like a lot to work with, but I’m sure it can be done. The agent, like you said, might be exposed to some material that REALLY stands out. I don’t have any completed or pitchable novels written yet, but when I do (and I will) a pitch slam sounds like a great thing to participate in. After all – no pain, no gain right?

  7. Ilana DeBare says:

    I did a similar pitchfest (as a writer) last winter at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference, and once my heartbeat returned to a semblance of normal, really enjoyed it.

    For this to work, the writer needs to really have honed her or his pitch — be able to present your book at its clearest, most compelling, very quickly. That takes a little practice and eparation, but like writing a query letter, it’s a useful exercise that can benefit your writing and revising as well as your pitching.

    I found that the three minutes was enough time to do two things —

    (1) make a personal connection with agents, who said they’d be willing to look at my manuscript, thus getting me one foot out of the slush pile, and

    (2) figure out that there are some agents I had NO chemistry with and did not want to submit to!

  8. Draven Ames says:

    What an exciting time. You know, I have never done this before. Given the chance, my family would fly me there for something like this. Do know know when another one will be?

    If given the chance, I’d aim to knock your socks off.

    When you wrote that you wish you saw more horror, did you mean in YA or adult fiction?

    Draven Ames

  9. Pingback: Agent: What I Wish Writer’s Knew | AlvaradoFrazier

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