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How to Pitch Agents at a Writers Conference: Reflections from a Writing Conference Virgin

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Maria Palmer

Guest Post by Maria C. Palmer

About a month ago, I quit my day job to devote 100% of my energy to finishing my book and book proposal.  For someone accustomed to working away from home a minimum of 60 hours a week with little free time, this meant quite a change of lifestyle.   I still remember the first day I woke up and didn’t have to go to work.  I realized my life was transforming–I’d stopped doing what I knew how to do and starting doing what I’ve always wanted to do: WRITE–a BIG leap of faith.

However, I am not navigating alone.  I am truly blessed to work with my amazing writing coach Lisa Tener.  Lisa had suggested that I go to the Meet the Agents session at the International Women’s Writing Guild in NYC and pitch my memoir to literary agents.  When she first mentioned it, I felt considerable doubts and my anxiety almost got the best of me.  Was I ready?  What would I say?  What if I choked? What if…(insert outlandish thought here)?

After some discernment, I decided to give it a try and I am glad I did.  Not only did I meet amazing people at the conference, but I also  generated  substantial interest.  All three agents I spoke to were interested in seeing my proposal and/or sample chapters. And two of them had specific ideas for additional books they’d like to see me write.

Lisa helped me prepare for the conference, answering my questions, making suggestions, even having me role play and giving me feedback on my pitch. All of this preparation helped me get such positive results in pitching my book to literary agents.

Here are my tips for making the most of a writing conference and, in particular, how to pitch agents at a writers’ conference:

1.  Do your homework.  Find out as much as possible about the literary agents who will be attending.  What are they looking for?  What have they sold? If your book doesn’t fit into these categories, don’t waste your time or theirs.

2.  Less is more. Focus on your top three agents.  I observed two approaches: authors who signed up to see every agent at the conference and authors who targeted their searches.  You can guess which group had more success.

3.  Prepare, prepare and prepare more. Work on your book pitch and practice on others.  The literary agents will be hearing many pitches this day so you have to find a way to be different. Lisa had me start with a dramatic part of the story and book hook and then follow with why I should be writing this.

4.  Arrive early. Lisa advised me to arrive early and I was so glad I did:  At IWWG, sign ups are well before the start time and the folks that arrived early got to meet with their top choices.

5.  Maximize your time. If you can help it, try not to sign up for back-to-back appointments.  If your appointment runs late, you will miss your next appointment.

6.  Smile and relax. You’ve done your homework.  The pitch should be conversational.  Even if you don’t get a yes, the agents will give you some helpful tips on what they would like to see.  This is a great time to get feedback.

7.  Don’t leave your luggage. Lisa warned me ahead of time not to bring my book proposal–imagine agents lugging around 60 proposals at the end of the conference! Print up business cards with your information, your book name and a short log line.  This is all the agents will want to take from you.

8.  Have fun. In addition to meeting with potential agents, you will meet other amazing authors while you are sitting around waiting to pitch.  I found this to be an incredibly inspiring experience.

Share your own tips or questions below. (Lisa is happy to answer questions on this post).

Maria Costanzo Palmer is a well-regarded voice on topics relating to children with incarcerated parents. Through a life-altering experience of watching her own father come under a criminal investigation and eventually go to prison, this sparked her passion for working with at-risk youth, mainly children with incarcerated parents. She is currently working on her first book On The Rocks, a true story of corruption, prison and family as told through the eyes of a loving daughter. She blogs at TheRaceThatFoundMe and Soupedoup.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. IWWG says

    Well done Maria, fantastic tips! It was a pleasure meeting you at our Fall Big Apple Conference and we’re so glad you found value in attending. Best of luck in your pursuits!

    • Kristin Conroy says

      Hearing such great feedback from fabulous attendees makes all the hard work and planning totally worth it:) I wanted to commend you on your bold move leaving your job to finish your book! I’m not sure many would have the guts, confidence/belief, or determination to take the leap and follow through. Please let me know how it all turns out!

  2. Judy Stone-Goldman says

    I have not been to a conference or pitched to an agent, and I found this an excellent post to get me excited about doing both. Thanks for the tips on preparation and also just for giving us a peek into the process. Can’t wait to hear about your progress. Congrats on having the agents show interest!

  3. Maria Palmer says

    Thank you so much Judy! I appreciate your feedback and am happy that the article helped to get you excited about this process. It is very exciting and please keep me in the loop about your progress as well!

  4. Cheryl Suchors says

    I’d like to know more about your book pitch and how long it was compared to a log line. I had thought only a log line would be useful, but you seem to have done something different. Can you share your example?

  5. Maria Palmer says

    Hi Cheryl,

    I started with the most exciting piece of my book and then I elaborated. I also found that the feedback and questions from the individual agents helped to drive the conversation. Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

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