Generally, trying to find a literary agent is known to be a frustrating and anxious experience. If you’re invested in the traditional publishing route rather than self-publishing, then it often seems like they’re the gatekeepers to your dreams. Sometimes even securing one is the dream itself. With thousands of books written and being queried every year and a limited number of agents to represent them, the competition has always been fierce. How do you make your book stand out from the rest? What does marketable even mean? How are you supposed to sum up your passion project in one page?
Last year, in the span of two (lucky) months, I tried three different avenues in my quest to find a literary agent. These are each valid in their own way and provide different pros and cons in the attempt to “sell” your book. My experience is only one of many, and I can’t guarantee the same results for others. However, I can share my thoughts in hindsight.
ATTEND A PITCH SESSION AT A CONFERENCE
If you’ve ever fantasized about the “elevator pitch” and wanted to see how it would go in real life, then this is the perfect chance. The sessions may vary a little depending on the conference and its size, but usually you’ll sign-up ahead of time to meet with one or more agents. In ten or less minutes, you will describe your book, ask and answer questions, and perhaps walk away with a connection. I had the chance to pitch two agents during StokerCon in 2021, and the experience—although nerve-wracking—was pleasant. I memorized my pitch ahead of time and, thankfully, have enough intonation in my voice to make it interesting instead of paper-read. If you choose this avenue, the key thing to remember is this is a conversation. You’re making a personal connection with this agent rather than only trying to foist a book on them. Both of my sessions ended with requests for more material. I’ve heard of other writers who, while the book they initially pitched didn’t catch interest, were able to intrigue agents with future works.
The difficulty here, of course, is the in-person (even if virtual) interactions. Agents are often scheduled for the entire day so their attention and energy is precious and can flag. Even if you only have ten minutes to dazzle, bringing your confidence and excitement about your work can help. I have heard agencies say, however, they rarely end up signing someone they connect with via a pitch session. This may be because the verbal description doesn’t quite match the written reality, or something else.
PARTICIPATE IN A TWITTER PITCH EVENT
For years now, writers on Twitter flock and flood the feed with their book pitches on particular days. The events vary and may be dedicated to speculative fiction, BIPOC writers, picture books, YA, LGBTQ+ authors, and so many other possibilities. The whole year is full of these opportunities. Usually, each event has its own rules: how many tweets you can send in a day, if you can include pictures or not, what hashtags to use, etc. The key thing here is that an “elevator pitch” is different from a Twitter pitch; 1-3 sentences versus 280 characters or coherence versus catchiness. In these events, other authors and supporters may retweet to share your pitch and agents or publishers will like the tweet if they’re interested. I participated in PitDark last May, sent off six tweets throughout the day, and received four interactions from agents/publishers.
The downside, however, is that this is very much a community event and the competition (and algorithm) is more obvious than when you cold query. So writers who have a lot of followers or promote the pitch weeks prior to the event will have more retweets, more views, and a higher chance of someone seeing their tweet than someone who doesn’t. Additionally, less agents seem to be actively participating in the event, and will instead push their manuscript wish list and encourage writers to query. It is nice to have your friends or other writers obviously interested in your book (kind of a “hey look there is a market here” type thing), but what you get out of this seems related to algorithms and timing.
SENDING A COLD QUERY
Writing a query letter is its own blog post, but a “cold” query is where you send off the materials to an agent without prior connection. Now, what often happens at pitch sessions or events, is the query becomes “warm” because you’ve had some form of introduction or prior interest. You still, however, have to query. Every agent I reached out to from the previous categories still asked for my query letter and some length of sample. After the energy from the pitches died out, I decided to give querying a real try. I put together a list of agents I was interested in who represented horror or Gothic literature and didn’t outright say they wouldn’t take short stories. Like many other writers, I queried in batches, except mine were small.
The hard part about querying is the waiting game, and I’m remarkably lucky I wasn’t in the trenches for long at all. Whether that speaks to my writing, my research, my query or whatever—I’m grateful. Most writers will send out over 50 queries and it can take years. Sometimes it’s the letter that isn’t working or the sample pages. Sometimes it’s timing, especially now. Querying is and has been a tradition in publishing for decades. Each agent has subjective tastes and reads queries differently. Ideally, you may be asked for a partial draft or a full draft, and maybe that will turn into an offer (or offers!) for representation.
Pitch sessions and events are a good way to gauge and test what is and isn’t working about your approach. They’re useful for creating interest, making connections, and finding opportunities. However, as modern as they seem, we can’t escape the necessity of the query letter. Additionally, writers may be referred to an agent by a current client or may garner interest through their publications. Whichever avenue you choose, the key thing is having patience, staying faithful to your goals and work, and not giving up.