On pitching at parties...

The scene: A book industry party
Present: New authors, multi-published authors, agents, editors, publishers, guests, even spouses

A first conversation:
Sensible and Friendly Author to agent: “Don’t worry, I’m not pitching because my book isn’t ready yet.
Sensible and Savvy Agent: “If I was worried about people pitching to me I wouldn’t come to a party like this.”
Both smile and carry on chatting.

A second conversation:
Desperate and Determined Author to Sensible and Savvy Agent: “My book’s about XYZ and I know it’s going to be a great success. It starts at the end of the First World War and the heroine is called Daisy and she had a daughter who’s called Peggy and she has twins called Maggie and Edith and….
[Ten minutes later]
Sensible and Savvy Agent (with rictus on face and desperate for a drink) to Desperate and Determined Author: “Why don’t you send in three chapters? You’ll find all the details on our website.”
Desperate and Determined Author:  “….and then great aunt Getrude comes back from India with a new husband and…
Sensible and Savvy Agent: “Send it in, then. If you’ll excuse me, I must get on.” Turns, searches desperately for a sympathetic face, spots Sensible and Friendly Author who rides to the rescue suggesting now is the time for more wine. Both head off at rapid pace for the bar.

Industry professionals are human. Some of them attend parties because writers’ associations throw brilliant social bashes. They can meet colleagues and clients on neutral ground and  informally. But it would be naive not to think that most agents and editors are there to meet writers, possibly spot new talent and, ultimately, to be pitched to.

But there’s a way to do it:

  • Wait for the previous conversation to finish.
  • Don’t be over pushy or rude.
  • Don’t  pitch for more than 2 to 3 minutes. Let the agent/editor respond.
  • When an editor or agent asks an encouraging question, they mean it. Go for it by a short answer like, “Rom-com with a twist,” inviting the response, “What sort of twist?” If the response is, “I hope it’s going well,”  with a glazed look, it’s probably not going to work.
  • Watch for the signs that the agent/publisher wishes to finish the conversation and move on gracefully.

You don’t want to gain the reputation of being a pest, because a pest at a party is probably going to be a pest to work with. Editors and agents gossip amongst hemselves. You don’t want to be the one referred to as, “Oh, her! She trapped me in a corner at a do and tried to tell me the whole plot of her book. I had to spill my drink down myself to escape.

After your short pitch, a professional follow-up letter within the week with your submission package mentioning meeting the agent/editor at the party and thanking them for their time is the best next step.

Although literary parties give you an opportunity to meet new people and network with those you already know, they are a place where good manners and restraint matter most.

That is, if you want to succeed in seeing your book published.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA. The fifth in the series, INSURRECTIO, was published in April 2016.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

4 comments to On pitching at parties…

  • Excellent advice, Alison, though of course I don’t need it! And I wouldn’t dream of trapping an agent in the Ladies’ either…unless I’m at the Geveva Writers’ Conference!

  • Alison

    You and your sense of humour! 😉

    Seriously, these were two genuine conversations I overheard at a recent do. It seems that people’s sense of proportion fails when under stress.

  • I have attended NYC and Toronto book launch parties and publishing events. I did do as you’d suggested, and in each case, I was asked to submit. My emphasis was to treat the agent or publisher like a human being and NOT the equivalent of a publishing lottery ticket. I’d ask, “How do you think ‘xyz’ book will do?” Or I’d ask about their promotional plans or their views on current industry trends.

    I’d build rapport and would wait until they asked me, “And what do you do?” My title, subtitle and two sentences would either cause their eyes to light up and engage. Or I’d see them pull back.

    Usually, the agent or publisher would give me their card. I would not need to ask them for it. They’d even give me their special ‘code word’ to put onto my email ‘RE’ line or to place on the envelope to guarantee they’d get my content. Again, THEY would facilitate the impending interaction with them on a business level.

    What the agent or publisher needs is always top of mind for them. They do want to hear about your book, but engage them so they ASK YOU about you and your book. In retail marketing they say that customers have to ‘know, like and trust’ you before they’ll buy from you. You have to hit all three buttons with the agent or publisher before they will ‘buy’ from you as an author.

    Consider yourself as their equal and you solve the problem of coming across as desperate or needy. If your title and topic interests them, they will let you know.

    I’ve since elected to self-publish but am happy I learned to what I did about which titles and ideas would or would not fly in the big six publishing world.

    Alison, your advice works, and it works very well.

    • Alison

      Thank you for such a detailed comment, Julia.
      I networked continuously during the time I ran my own translation company – nearly 20 years. If you do it on a personal basis, and form good relationships, you end up getting more business.