Paying for Agent Pitch Sessions…I Think Not

A8CC3A   It’s that time of year again!

My favorite time, actually. The announcing of upcoming writer conferences. I enjoy attending conferences because I learn something new every time. This year, I want to focus on workshop sessions offering information on publishing avenues and using social media as tool. While I have some knowledge of these two topics, for me, publishing is the murkiest.

One thing I’m contemplating at the moment is signing up for agent pitch sessions. One conference in May I’m considering is offering them…but for a fee. I’ve attended a pitch session before, but it was free (for a three-minute session). This particular one is for ten minutes or more, but at cost. So I started researching (yes, on the Internet) the feasibility of paying to pitch an agent.

My one and only experience pitching to an agent was horrifying. Not that the agent was terrible or rude or anything. It was just…nerve wracking! I spent an entire half of the three-day conference polishing and memorizing my elevator pitch and log line, timing it to 90 seconds, then having kind conference participants critique what they heard. Needless to say, all that preparation resulted in a polite rejection.

But in retrospect, I don’t think pitch sessions are for me. I’m a writer, not a speaker. So while I understand that I should be able to explain my manuscript in a few short sentences, does it seem fair to base the worth of my project on that? To me, it doesn’t. I could do a perfect pitch, but still write crap, right? Or I could do a crap pitch and have the next great American novel on my hands (this, I keep telling myself).

I found a few posts from agents who actually dislike the whole “speed dating” aspect of pitch sessions. Janet Reid’s “Rant: Pitch sessions are the spawn of Satan”, Scott Hoffman’s “Writer Conference Etiquette”, and “Literary Speed Dating: How Not to Find an Agent for Your Book” by Karen Dionne all summed it up for me: hoping agents request material or sign on site from a timed oral pitch may not be the best way to go about finding representation.

I’ve seen the exultation on the faces of conference attendees who’ve pitched and the agent/editor gave them the coveted business card with instructions to send pages of the manuscript. But that’s just the first stage, isn’t it? The agent/editor could very easily send a rejection right after reading those pages. Why, you ask? Because according to Karen Dionne’s post, “the agent finds it easier to say ‘yes’ than to say ‘no’ in a face-to-face meeting with an author.” How horrible that must feel, to be on cloud nine for a moment, then to find out you’re back at square one.

One solution offered from the articles I mentioned above was attending conference sessions where agents critique or offer feedback on random manuscript samples from the attendees. The conference I’m thinking about going to is offering such a session.

And it’s free.

It’s not guaranteed that everyone’s sample will be critiqued, but it’s nice to know, truthfully, what the agent likes or dislikes about the sample. And it’s in a relaxed setting. No pressure, sweating or vomiting. And, I assume, it’s possible for the agent to like what they see and ask for more.

For me, this is exactly what I would want: to be judged on my writing and not how many times I said, “um” or “you know, like…” in my pitch or that I’m the umpteenth nervous nutcase the agent’s had to listen to that day. I’ve paid for manuscript critiques in the past and the feedback I received was invaluable. But they were done by published authors who could only offer me (much needed and appreciated) encouragement…not representation.

So as I conclude this, I think I’ve made my decision: attend the conference, skip the pitch session. I’m sure there are writers who’ve been discovered this way. But while I understand rejection is part of the process– I’ve had my share– I certainly don’t want to pay for what I can politely, and freely, get from an email.



About Michelle McGill-Vargas

Michelle hails from Gary, Indiana where she enjoys writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. Her writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", and "Typehouse Literary Magazine." She served as vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium. Until the day her historical fiction manuscripts get published, she pays the bills as a special education administrator with a background in deaf education. In October 2018, she will be a contributor to Concordia Publishing House's quarterly devotional series "Portals of Prayer." Visit her blog at
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