EVENTS Pitch Perfect

Jenny Rees reports on an evening filled with fun, laughter and not a little edifying on how to pitch to an agent, ahead of 2019's Agent’s Party.

Firstly, Gail Doggett explained the changes to the Agent's Party, which this year is happening on 27th September: "We have 10 great agents but this is also a social event where you can meet and chat in a supportive atmosphere. We have listened to the feedback from previous evenings and have made changes, in a good way, on how to pitch to the agents on the night."

1. Be on time

Because of the way it's structured, if you are late we won’t be able to let you in until there is a break in the proceedings.

2. The evening will be in two sections. 

First, there will be two panels of five agents on each, moderated by Sarah. It will be a discussion session with Q&As.

Next, the room will be re-set with 10 tables; one for each agent. Participants get the chance to speak to two agents.

There will be 15 names to each agent with an allotted time of three minutes for each delegate.

"We hope this will give everyone an opportunity to pitch," said Gail. "You will get to speak to one agent in each session, and your name will be numbered on the list so if you are number five, you have a few minutes before you will be able to speak to your chosen agent. If you are late or miss your slot, then you have missed your slot, so please be aware of your position on the list and when your agent will be ready for you.

"As there may be more than 15 delegates who want to speak to the same agent, you may have to choose another agent, but do your homework before you come to ensure the person you pitch to is actually interested in what you are writing. If she says she hates mermaids, and your book is about mermaids, then she is not the agent for you, etc. If you didn’t get to see your first choice agent in the first session, you might fare better in the second. Remember, the volunteers have the lists and will take your names. First come first served. Again do your research before you come to be sure you get the shot you want.

"If you don’t get to see your agent that night, remember you can submit to them later and mention that you met them at the Agent's Party."

Once everyone had been thoroughly briefed about one of SCBWI's scariest (and most exciting) events of the year, the second half of the evening was all about the how-tos of pitching, led by Karen Ball and Sara Grant. There was plenty of publishing advice on tap too.

Karen Ball (left) and Sara Grant role-play a pitching session. 
Karen spoke about what is happening in the world of publishing at the moment. "The next big event in publishing is the Frankfurt book fair in October, where deals are made and books/manuscripts are bought and sold. It’s a place to find out what publishers are buying," said Karen.

"The international market is expanding. We have always had close links with the US, but Germany and France are growing, as is interest from China. When you are writing, be aware that your book may be taken up for foreign rights. At the moment the publishing world is interested in books on feminism, activism, environment and child care and are very aware of gender identification, even in picture books. If you have any of those things in your book, mention it. It is the best time in the UK for writers at the moment.

"The top of the market has been taken over by David Walliams and the like, but the market is waiting for change. HarperCollins knows it can’t go on forever. Publishers are hungry for fresh thinking, better possibilities. Waterstones still love MG fantasy and even though you may be told publishers don’t want YA at the moment, they still want it. It’s a truth, publishers don’t know what they want until they see it.

"We are the bedrock of the industry, never forget that."

It is the best time in the UK for writers at the moment

We were then royally entertained by the wonderful double act of Sara and Karen. Sara in the role of pitcher and Karen as the agent. We were treated to four hilarious versions of how not to pitch, ending with how to engage an agent.

The Novice

Basically an enthusiastic delivery revealing she had no real knowledge of the publishing world or where her book fits into the scheme of things.

The Blurt

Where everything comes out in a rush giving the agent no time to take anything in or ask any questions.

(Tip from Karen – If you are nervous, stop, take a few deep breaths and give yourself a few seconds to regroup.)

(Tip from Sara – If you have a paper in your hand with your notes, it won’t be natural, by all means have it as a guide, but chat to the agent. You know your book. Listen to the agent, know what she is interested in.)

The future JK Rowling

Starting with, ‘this is going to change your life’, is not going to cut it. Nor is telling them you have a block buster.

(Tip from Sara – People in the industry want to see if they could work with you, are you nice? Sane?!)

The Wallflower

A self-effacing, humble delivery lacking confidence in yourself and your writing. If you don’t feel confident in your book, why would an agent want it?

The key to preparing a good pitch is: do your homework. Start with an elevator pitch then go into fuller detail. Give the agent time to speak, treat it like a conversation. Treat them like they’re normal people. Think of questions you may be asked by the agent and be ready with an answer.

In one word, can you say what the theme of your book is: friendship, loss, confidence? Do you know the word count? Is it MG, YA, Tween, Picture Book?

So many helpful hints and suggestions came out of this session which went on to a lively Q &A. Here are just a few:

Q: If you write picture books would you take all your stories or just one?

A: Talk about your style of work but offer the one you are most passionate about. Give them too much and you are diluting your offering.

Q: If you choose an agent who has already turned you down, what do you do?

A: Have a conversation with her. Tell her about something else you are working on.

Q: Should I have something with me to give them?

A: Don’t give them anything. If they are interested they will ask you to send them something. They don’t want to go home with arms full of stuff.

Q: Would you keep the ending to yourself?

A: If you say there is a twist at the end, they will want to know more.

The final thoughts were on the 'personal pitch' – talking about yourself. How do you connect your experiences to the book? What inspired you to write the book?

You have three minutes to impress the socks off your chosen agents –  GOOD LUCK!!

*Header image:; role-play pics: Tania Tay.

Jenny has been a member of SCBWI since 2012 and a volunteer, helping the Industry Insiders (London) team since 2017. She has written five middle grade novels but is still seeking an agent. Between writing her stories, Jenny writes, directs and sometimes even acts in pantos for her local drama group. Oh yes she does!


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at 

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