Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Straight Query or Conference Pitch?

Over the last few months I have been participating in both PITCH and QUERY contests as I've been looking for a home for my newest novel, "Burning Bridger". While all of this has been done via twitter, blogs, and e-mail, it has made me curious about why there are two different approaches.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the terminology; a PITCH is a short one or two sentence sum-up of your novel that you give to a publisher, or agent to see if they're interested in your manuscript. You must be able to follow this with a 4-10 minute conversation about your novel's conflict, plot, and characters.A QUERY is a cover letter with a 250-300 word introduction to you and your manuscript with the same goal in mind.
Pitching on twitter, or a blog, is different than pitching in person at a writers conference, for reasons that I will discuss later. Query-ing is an art .A lot of time and work goes into being able to write a proper query letter.
For those authors more skilled on the keyboard than they are in person a query letter lets their talent and work as a writer do the talking. For those author's who are personable and persuasive, a live pitch is the way they want to go. I personally don't have a problem with either the live version, or the written. Acceptance is valuable both ways, and rejection sucks whether its in writing or face-to-face. It's probably easier for me to say that because I don't have to look anyone in the eye either way.
The point is-either one can be exhilarating, or devastating to the writer.
On that note I've done a little research into both to find out what the pro's and con's are.
First the Pro's:
Query-According to an article I read on Jess Haines blog,

Queries are
your chance to show the agent: A) You can follow directions (which is very important, because if you can’t follow the submission guidelines on their website,
that’s the first sign you’re not going to be able to follow an editor’s directions and/or that you will be difficult to work with), B) How your story is
different from all the other stories like it and what your writing style is like, so that C) The agent can see if it fits their interests and if they think
they might be able to sell it. Not all agents are good at selling every genre under the sun. Most specialize.
As I have read and studied the how's and why's of query writing I have found it to be interesting, frustrating, overwhelming and very satisfying when I can write a good letter. But that's true for most of what writers do.
The major negative aspect I see in queries is the fact that there is no golden secret. You must do your best to give the agent, or publisher what they're looking for but figuring out what it is for every individual is like trying to find a diamond in a jar full of shattered glass. Even represented, published authors, and agents alike admit the statistics on this approach are staggering.
In a tweet from agent Sara Megibow of
Nelson Literary Agency,
 she broke down the queries she received in 2012:

36,000 queries
1200 sample pages (30 pages)per MS requested
98 full manuscripts requested
7 offers of representation

Another statistic gave similar numbers: 28 K Quiries resulting in 4 author's  being represented. Now, 90 percent (Jess Haines' approximation" of agented author's get published, but check out your odds!

Pro's: I was not able to discover a lot of statistics pertaining to live pitch's but I have read interviews from Amy Trueblood's blog Chasing The Crazies and Michelle Hauck's blog It's in the details where agents have mentioned they find more potential author's at conferences than in the 'slush Pile.
Peggy Eddleman, a MG writer of "Sky Jumpers"a post-apocalyptic, adventure,  mentioned things that pitching at a live conference can do for a writers in her article-"7 Tips for Pitching at A Conference", Writers Digest, Jan 28, 2014.
She talked about the difference in the amount of pressure you feel in a live pitch compared to a query.  In a live pitch you know you don't have just this one shot to sell your book. You just have to talk and give enough information to see if the agent is interested.
The one comment that she makes that made the most sense to me was this.
"Agents get tons of queries every single day, and a good 90% of them come from people who haven’t worked very hard to perfect their craft. Agents know that
if you go to conferences, you’re likely in the 10% who have. If you go to a conference and pitch, you’re likely a top 10% writer who has a book close to
being worthy of representation. It also gives both of you a chance to meet each other, and that’s invaluable in a competitive publishing market. "
Peggy's post outlining all seven of her tips on pitching can be found on Writers Digest's site or you can find her

Another of the Writers Digest posts that discussed how to pitch at a conference quoted an agent as saying that large conferences often bring an influx of ametuer writers who pitch, poor or unfinished work to every agent that they can get five minutes with. If you are the one serious writer in twenty who has come before an agent you might find him/her rolling their eyes at you before you even get started. Some agents will even offer their card and a ten page request, knowing they will simply delete the e-mail because their minimum is 50 pages, the 10 page request  a signal to their editorial assistant to delete it.
Now this was a rumor perpetrated at a conference in Ohio, but it caused an uproar for the agents involved.
If a request is made by an agent through a live pitch an author has 6-12 months to offer their work. This would normally be considered a pro to pitching, and for some author's it is. In my experience though, writer's often overwork their manuscripts, worrying and trying to perfect them if given too much time to dwell. It's great if you need editing, critiquing, or mentoring. However, if too much time passes, the agents may find themselves reading a manuscript vastly different than the one they originally requested.
No matter how you slice it, writers will need to learn the best of both these skills if they want to be noticed in a competitive publishing market. Make sure you take the time, the effort, and the practice to work on the tedious tasks of your writing as well as the fun parts.
By the end of a day where I've been trying to polish, and/or write queries and pitches I'm emotionally drained, and I don't have any idea if I've got anything that will work. That's Okay too. Just keep pounding away at the keyboard, invest in a few conferences, and give your self a break along the way.


  1. Abbie from Abbie's corner left a comment on this week's post but it ended up on last week's. I'm attempting to move it, wish me luck.---When I wrote my first book, I tried querying and pitching to agents with little success. I don't want to waste time with them, anymore. If I can't get future
    books published traditionally, I'll self-publish them. Thank you for an interesting post.

    1. Interestinglly enough, Abbie. One of the best parts of being a writer in our world is the many publishing routes available. I did this research and ended up working with a hybrid-publisher on Burning Bridger. Watch for my post on hybrid publishers coming later this month. As always thanks for the feed back.