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 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] Agent (with rictus on face and desperate for a drink) to author: “Why don’t you send in three chapters? You’ll find all the details on our website.”
Author: “….and then great aunt Getrude comes back from India with a new husband and…”
Agent: “Send it in, then. If you’ll excuse me, I must get on.” (Turns round and flees.)
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 get published.