4 Questions Agents Ask Writers at Pitch Sessions, by Chuck Sambuchino
Over the years, as I’ve written both KidLit and adult fiction, I have participated in several agent pitches and critique sessions. I’ve read every article I could get my hands on discussing how to deliver your pitch, or how to gracefully listen to constructive criticism.
But what continues to surprise me are the questions that agents ask of me. I’d like to share the questions I’ve encountered in hopes that others can be better prepared than I have been in the past. Here are a few of the questions I’ve been asked most often or I’ve found the most helpful to consider.
- Are you working on anything else?
I’ve come to learn that this is one of the standard questions at a pitch session, but the first time I was asked, I didn’t have a pitch for my other work in progress prepared. I fumbled through a long description of my half-written novel. I did not expect to be asked the question during a critique session with an editor, and when I was, I still rambled a bit.
However, at the last conference I attended, I pitched a picture book manuscript. When the agent asked me if I was working on anything else, pitches for two other manuscripts rolled right off my tongue. The agent requested I send her all three.
Another takeaway from this: if you don’t have an answer to this question, you just might not be ready for the publishing world yet. It is rare for a writer to have their very first manuscript published. But once you have one manuscript under your belt, the next one you write will be that much stronger, as you’ve already been down the road before. Long story short: if you don’t have an answer to this question, you might not be ready to pitch just yet.
- Who are your favorite authors?
I see this question as an opportunity for the agent to discover a couple things about the writer. First, who are their influences? Are they modern, or do they reference authors who might not necessarily be publishable in today’s market? Also, it indicates if the writer is as passionate about reading as they are writing.
Stumble on this question, and you could come across as someone who has a dream to write a book, but hasn’t done enough research to understand what makes a good story (i.e. read as many books as you can). But if you are able to rattle off a list of authors you adore, that shows you appreciate storytelling and the lessons you picked up in your voracious reading will spill over into your writing. We all have our old sentimental favorites, but make sure you are including authors who are hot in the current market.
- What kind of a writer are you?
I fumbled on this one too. The agent kindly led me, and asked if my stories are character-driven. “Yes! They are!” I was relieved, as I could speak to that for a while.
But then I thought about this question way after the pitch session was over. How would I describe myself as a writer? What themes do I want my stories to explore?
This is a great open-ended question that could take the conversation in so many different directions. But it’s such an important question to answer for yourself whether you’re pitching to an agent or not.
- Where did this story come from?
I was asked this question during a critique session with an editor on a picture book manuscript. I answered honestly—I was inspired by all the smaller kids watching their big sisters dance ballet, wishing they could be out there dancing too. I also talked about the story being about a sense of longing. Then the editor pointed out how the story dealt with sibling rivalry, a subtext even I didn’t register yet.
This was the most thoughtful question I’ve been asked, and I think it is one writers can ask themselves in those early drafts. Not just the obvious question of where did you get the idea, but the deeper layers of where did this story come from inside of you? What emotions are you trying to convey to your reader? What made you have to tell this particular story?
These pitch sessions have landed requests for manuscripts, but they’ve also helped me learn about myself as a writer and become more thoughtful about the stories I’m trying to tell.
What other questions have you had agents ask you during a pitch session?