Dear Miss Snark,

A writing conference offers the following activity to its attendees. My writing group is planning a conference and the organizers are intrigued by the idea. What's your opinion?

Speed dating agents and editors: what's it all about?

One of the things that makes the conference unique is the speed dating event with agents and editors. Each attendee who wishes to participate will receive three red tickets in their badge holder. On Saturday evening, the attendees will then line up outside of the room. Agents and editors will be seated in alphabetical order at tables along the periphery of the room.

At the beginning of the event, a certain number of participants will be allowed into the room, and will go to a table and start their THREE MINUTE pitches. You must convey the essence of your book quickly (we suggest using 25 words or less), allowing a response from the agent within your three allotted minutes. We suggest you use about two minutes to pitch your book, and allow one minute to listen to the editor/agent.

At the end of three minutes, when the bell rings, please give one of your tickets to the agent/editor and yield your chair to the person in line behind you. You may move on to the next agent or editor. When you have used your first three tickets, you will exit the room. We will have a person outside the exit who will give you three more tickets. You may then get in line to return to the room, and go back as many times as possible until the end of the session.

The energy level in the room will be high and we expect participants will find the speed dating event to be one of the highlights of the conference.

We do not charge an additional fee for the 'speed dating' session. This special event is included as part of your registration. You may choose not to participate, but everyone is welcome. Our intention is to make editors and agents as accessible as possible.

Please note that this is a separate event from the individual editor and agent appointments. The individual appointments will be 8 minutes in length.

I think the idea of a harried three minute pitch is insane. I'd rather drink green tea and sing kumbaya with Bill O'Reilly than have streams of crazed authors giving me three minute pitches.

Now, if you want to just talk to me, ask three questions, or show me pictures of your pet python for three minutes, ok. Pitching is not a contact sport, nor is it suitable for "speed". There's a place for the auction mentality in publishing; this isn't the place.

And you'll notice it's on a Saturday night. I gotta tell ya, Saturday night at a conference is when I want to be swilling gin at the bar with other malcontents not listening to stories of Rabbitania's version of Peyton Place.

Has anyone actually done this? Let me know if it worked better than it sounds. I'll be glad to hear from people who have differing opinions.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I've done the speed dating--but not like this.

It was a small conference--about 150 people. There was an cash bar. It was on Friday evening, when the conference was first starting. The point was not to pitch necessarily, but to let the attendees put names with faces.

It wasn't just editors and agents, but also the published authors. Each editor/agent/author had an "escort" who was a member of the sponsoring chapter. (Alas, no George Clooney look-a-likes, but it was fun.)

The attendees stayed in one place and the editor/agent/author and their escort went around. We talked for ten minutes--about things like what do you want to get out of this conference, what are good tips for pitching, what is hot right now? Generalized stuff. It was very noisy, but very fun. Of course, we'd been dipping into the tequila (prefer it to gin) so what's not to love?

The attendees loved it because on Saturday--the main conference day--they had an idea of who was who. Great ice-breaker. This conference did one-on-one appointments with editors and agents on Saturday and because it was a small conf, there was a lot of meeting up in the bar. My kind of good time.

Anonymous said...

I talked to an editor for fifteen minutes, and even that was a slam bam thank you mam. I left feeling like a stuttering idiot.

Maya Reynolds said...

Hey, forget the pitch. I'll pay to see you singing with Bill O'Reilly.

Anonymous said...

This sounds hideous to me, but if someone is going to participate, I'd skip the "pitch" part and hand over my query letter asking, "I'd like your first impression on my query letter."

Could be a good way to learn.

That's pretty much the only way I can see something like this being useful to a writer. Or asking general questions such as, "What makes a writer great to work with," or, "What should I avoid doing when querying agents."

At least they aren't charging extra for it.

Anonymous said...

Well it depends... Tongues or no tongues?

It doesn't sound like an atmosphere that would be conducive to anything positive, in a publishing sense, more like a party game. Perhaps the participants can follow up in the bar later (if you know what I mean).

I can't imagine giving a useful pitch in what sounds like the atmosphere of a subway station, and I can't imagine the agents really paying much attention to what they're hearing.

It's not an extra cost, which is a good thing, but I would be inclined to treat it as no more than a 'get to know the faces of the agents', and certainly wouldn't expect to sell anything.

The scheduled individual appointments look short at eight minutes too, but maybe that's normal?

I wonder if you could just use your red tickets to keep seeing the same agent and get a longer 'appointment' for free ("Hold that thought, I'll be right back...")?.


solGreer said...

Holy crap. Are they smoking something particularly refreshing over there? The only way you could get me to pitch under those circumstances were if THEY paid ME to show my ass up just so you agents/editors don't feel neglected.

And I wouldn't waste time on a stealthy flask, I'd bring the entire bottle of Jager and thunk it down on the table beside me. Drink 'em if you've got 'em.

s.w. vaughn said...

Bradley Communications, publishers of Radio-TV Interview Report Magazine, hold a twice-annual event similar to this. Those giving the pitches are mostly authors, but those listening to the pitches are not editors. They are, for the most part, media people--producers of radio and television talk shows. Some are for big shows like The View and 20/20.

The authors attending this event go through two or three weeks of intense training to prepare their two-and-a-half minute pitches. They are encouraged to spend only thirty seconds giving a three-sentence overview: who they are, what their book/product is, and what they can offer to these producers that would interest their viewers. The remaining two minutes are supposed to be Q&A between the author and the producer (or agent).

The most recent event in January of this year, there were five or six literary agents being pitched to along with the producers. One of them was Scott Hoffman, one of the founders of Folio Literary Management. Generally, the producers and literary agents who attend this event (which is called the National Publicity Summit) are pleased with the turnout and come back for more.

Since the main purpose of the Summit is media exposure and not publication, it does work -- rather well, in fact. However, though agents get something out of it, I can't see this format working on a larger scale for the publishing industry, particularly without the rigorous training for the pitch-givers.

I wonder...have I strayed off topic here? Anyway, it does work in certain situations, but not all.

NL Gassert said...


d said...

Yeeks! You just know all the writers are going to talk very fast and very loud and the agents are going to say things like "got a tylenol on ya?"


Anonymous said...

I'd do it if there was an open bar. But I'd be doing it for the open bar.

Anonymous said...

I'd never attend anything like that - sounds like utter hell. For one thing, I've read too many times that a great verbal pitch has no correlation with a great manuscript - and those agents know it. For another, the entire thing reeks of desperation. Gosh, allow us a remnant of dignity.

Yuck and yuck again.

Anonymous said...

I think you should memorize a bunch of good jokes beforehand and just tell one joke per sitting. You'll be relaxed; you'll be funny; you'll be remembered. Or you could just flash your boobs at them.

Anonymous said...

I tried the boob-flashing thing last year. Didn't work, got thrown out, and my wife won't let me go this time...

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if 'anonymous' was at the same conference I was. That was how the handled the speed dating there -- no pitching, just chatting,and everyone seemed to have a great time.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the agents get to use the red tickets later at the bar. I can imagine that is the only thing that would entice them.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't sound like a great way to get your manuscript read, but, I think I might attend anyway for the sake of getting over my fear of pitching.

You'll get to know who the agents are, practice talking to them like real people, and maybe get a little advice. And it's free!

Lauren said...

OMG, those poor agents. Why would any agent agree to be mauled this this? I'd bet even a bathtub full of gin surrounding a naked George Clooney wouldn't get Miss Snark to agree to this.

Seriously, any writer who thinks this will work is simply off. A batty idea at best.

Anonymous said...

If you have a regular appointment with an editor/agent later, speed dating is a great way to introduce yourself and your work and let them know you'll see them later. Your short pitch, if it makes a favorable impression, can get them thinking. By the time you come around again or at the later appointment, they may have been thinking about your idea, enabling a more productive session.

I've found editors and agents to be extraordinarily sharp when dealing with pitches and plots. Very quickly, they can tell who is on the ball, whether the story fits their lines, etc. Moreover, they crave good, saleable stories, and if they hear a pitch they like, they will want to follow up.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
I tried the boob-flashing thing last year. Didn't work, got thrown out, and my wife won't let me go this time... "


Janet/Cricket said...

I'm guessing that Miss Snark is talking about the conference my local RWA chapter is throwing, the Prepare To Pitch conference. In fact the entire description of the speed dating seems to be pulled from our website, http://www.svrwa.com

The speed dating is in addition to the 8 minute individual appointments earlier in the day. Since we've invited 12 agents and 5 editors, the entire conference is oriented around pitching to an industry professional.

It is not manditory to do the speed dating. If folks don't want to do it, they know where the bar is. I rather liken it to talking to someone while waiting at the elevator, or in a bar at a convention, both of which I've done in the past, and both times got requests for a partial. Learning to describe a book in 25 words or less is a skill most authors should learn.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I agree with Janet Cricket. I just attended an RWA conference in February where we did "speed dating" and it was great. The focus wasn't on pitching though -- we just talked about ourselves, the conference, the flight, our books if we were itnerested, what we were hoping to get from the conference. I think it made everyone feel so much more relaxed... it was like any other "speed dating" event, i.e. designed as an ice breaker.

Anonymous said...

Yep yep, I was at the same conference in February (hi Diana!) The speakers (me included) were a bit nervous about how the speed dating would go, but in the end, it was great fun. The host chapter made sure to provide an escort who had the right to ruthlessly stamp out anyone who was pushy, obnoxious or rude, and the "no pitching" rule was announced loud and clear at the beginning.

It was extremely social, with lots of drinks flowing. I and the other speaker I went around with just told everyone they could practice their pitch on us if they kept pouring the wine. Or just ask us anything they wanted to know about the business, latest industry gossip, or what our workshop was going to be about the next day.

Tons of laughs, total ice breaker. And the best part, the eds & agents actually loved it. It enabled them to cut out some of that stammering idiocy the attendees might have had to get through at their private appointments the next day by answering the basic questions and letting people know they were human beings who enjoyed the hot chicken wings but hated the cold meatballs.

Definitely would do it again.

Then again, ours is a very social conference, with the byob "party in the penthouse" being a big highlight in previous years. I think I recall sharing a smoke with Miss G at one such event. A good trick for a non-smoker--Miss G is a corruptive influence.

Janet/Cricket said...

Yep, me again. I asked one of our authors to explain her experience with pitching speed dating at a San Francisco writer's conference. Forwarded with permission.

I got a chuckle out of Miss Snark's blog and the comments.

The discussion left me wanting to say: If speed dating is not for
you, just don't do it. (I feel like Hillary Clinton with her
famous "If you don't like my husband, just don't vote for him." ;-)

I've speed dated, had one-on-one appointments and group appointments
at writers conferences. I have to say, the first and only speed
dating session I experienced (at the SF writers conference) was a
blast. Very relaxed, packed with attendees, agents and editors all
who seemed to be having fun. And this was a "literary" conference,
e.g. the focus was not on romance.

No one was too stressed out about the three minute rule (which was
kind of laxly enforced and no one seemed to mind). One agent,
looking for movie scripts, even listened to my romance novel pitch
(she had a short line, so I thought what the heck) and gave me good
advice on how to make the story more marketable. She gave my ticket
back and said, "Hey, pitch this to the agent sitting next to me, I
think she'd like to hear it." She was right. That agent asked me to
send her the full MS.

Some attendees at the speed event were just bouncing book ideas off
editors and agents and the editors and agents seemed to be totally
into just chatting, or fielding bonafied pitches from people with
completed books.

There were ~25 agents/editors participating at the SF writers
conference and I think only one or two of them delinced to
participate in the speed dating session. My impression: more agents
and editors were into it than not.

My impression from the number of attendees lined up for the speed
dating event---more were into it than not (there were several
hundred people at this conference, at least).

The mood at the end of the session was decidely at a high. Soooo
many people got sooooo many requests for their work. I met some
agents/editors I really liked, have a fist full of business cards
and a pile of proposals on which I can write "requested material."

I'm psyched to send them out...

So let's give it a go at the SVRWA Prepare to Pitch Conference.

I'll post a "What if I Don't Have Anything to Pitch: Can I Still
Come to the Conference? Can I Still Talk/Pitch to an Editor/Agent??"


More to come...


Permission granted to post on Miss Snark's Blog

Anonymous said...

This sounds like the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Yes, I've done it (at SFWC in 2005). It's not all that much worse than normal pitch sessions at conferences, where you have 10 minute with the agent.

You can get a surprising amount done in 3 minutes, and you end up pitching people you normally might not schedule an appointment with. (Pitches at most conferences are limited, cost money per pitch, etc.)

Speed dating lets you pitch some folks you aren't sure are a good match without any major downside. At SFWC I pitched 5 agents, had enthusiastic requests for partials from 3, and discovered that 2 of them indeed weren't good matches.

I can't tell you how the response to the partials worked out as I was offered representation about 1 week later by an agent who was already reading a full.

I get the impression that some of you who are begging for a shred of dignity aren't aware of the existence of pitch sessions at all. Welcome to how it really works.

And three minutes isn't much worse than ten. It's like the question of how you remove a Band-Aid--do you tug it off slowly, or give it a good rip? Either way is pretty sucky, but it has to be done.

I know that some people magically get agents through query letters, but everyone I know personally who has landed and agent in the last few years has pitched them at a conference.

Let me put it to you this way: 22 query letters, zero ms. requests. 12 pitches, 9 ms requests. And it isn't because I look like George Clooney. (Well maybe a little the way he looked in "Syriana"...)

Lynne Murray said...

One of the most cringeworthy experiences I ever had was watching agent-hungry authors with no social skills suck up to a very prominent agent (first name Dominick, I say no more) at a mystery convention. The desperation hung in the air like red fog, "Do you want me to be shorter? I can be shorter. Taller? I've got stilts in my room wait, I'll be right back, and I just happen to have my manuscript right here in my backpack." Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Ice Escapes in Phoenix had a ten minute Pitch event, and even though I thought it went soooo quickly, I left my querry with an editor. He said he'd get back to me in four to six weeks (took more like three months), he asked for a partial.

I may be biased because I had a partial read by an editor, I thought it went well.

Kayvan said...

Well, I just came back from the Prepare to Pitch Conference and I thought the speed dating session was great.

I pitched to three different editors and agents and got requests for partials from all three. It was very relaxed and fun.

Any fear or consternation that one might feel at doing this kind of thing is entirely self-induced and quickly dispelled in real life...

Best regards,