The Writer’s View: The Thrilling World of AgentFest (Bring Your PitchSheet)
Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 12:41PM
Diane in PitchFests, Case Studies, & Examples

Every year, the International Thriller Writers’ national conference, ThrillerFest, brings Industry Pros, Writers, and Readers together in one giant Thriller Love Fest.

Donna May attended AgentFest this summer, and she’s here today to give us insight into what it’s like to participate in ITW’s agent “speed dating” event, and how she created her PitchSheet.

At the time, she was completely new to pitching.  She’d never spoken 1-on-1 with an agent,  much less pitched her book to a room filled with agents.  And she’d certainly never heard of a PitchSheet before.

Well, she survived, and she’s here to share how she prepared for this (overwhelming) event.

But first, a little background…

If you’re a writer attending ThrillerFest, you want to dive head first into two main events:

Torn ApartAs part of AgentFest, master thriller writer Shane Gericke, author of Torn Apart, invited attending writers to create PitchSheets, a 1-page handout attendees were asked to share with each agent. 

He’s a wizard of the AgentFest pitching experience and has lots of great advice here, and he’s written about the huge success of AgentFest here.

This post is your chance to experience the agent speed-dating type of pitch appointment, from the safety of your living room.  Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Literary Agent Jenny Bent, for insight into the agent’s ITW experience.

Take it away Donna!

Donna’s Plan: Avoid Writing a Query Letter

I’m new at pitching. After a serious health scare, I started taking writing seriously seven years ago, but so far the process has been like this:

  1. Write novel, stick novel in drawer.
  2. Write slightly better novel, buy bigger drawer.

panic Then came the third novel that, maybe, didn’t completely stink, but the whole process of trying to get an agent seemed utterly terrifying to me, especially the dreaded query letter.

So, when I heard about the AgentFest part of ThrillerFest, that seemed like a great way to get around writing the letter at all.

Instead, I could meet a bunch of agents face to face and have three minutes to sell them on all the wonderful qualities of my book. Great plan—especially because it was months in the future.

Yikes, Reality Shows Up

What I didn’t realize is that all the prep that went into my verbal pitch was the same, if not harder, than writing a query letter, because there was the added performance aspect.

The closer the conference came, the more certain it seemed that I would fall on my face. So in panic, I reached out for any lifeline.

Our local LA branch of Sisters in Crime offered a workshop on pitching with the prolific Sue Ann Jaffarian, who taught me how much I didn’t know.

My worst offense:  while I’d described the overall plot in one sentence, I hadn’t conveyed what made my book unique. It was back to the keyboard.

And when I opened my email back home, there was a message from Shane Gericke, one of the conference organizers suggesting that we all bring a one-page information sheet with us, because some of the agents had requested them.

So much for getting out of writing a query letter. Now I also had to find a decent photo to go with it.

Luckily, my writer’s group was willing to brainstorm.

I have no problem ‘fessing up – my logline, all twenty-five words, is the work of Lynn Schwartz, a terrific YA writer.

As Diane pointed out when I told her this story, sometimes it takes a pair of outside eyes to help us find the gold nugget hiding in the thesaurus.

Next came the one-paragraph plot summary. For that, I sought the help of some neighbors who are not writers. With their help and a couple of glasses of wine, it went from one paragraph to five, but they provided a key ingredient.

No, not their wine cellar, their enthusiasm.

Time to Prep

On the red eye to New York, I practiced the paragraph I’d finally landed on over and over until it was thoroughly memorized.

Problem was, it felt like I was reading a term paper, probably because the only other time I’ve had to read from memorization was back in grade school. Alarm bells flared.

The first day of CraftFest, we all skipped lunch to hear a workshop called, “What if? So What? Learn to Pitch to an Agent or Editor” with thriller writers Kathleen Antrim and Jon Land.

It was my last hope, and fortunately, one vital piece of advice managed to penetrate into my jet-lagged brain.

We needed to show the agents what made us excited about writing this book in the first place.

The next afternoon when it finally came time to sit down opposite the agents, that’s what was first on my mind. Not once did I read the paragraph I’d memorized. I figured if I got them interested, they could read it off the one-sheet.

So the two most important bits I learned along the way are these:

  1. A logline needs to show what’s unique about your book.
  2. Your in-person pitch is all about enthusiasm not word choice. (Leave the word choice for the query letter or one-sheet.)

Oh, and get as much feedback as you can. The Cabernet is optional.


Result?  Donna got requests!  (And that’s a whole other type of panic.)

For more on the AgentFest experience:

For more on Pitch Sheets:

To Order Tapes from ITW’s CraftFest:

Visit VWTapes, where you can order individual sessions or a complete set of workshops for 2011 and previous years.

Article originally appeared on Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors (
See website for complete article licensing information.