How to Pitch to a Literary Agent
Carly Watters in Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
In the latest “Craftwork” episode, a deep-dive conversation about literary agents with Carly Watters, herself a longtime literary agent and the co-host of the popular writing podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. Carly is “very online” with a keen understanding of the digital landscape and the challenges faced by contemporary authors. In this episode, we discuss what you need to know about pitching a literary agent, what agents are looking for in writers—and more.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: Okay, so let’s say that I’m a writer and I’m at a writers conference and Carly Watters is there. And I’m walking up to you. What are some do’s and don’ts in terms of how to approach? I mean, writers tend to be kind people in general, and tend to be awkward. So let’s just assume it’s going to be slightly awkward. But what are some ways to maybe help your cause or hurt your cause?
Carly Watters: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I mean, number one, if you were a writer, you would have again researched everybody going to the conference and presumably thought, hey, Carly Watters is a fit for me. Therefore, I know a little bit about her list or I’ve read her client’s book or listened to her podcast or heard her on Otherppl, right? So there should be some kind of understanding going into it.
So if you know a little bit about me, what I’m interested, and you think that would be a fit, that’s a really great start. I think a lot of writers think that these query letters, or being in the top percentile of authors that end up getting an agent, has to be special in some way. But it’s really just following the rules, querying people that are aligned with your your taste. And so if you were to find me at the conference, you might find me at during the pitch sessions or you might find me after a panel, you might find me at the happy hour bar at 4—wherever you find me, come up to me.
And really, I want to hear about your book. I want to hear your elevator pitch. And so knowing how to describe your book in that sense is so important. I think a lot of writers want to talk about themes or how a book is going to make somebody feel, or they want to really get into detail about the synopsis of the book. But really what I want to know is the hook. What’s the character? What’s their journey? But more like, what’s the stakes for this journey? What conflicts is this character getting into? That really kind of more plotty business of the actual book itself. Because the themes, I’m going to infer that once I’ve actually read your book. You don’t need to pitch me themes. What you need to do is pick me a book. Pitch me a concept, something that I can really understand easily and get excited about.
And if we do have a set number of minutes together, for example, if it is a pitch session or you want to catch me before I’m running off to another event, being as quick as possible is best, but also leaving room for questions. Because I think one thing writers think they have to do is say, I know Carly has to finish this panel and be somewhere else, so I know she has only a set amount of time, so I’m going to talk her ear off for those seven minutes or whatever. Don’t talk her ear off for seven minutes. Talk her ear off for three minutes, four minutes, then save those other minutes for questions, interaction. You know, you want to ask my opinion about the latest industry scandal or the latest merger acquisition. That’s the rapport building that can be really important. But obviously the most important thing is pitching me your really great book.
Carly Watters is a SVP and Senior Literary Agent at P.S. Literary. She began her publishing career in London as an assistant at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency. Carly joined Toronto-based P.S. Literary Agency in 2010 and has sold over 100 books during her career. She represents award-winning and bestselling authors in the adult fiction and non-fiction categories, and select children’s books. She is known for her long-term vision for her authors and being an excellent collaborator with a nose for commercial success. She has close ties to publishers in the major markets, is a member of the AALA, and works directly with film agents to option film and TV rights to leading networks and production companies. Her clients’ books have been translated into 40 languages, optioned for TV and film, adapted into podcasts, and have been on every bestseller list from coast to coast, including the New York Times, USA Today, the LA Times, the Washington Post, the Toronto Star, and theGlobe and Mail. Carly is also an annual judge for the Women’s Fiction Writing Association Rising Star Award.