Backspace hasn't offered formal pitch sessions for our last four conferences. Here's why.

I suspect we're in the minority in this (though I'm not the only one who thinks we're in the right - check out this recent The Writers Edge blog post).

I'm curious to know what others think, particularly about the "pitch/slam" format that many conferences offer. Love pitch sessions? Hate 'em? Willing to endure them in order to get face-time with an agent?

Thanks!

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I have to say from personal experience--I had no idea how terrifying it would be to sit face to face with an agent and try to sell my story in person. On one hand, it did get a request for the first fifty pages from a respectable agent, but would a query have done the same thing without all the personal trauma? I don't know. I think if you're a confident person who can sell your novel one on one without breaking out in hives...pitch sessions are a good thing. But, for me, I won't ever put myself through it again.
I have never participated in a pitch session. I'm attending Killer Nashville this year, and am not certain I'll do a pitch there.

I think a personal relationship is always a good thing, and no matter what people say, a personal relationship gives you an edge - to a degree.

But the pitch session does not give you that.

I don't think they are necessarily bad ideas, but I'd rather actually discuss my novel with an agent over a beer in a relaxed atmosphere than I would be pitching one who's actually thinking "how many more of these do I have to listen to?" A relaxed conversation may result in stronger interest, or perhaps useful feedback you can apply to your work.
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to offer their opinions on formal pitch sessions.

I have some opinions of my own, based on observing pitch sessions at other conferences, and on running them at our first Backspace conference. (We offered pitch sessions in 2005 because we were new, and thought that's what conferences should do. After that experience, we quickly changed our minds about the usefulness of pitch sessions.)

The thing is, authors can learn a lot from meeting agents in person - from listening to their parts on conference panels, asking questions, and from individual conversations with agents between sessions - and if they can afford to attend a conference, this is one aspect that makes writers conferences worthwhile. Agents have a wealth of insider knowledge and experience, and learning from them firsthand can definitely give conference attendees an edge. But there's no teaching going on in a formal pitch session - it's just the author telling the agent about their project - something that could be accomplished just as well (and in many cases, better) with a well-written query letter.

I've been to conferences where authors waited in long lines for a chance to talk for 3 minutes to agents in a marathon session that went on for 3 hours. Halfway though, I hung out with some of the agents during a short break, and it was clear they were already exhausted. The authors were too, but believing these pitch sessions increased their chances of signing with an agent, they endured.

I've also been to conferences where authors paid $40 on top of the conference fee for ten minutes of face-time with an agent (and calculated how much money the conference took in as a result - literally tens of thousands of dollars). In a late-night conversation with one of these agents, they told me how much they hated doing these sessions, and how after a while, it's all just a blur - not very fair to the authors, to say the least, and not a good use of agents' time either.

It bothers me when these conferences later boast about how many authors had partials or full manuscripts requested as a result of these formal pitch sessions, as if this were an indication of the format's success. The truth is, agents ask to see material in these situations when they really have no interest in the project because most of them are essentially nice people, and it's difficult to turn folks down face to face. Then the authors wonder as the weeks go by why the agents never get back to them after they’d seemed so interested at the conference . . .

We build a lot of free time into our conference program so that agents and authors can interact without the pressure of a formal, sit-down meeting, and that seems to work very well. Like I said in my conference blog post: Agents attend conferences because they're looking for new projects; authors attend because they're looking for an agent, but Backspace believes that formal pitch sessions are not a productive way for authors and agents to connect. Authors have signed with agents they met at Backspace events, but not as a result of a formal pitch session. Backspace feels very strongly that the authors who invest time and money to attend our conferences deserve better than a few stressful minutes of face time with a bored and exhausted (and quite possibly grouchy) agent.

Thanks again! It's good to know we're not the only ones who see it this way.
An interesting interview with literary agent Stephany Evans about pitch sessions just posted to the ThrillerFest blog.

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