How to Pitch a Literary Agent with Elise Capron
In today's BONUS Episode, Elise Capron of the Dijkstra Literary Agency shares how to pitch an agent—from the formula to the timing, it's about being concise, concrete, and clear. Psst, it's also about being conversational and letting your passion for your work shine through. If you've never pitched before, you're gonna want to hear this one!
hello and welcome to the premise. I'm here with Chad. Good to be back. It's good to be back. We're doing a quick little 10 minute bonus episode and we have with us very special guest. Miss Elise Capron. Hey there. Hi. Thank you guys so much for having me. Yeah. I'm we're so glad to have you here. So the reason we're doing this little bonus episode friends is this Saturday is in fact, the San Diego writers festival and July 17th, it's happening from 9:30 AM till.
Little after I think 6:45 PM, a full day of programming. We've got James Patterson, we've got Lee child and we have our famous Pitchfest. Of course, Elise is one of our wonderful agents who takes pitches. And I was thinking to myself, like, how do you pitch an agent? I actually have no idea. I've never done it.
So I thought let's have a lease on, let's talk about it. And. I dunno, just kind of, for people who were lucky enough to get a slot, because we do have, we opened it up on, I think it was Monday at 9:00 AM and by like 9 0 8, all of the slots were filled. It went fast. Yeah. And we have three agents who were pitching to this year.
Elise, Jill, Mar, and BJ Robbins. Okay, Lisa, let's just pretend like I'm getting your advice on pitching and maybe you can help like sort of Sue the, my mind and how this works. First of all, I would like to say that Marnie told me that there's a formula to this. There's like a, a five-part formula who, the problem, the stakes, and then the ending, sometimes she said you don't always give the ending, but, okay.
What do you say about this form? I think it's a great formula. Thank you, Marnie. Marnie's brilliant genius. As we all know, second, she know, I don't know how she says a hot second, but it was probably a couple of years, but yeah, she's done it. Um, no, this is absolutely a great way to kind of break down. I think you're, you're thinking about your concept, um, into the digestible pieces and into pieces that really.
Make the elements of the story clear for a person who, especially as hearing this verbally, um, and can really understand everything that's going into the story. Um, like you said, the who, the problem, the goal, the stakes for me is crucial, which I think is actually one piece that gets lost too often is one thing.
Always ask when I'm doing any sort of pitch session or conversation is what is at stake for your protagonist or for non-fiction for your, you know, character who, whose story you're writing. Um, so that's something you really want to come through, but yes, working on breaking these down initially in writing is a great, great exercise for yourself.
Crystallize. Each of these sections. Um, and then the next step of course, is learning to verbalize them, but getting them on the page in a one page synopsis and also then in a little kind of micro version, having different links of your pitches, um, that really do look at these various elements is absolutely great.
Um, and you know, so people know this, this is. Eight minute time allotment. So you have eight minutes to pitch and then hopefully get some interest and have some back and forth, right? Like you want to be able to answer questions. Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So that's actually another major thing to keep in mind is with eight minutes, one big mistake.
I will see a lot of writers make when I go to conferences or other things. Is, um, they will spend seven and a half of those eight minutes or however long we have going through the entire plot of the novel. And sometimes not even letting me, I'll try to kind of get, I'll try to enter them so I can ask them questions and they'll keep going.
So I think they're nervous or whatever. Yeah. And, you know, you don't, you don't want to do that because then you don't have the chance to actually have a conversation. My advice is to try and really get your actual pitch, at least the start of a pitch, um, in which you give this kind of what I like to call the signpost information to the agent, the elevator pitch, you know, clearly the, the genre, um, the title, just that kind of big stuff.
You want to keep that down really? To the first minute. So that then there's plenty of time for the agent to ask you questions. And for you guys to have the ideal version of a pitch session, which is that it turns into an organic conversation. That is the ultimate goal. I think of these pitch sessions, right?
Really, so, okay. So let me get this straight. You want to get the elevator pitch, the genre and the title into the first one? Yes. Yeah. That's the goal. I mean, it's some, some pitches, you know, if you're doing like an epic Saifai that requires a little more explanation of the world building. It can go a little beyond that, but I would say that is basically the goal.
Yeah. So should the elevator pitch have the, who, the problem, the goal, the stakes in the end. Um, if you can give a little hint of, um, the start of that, but I would say basically what you want to do is get that little elevator pitch down to a couple of. Probably, uh, in writing maybe three to four sentences, um, and then be prepared to actually address, especially I think like when you get into the stakes and the ending those pieces, um, that's where you want to be prepared to discuss.
Through the rest of your, your timeline. So, um, that however long you have with that agent, um, so you don't need to necessarily get every single piece out in the first minute, but get the most essential stuff across, make it intriguing, um, and be prepared to dive into all those other elements throughout the rest of the time period you have with that.
Yeah. Cause eight minutes can go by really fast. It goes by very, very fast. So what happens, I mean, do you. Do you find that at the end of the eight minutes, like th like, okay, we gotta go all off. I'll reach out or thank you so much. Or, you know, how do, how does it usually what's the last 10 seconds of a pitch look like?
Um, so gosh, I mean, yes. In an ideal world, of course, I'm saying, oh, please do send me yours. Yeah. But I'm also another piece of advice I do actually want to give to listeners and anyone participating in this or any pitch session is, um, use a pitch session. Uh, as you know, as well and as thoroughly, yes. As possible as holistically as possible, I should say.
Um, it's not necessarily just about getting the yes or no from an agent. I know that's that getting the yes. Is of course the most exciting results, but, um, you know, even if you, even, if you realize kind of halfway through the conversation that maybe it's not quite the right Zandra for that agent or something like that, still be sure to use it as an opportunity.
To talk about your idea, um, to get some feedback on how you pitched it. Um, you know, that sort of thing, like make use of the conversation, even if it's not a yes, that's really good advice. Yeah, yeah, go ahead. I do see some writers who get so disappointed when they kind of realize they've kind of pitched like a genre to somebody that like I don't handle or, you know, um, but, but it can be so much more than that.
And when it is, I think it can be so rewarding for both. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Just the idea of pitching a stranger. I mean, you know, as authors, hopefully we have our elevator pitch down and we say it all the time, but when the stakes are this high, it can be nerve wracking. I'm sure. Exactly. So do people start off with like, Hey I'm thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
My name is Jennifer. I'm writing a memoir. You know, is it that easy going? Yeah, totally is. And I think one thing that's important in that, in that opening section as well, along the lines of what you're saying, Jennifer is, um, if you can right away kind of, let's be, uh, convey your passion for your own project.
I think that can be really helpful. So for example, with what you're saying, you know, you sit down and you say, you know, Hey, my name is my name's Ellie's, um, you know, I've, I have written. Memoir about this experience because you know, I, um, I, my life was changed in this moment when so-and-so happened and I became completely driven by this new quest in my life.
Whatever, let me, let me feel how you, there was a life changing moment or an idea potentially. No, of course, I know no, this doesn't completely work with the, within the elevator pitch, but it can all be put together. Um, and incorporated also kind of quickly after an elevator pitch too. Or if there's some something that happened in your life, spired a world you created for your novel.
If that can start to come through within the first half of the time that you have to pitch, and then I'm done gonna be excited by your passion for it by, you know, your clear drive when I can see why. Did you know, months or years of your life in a project. And hopefully that will get me excited as well.
So I'm looking for that passion to come through. So if you can kind of convey that to me, you can convey your excitement about your own work. I promise that will inspire the person who is listening. Hmm. And when you say, um, I need to sound passionate and excitement, you don't necessarily mean my voice and my cadence in the way I say it.
I'm so excited, but literally we need to convey why we're excited and why we're passionate about writing on this topic. Exactly, exactly. What has driven you to, to write this, this book? Um, yeah, I want that to come through at some point in the time that we're chatting. Do you, do you recommend that people talk.
Word count and recent comparable titles. I definitely think it's helpful. Uh, and comparable titles also can be very, very helpful as part of your elevator pitch or at some point when you're chatting, I find comp titles useful because. Not just because I'm thinking, oh, you think your book is, is this sort of thing, but more, just kind of a subtle difference, I suppose, more like, I, I am getting into your head space and understanding how you envision your, your own work and your readership and your identity as an author.
And so that helps us kind of get on the same page during that conversation. So for that reason, yes, I can. I find that really hard. Hmm. Very nice. Awesome. Well, that's great. I, I feel more confident for everyone. Easy peasy. Folks. You got this any last minute advice? Um, yeah, just, uh, just maybe one or two things.
Um, I do just want to remind you that I'd like to kind of throw out three words to remember as you're putting together your plan. Stay concise, concrete and clear. And those three words will be your guiding principles. I think for developing your pitch, be sure to practice, practice with friends and other writers.
The more you practice, the more comfortable you're going to be able to talk about your own work. It is a skill that you want to hone. And also just remember that agents don't bite. I know it can be intimidating, but we're all, all the, all the agents here, BJ Robbins, also my wonderful colleague, Joe Mar.
Here because we want to be, because we're really honestly excited to hear your ideas and the things that are ex that are exciting you and driving you to write. And we're just here to have a conversation. So if there's any way to kind of let go of the nervousness, I know it can be hard, but just to remember that we're on the same team and we want to hear your ideas.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Elise. That's that's really great. It's so great that you come every year and you're sort of like our resident agent festival and you know, you're just always so kind to people pitching and you have such great advice. We really appreciate you. Oh gosh. Well, I'm just so honored to have been part of the festival for these last several years.
It's been so exciting to watch the event. Blossom. And I really hope everybody gets to join in. I hope there's some newcomers as long as well, long time folks, you know, listening to this and planning to be part of this Saturday's events. I'm so excited to watch it. And thank you, Jennifer and Marnie and the whole team and Chad, for all you guys do for this incredible event for San Diego.
Oh, my gosh. Thank you. Thank you. So friends, I just want to remind you that the agent pitch Fest this year is booked. So you won't be able to get in this year, but there's always next year. And I also want to remind you that there is a class being taught by Jennifer Coburn. She's a local San Diego author.
She's written many wonderful books and. Recently landed her dream agent and sold her book for six figures. So she's teaching a class on Saturday, the 17th, that's this Saturday at 4:30 PM. Jennifer Coburn, how to land your dream agents. So that might be a segment that you want. Catch up with don't want to miss that and check out the schedule.
San Diego writers, festival.com. Thank you, Elise. Thank you, Chad. You were awfully quiet today.
I don't have a book in me. What can I say? I'm not an author. I'm just audio video guy. He does have a book in him, but it's a photo book someday. We'll see that. I'd love to see that everyone, we will see you on Saturday at the San Diego writers festival.