Pitching to a Knight: My Interview with Nephele Tempest

Making a pitch to an agent is a rite of passage for all authors. It’s with excitement, hope, and lots of adrenaline that we walk into our pitch appointment and try to express to the other person why we love our story and why they should take a chance on us. At the recent Power of the Pen Conference, I scored a pitch appointment with Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency. It was such a positive experience that I found the courage to ask her to come to See Jane Publish and share with everyone her experiences about the pitching process.

What advice would you give to writers who are nervous about their pitches?

Keep in mind that agents and editors are just people who love books and who have chosen their careers because of that fact. They’re looking to find wonderful stories they can represent and get out into the world. They also know that writers are not necessarily good public speakers, so you don’t need to feel like you must perform in order to get your pitch across. Feel free to bring notes, take deep breaths, and tell them why you love the story you’ve written.

What was the first conference you attended? What was the first pitch session experience like for you?

The first conference I attended was a New England RWA chapter conference, and I was very nervous. I had been an agent for all of four months, so I felt a little unsure and like all the other professionals there knew so much more than I did. Pitches were hard for me because I am, in general, a soft touch. I hate to tell someone no. But I focused on putting the people pitching at ease and asking questions to draw them out and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I had anticipated.

Are agents and editors just as nervous about pitches as the writers?

I don’t think so, not once they’ve gone through it a few times. You need to remember that if the average writer pitches at maybe half a dozen conferences over the course of their career before signing an agent (I don’t know if that’s accurate; I’m just guessing), the average agent will hear anywhere from ten to thirty pitches at a single conference. It’s kind of old hat. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still go in hoping to hear something great.

What are the elements of a successful pitch?

Depends how you measure success. No pitch will work if you’re pitching something the agent or editor isn’t interested in taking on. We know if something doesn’t sound to our taste or if it’s not going to work in our section of the market. But in terms of hitting your marks, make sure to be specific. Too often I hear pitches where the first sentence out of the author’s mouth — their elevator pitch or log line — is so general that it could apply to any number of books. Figure out what makes your story, your character, stand out, and include that in your pitch. Also, be prepared to go past that one-to-three sentence pitch so many writers practice. Have additional details and plot points you want to share given time and interest.

Is it true that a large portion of authors who agents/editors request information never send in their work?

Yes, it’s true. It varies from conference to conference. I think sometimes writers go home and start editing or polishing based on things they’ve learned at the conference and then so much time has gone by they feel they’ve missed their window. If an agent or editor asks to see something, there’s not typically an expiration date with that request. Do follow up, even if a few months have passed. We remember what we’ve requested to see.

What would be your ideal way/environment to engage with authors and find out if they are a good fit with your agency?

The Knight Agency has a website, a newsletter, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and then as individual agents we also have various social media outlets. I blog and have a fairly busy Twitter feed, for instance, but limit my Facebook page to real life friends, family, and colleagues. I’m on Tumblr and Instagram, both of which are more personal than business, but can give anyone who looks through them a better fix on my personality and interests. But engaging with us through social media and reading things we’ve written for blogs or the agency newsletter are great ways of finding out who we all are and what interests us. We also all do periodic conferences, and love meeting writers in person. I’m always happy to answer questions on my blog or through Twitter, or obviously to chat at a conference, etc. Just remember to follow our agency’s submission guidelines if you’re interested in taking the next step. No random Tweet pitches or anything of that sort, please.

What is your take is on romance writing in general? Do you feel the genre gets a fair treatment or is it belittled for being written by women for women?

We go through this periodically, where you have people looking down on romance for being “less serious” or being for/by women. Right now feminism in general seems to be a very hot topic, above and beyond the single genre. I think it’s ridiculous to segregate work by gender or by genre, beyond making it easier to find what you’re looking for in a bookstore. You can have a terribly written, boring literary novel, or a beautifully written, fascinating romance novel. Work should stand on its individual merits. People should read what they want, what interests them, and be open minded. I’m in favor of readers experimenting with new authors and genres, because how else do you discover something new you might love? But it’s unfair to read one book in a genre and label that genre based on a single experience, or worse, to assume you won’t like something you’ve never tried. That’s true of all things, not just books.

Since you live in the LA area, does this influence how you work with publishers in NYC vs film and TV rights in LA?

This used to be more of a thing when I first started agenting. Email for business was still pretty new and attachments were frowned upon. Editors still wanted paper manuscripts, so I spent a lot of time running to Fed Ex to send out submissions overnight. But eventually one or two editors would agree to an attachment, and then I could generally talk the others into it because the ones accepting by email were getting manuscripts a day sooner than those waiting for Fed Ex to show up. Now almost all business is over the phone and email, wherever you’re located. I do visit NYC periodically and have in-person meetings with editors, but those are more catch-up sessions or getting to know new editors rather than occasions to make actual sales.

On the flip side, I did more in-person networking on the film/TV side when I first moved to LA. A lot of that has also shifted to phone and email — sending electronic ARCs to production people, etc. The shifts in technology have had a huge effect on the industry across the board.

Authors often try to write to the market. Since the paranormal market is saturated, what genre or theme do you think will be the next big thing?

I discourage writers from trying to write to the market because by the time you’ve finished writing, the market might very well have shifted again. So it’s difficult to say “write this or that” with any sort of accuracy. That said, Scottish highlander historicals seem to be perennial. Contemporary romance with a bit of edge to it is doing pretty well. I think the key is still to write something you love, that excites you. Take something old and find a new spin on it. Be passionate in your writing. A really good book will sell even in a tired sub-genre. (Though you might still want to steer clear of vampires for a bit.)

nephele_tempestAbout the Agent: Nephele Tempest joined The Knight Agency in January, 2005, opening the Los Angeles office. As an agent, she works with a number of talented writers, assisting them to hone their skills and build their careers. Nephele comes from a diverse publishing and finance background. She has worked in the editorial department at Simon and Schuster, as a financial advisor for Dean Witter, in the marketing and communications departments of several major New York investment firms, and as a freelance writer. Her experiences in sales, marketing, and writing provide her with insights into multiple aspects of the publishing industry.

Nephele belongs to the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). She continues to actively build her client list, and is currently seeking works in the following genres: literary/commercial fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporary romance, historical fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction.

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About Jessie Smith

Health Care Worker by Day, Aspiring Author by Night and 24/7 Staff for Riley (Corgie/Tibetan Spaniel Mix)

Posted on March 27, 2015, in Auth: Jessie Smith and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Great interview! I love the advice about writing according to your passion instead of the market.

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  2. No doubt the digital age has launched us into hyper-drive and little downtime. Coming from the film side, I have a question. Readers go through scripts/material at a blistering pace and it seems like subtext, subplots, and hell, even theme, can be overlooked on those initial impressions. As an agent, how do you make sure the finer points, the subtle details that often make a story stand out, are actually recognized when the PA is reading in his Fiat 500 doing 75 mph as he zooms from the set to the drycleaner??? Sometimes it seems like the really developed stories are coming from the indie side these days.

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    • Jamie, I can’t control how a reader approaches material. I don’t rep screenplays, only film/TV rights for novels, but I imagine all the readers on the film side of things face the same issues that agents and editors face in book publishing: far too much to read, and far too little time to read it. It’s the nature of the industries.

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  3. Thank you Nephele for sharing your thoughts with us. “A really good book will sell even in a tired sub-genre.” I’m taking that message to heart.

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  4. “Write something you love.” It always comes back to this, which delights me anew every time I hear it. Thank you, Ms. Tempest, for sharing insights into your part of the publishing world!

    Of course, I’m still going to get queasy before every pitch no matter what you say 😉

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