I ran into someone from that writer’s conference I attended yesterday. This was someone who had participated in a critique group with an agent and then pitched to that agent later in the weekend.
Good news, the agent wanted to see the first fifty pages because they found the idea compelling.
Bad news, this person hadn’t written more than the first twenty pages as of the time of the conference.
During that same critique group, another member of the group (who I think will find an agent within the next year based upon the strength of their writing and ideas) had the agent ask for pages during the session.
Problem? That person also hadn’t written more than the first twenty pages of the novel that they presented.
Here’s the problem with that approach. You have an agent’s (or editor’s) attention when you participate in one of those groups or pitch.
But six months later? Who know what that agent will want. Or if they’ll even remember you.
Maybe that idea you told them about in January is worn and dated by June. Maybe the agent finds success in a new direction that you no longer fit into. Maybe in the meantime they signed someone else who writes something too similar to what you pitched them.
And, if you haven’t written the novel already, maybe you never will. Or maybe the final version of the novel will be something entirely different.
The first novel I wrote is a great example. I originally thought it was going to be about one idea, but when I really started writing it, that idea disappeared. Then, I thought it was going to be from one POV and cover the entire life of that one character. The final version had three main viewpoint characters and the character I thought was going to be the focus of the novel doesn’t even show up until the third chapter.
I’m a pantser, so maybe that doesn’t happen to everyone. But I think, especially for newer writers, you have no idea what direction something is going to take until you write it. (And trying to keep it within what you thought it would be may just destroy the story you’re trying to tell.)
To me, and this is just my opinion, if you’re going to participate in one of these “critique sessions” with an agent/editor you should only use a finished work. It isn’t a critique session. It’s a thinly-veiled opportunity to have an agent or editor read the first ten pages of your project.
And if you’re going to pitch an agent, also only do so with a completed work. That way if they like the idea you can build momentum that will lead somewhere rather than having someone get excited about you and having to disappoint them.
(Think of it in a dating context. If you REALLY like someone, do you approach them when you’re kind of sort of separated from your current significant other. NO. You wait until you have your situation sorted and are completely free to fall head over heels in love with the new person. Because you know that if you half-ass it, you’re unlikely to succeed with them.)
Sure, you may luck out. Six months later that agent or editor may still love the idea. But…that’s a BIG risk to take.
So why do it? Realize you have a unique opportunity to get in front of a decision-maker and make the most of it.