Tag Archive: pitching

Pitching 101: Twitter Fishing for Agents

If you have pitched a novel in the last few years, chances are you have at least considered using a Twitter event. Pitching a manuscript to agents and editors this way is not without tribulations, and frankly it’s a bit like fishing. You’re casting your best tweet into the teeming waters of the hashtag feed and hoping an agent will drift by and take a bite.

Twitter Fishing-1A bite, in this case, means an agent will hit the heart, signifying they have an interest in reading your query letter and sample pages.

As with any pitching experience, you risk the sting of going home empty handed, but with Twitter your rejection is a public experience. It’s the ultimate pitching plunge; an intimidating shock, followed by hours of waiting around to see if anyone noticed your pretty little word lures.

I’m going to assume you’ve already weighed the pros and cons, and decided this is the right approach for you and your manuscript.

That means you have:
1) A finished and edited project.
2) A manuscript that is not already self-published.
3) A manuscript that is not under contact with another agent or publisher.
4) Read the pitch event rules carefully. Even if you have been in this contest before, read the rules, because rules change. Be prepared to obey the rules to the letter.
5) A query letter and a synopsis ready to accompany your sample pages should your tweet earn any favorites. You don’t want to keep an excited agent waiting.

Even with all these preparations, you still need the best tweets and just describing your book (the main character, the conflict and the stakes) may not be enough to hook an agent.

Here are a 4 more ways to help your tweets float to the top and get noticed.

1. Snag More Views with Keywords:
During these events, thousands of tweets are flooding the same stream. And few agents will even see most of them; it’s just impossible for someone to read that many pitches. Using keywords is like fishing with the right bait. Agents make use of hashtags, abbreviated genre codes, keywords and qualifiers (YA, MA, etc) to search the feed. Insuring your tweet has the proper descriptive terms won’t guarantee an agent favorite, but it might lead to an agent noticing your tweet and that’s a start. Get comfortable with hashtags, know your genre codes, and figure out what publishing terms might help distinguish your work before the contest starts.

2. Lure Readers with Your Unique Voice:
You will often hear agents say that a writer’s voice is their first clue they might be interested in the author’s work. That’s because agents and editors can help a writer fix a plot flaw, but voice is something a writer has (or doesn’t have) instinctively. Agents love finding a fresh voice and they fight to sign those with truly special voices. Pick words and phrases that give your tweets the flavor of your writing style. Whether your style features lyrical prose or lots of gore, including these aspects will help make your tweets shine. It also wouldn’t hurt to update your Twitter profile to reflect your voice, especially since that’s the first thing an agent will notice when they hover over your Twitter handle.

3. Hunt for the Quietest Pools:
There is a clear pack mentality at Twitter pitch events. Many people set their tweets up in advance and have them posted on the hour and/or on the half hour. Using an app makes sense; it’s the best way to get the largest number of allowable tweets posted during the pitch window. And it lets the writer go about daily duties uninterrupted. It also helps with all those pesky time zone issues, a common problem for many of us. However, if you can arrange your schedule to manually add your prewritten tweets, that’s the best approach. Not only can you time your tweets to appear during any natural lulls in the posting feed, but you can respond to comments in real time and up your feed ranking. This also gives you the chance to drop a tweet when agents specifically say they’re online reading pitches.

4. Pull Up Anchor and Change Tactics:
There is an accepted tweet formula for pitching (Protagonist + Conflict + Goal/Stakes) but if you have already spent a contest (or two) pitching this formula without any success, you might want to consider shifting to your antagonist’s goal for a tweet. Maybe bring in the love interest and their problems and concerns. Or include a tweet about some aspects of your subplot. Try including your comparable titles in a tweet. Never stick to the same formula if it’s not working. Including different aspects of your story in each tweet broadens your chances of making a connection with someone ready to love and champion your story.

Twitter pitching is not for everyone, but it has opened doors for many writers who have met and signed with their dream agent, or publisher as a result of the experience. Remember to do your research. There are people who use Twitter pitch events for predatory practices. No reputable agent or publisher should ever ask you to pay a reading fee. Protect yourself and your work, don’t send pages to just anyone. When in doubt, ask other writers and check websites like Predators and Editors.

There are Twitter pitches running all year long, including one of the biggest #PitMad which will take place again on September 8th.

Good luck and happy fishing.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/pitching-on-twitter/

Pitching 101: The Elevator Pitch

Do a quick search for “elevator pitch” on the Internet, and most of the information will say it is a 60-second pitch of yourself or your product (in the case of writers, your book). But seriously, 60 seconds? What elevator takes that long? Unless you do this:
elevator-Elf-buttons-pushedDo NOT do this. Or this:

elevator threatAfter all, you don’t want the person you’re pitching to to feel like this is happening to them:

elevator scene - Harry Potter

So today in Pitching 101, I’m going to give you some tips on making your elevator pitch as succinct, appealing and not scary – for you or the listener – as possible.

Elevator Pitch tips

Of course, an elevator pitch is not just for that serendipitous moment when you happen to find yourself in an elevator with a top-notch acquisitions editor, it’s handy anywhere and anytime someone asks you what your book is about. Hey, you never know who has connections in the publishing industry! That random dude at a party might be the son of a big shot editor! But dreaming aside, the more likely scenario writers find themselves in is a 5-minute speed pitch with an agent at a writer conference. Which brings us to the first tip…

#1 – Keep it under 30 seconds.

What? But you have five minutes! Is the agent just going to stare at you for the remaining 4 and a half minutes? Hopefully not, but I’ll get to that in the final tip. First, know this: the purpose of an elevator pitch is just to get the listener’s attention, NOT to tell your story from start to finish. That’s good, right? Way less scary to plan – and remember – a short 30 second pitch than a daunting 5 minute presentation!

#2 – Start with the Hook.

Quickly state the book title, genre and audience, then get right to the hook. What is the most intriguing thing about this story? Express that in one sentence. Hint: the Hook is probably not the story world or backstory or plot. More likely, it is a problem that needs to be solved. It is the “if this happened, what would we do?” question. That said, the hook can be the story world if that world has an inherent problem built into it.

#3 – Introduce the MC.

I almost didn’t put this in the list because it’s so obvious! But then I realized I have something to say about it after all, and that is if your MC is not the hook, you must introduce them immediately after that hook sentence. Don’t make the mistake of setting up the story / problem / world without first giving the listener a person to connect to. You need that or you can’t do the next step…   

#4 – Target emotions.

The best way to get someone’s attention is to connect on an emotional level. So pick the emotion you want to convey and get the listener on your protagonist’s side. If your story is a comedy, make them laugh and cringe at the situation the hero finds himself in, but make sure the listener empathizes with the hero too so they care what happens next. If your story is a horror, make sure the pitch sends chills down the listener’s spine as they imagine what it would be like to be the hero in your scary tale.

#5 – Leave them wanting more.

So what happens when your quick elevator pitch is over? Well, hopefully a conversation begins about your book! If your pitch presented an intriguing protagonist with a problem, your audience should want to know what happens to them and how they approach the problem. In short, design your pitch to prompt the listener to ask for more information about your novel. Then relax – you’re no longer pitching, you’re just chatting with someone who’s keen to know all about your book!

Not that scary, right? What about you guys – do you have tips on nailing an elevator pitch?


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/pitching-101-the-elevator-pitch/

Pitching 101: Query Letters

Pitching 101(2)The dreaded query letter! I think this pitch makes every writer slightly stressed out, and with good reason. It’s 250 words that might change your whole life.

No pressure there!

But before we get busy talking about some tips, let’s review the two cardinal rules of querying:

Rule 1: Never give an agent an easy reason to reject your query.

Agents get so many letters, they are hunting for any red flags, typos or other mistakes to help them weed the slush pile.  Make sure you follow agency guidelines and send a clean letter.

Rule 2: If the agent or small press editor does reject you, never send them disgruntled emails or talk bad about them on your blog or other social media.

These two rules are broken by inexperienced writers all the time, but rule two is the one that shocks me. Publishing is a small world. It’s wise to treat every interaction as you would a job interview and the query as your job application, because that’s what a query is. You want to create a business partnership with another professional, so be smart about what you say and how you say it.

Query Letters

The basic components of a great query letter are not complicated; it’s just four parts:
– Introduction
– Teaser
– Facts
– Closing/Bio

The order of these four parts is fluid, but some agents are specific about the order they favor. It never hurts to find out what each agent likes and adjust the letter formatting to fit.

The Introduction:

Keep the Introduction tight. You should be able to cover these four introduction points in one to two sentences.

1. It takes longer, but it’s best to query one person, by name and title, with each query letter.

2. There are agents who enjoy letters with a personal touch. For those agents you can mention why you’re interested in working with them. Perhaps they represent a favorite author. Or maybe they wrote an article, tweet, or wish list entry requesting the kind of book you’ve written.

3. It’s nice to give the letter a hint of personality, but don’t take it to the extreme. Never fill the query letter with exclamation marks and stalker-like gushing.

4. If you have met this person at a conference, or they have expressed an interest in anything you have written in the past, you might want to jog their memory.

The Teaser:

The next five points are for the most important part of the query letter.

1. The best teasers include the following four aspects of the story, presented in one to two tight paragraphs.

i. A snapshot of the main character (or two main characters) and what makes them unique. This is often the life goal the main character wants to achieve, or something from their past they want to overcome.

ii. The problem/obstacle faced by the main character(s) and how it influences their life. This is often the story’s inciting incident, or the first main plot point. You want to mention what sparks the characters to change direction.

iii. What the stakes are, namely what will happen to the main character if they fail to solve their problems? The stakes should be real, something tangible will happen to them if they fail. And the stake should be personal and preferably high and life changing.

iv. You can also include any unique setting or the aspects of the world building that make your story come to life.

2. For most novels the teaser will include information from the first fifty pages. Some writers also like to include the ending in the query, but I prefer to save the ending for the synopsis.

3. Let your voice shine through. While lots of good query templates and examples of successful query letters are available for reference, too few people talk about voice. Voice is a confusing collection of things: word choice, tone, sentence rhythm and more. Voice might be a hard thing to pin down, but it’s critical to agents.

4. The tone of the letter should mirror the tone of the book. A light funny query letter is all wrong for a serious book packed with social commentary.

5. Don’t bog down the reader in details and extra character names. Hit the high points and move on.

The Facts:

There are nine important facts to consider including in a query.

1. A working title.

2. A word count. With picture books this number should be to the exact word count, but with longer length books you can round within reason. Make sure you numbers are within the standard range for your genre.

3. The genre and/or sub-genre. Even with crossover titles pick the closest one. You risk making the project look unmarketable if you name three or more unrelated genres.

4. For children’s books, include age demographics. Remember market demographics (MG, YA, NA etc.) and genre are not interchangeable. Pick only one age demographic. If your book manages to crossover into to another age demographic that’s great, but for the query should show you understand the market and know where your book will primarily fit.

5. Your comparable titles AKA comps. This is a book, movie or TV show that compares to your story in a few critical ways. You can learn more about that here.

6. A logline if you have one, that’s just a single sentence that sums up the theme of your book. Sometimes your comps might also work as a logline. More on loglines in this post.

7. Any awards the manuscript has won.

8. In rare cases, the facts also need to include out-of-the-norm structural or prose choices. If the novel is written in verse, or if it features reverse chronology, alternating viewpoints, or any other major plot devices, you should mention that.

9. Which point of view and tense you’re writing in.

Failure to include the facts is another way writers give agents an easy reason to reject their query letter.

The Closing / Bio:

You don’t need much to close the letter, but these last three points are helpful.

1. If relevant to your manuscript, include one line about why your background makes you the best person to write this book. For example, if you are a lawyer writing legal thrillers. Don’t mention mundane hobbies or interests, just solid expertise that the majority of writers will not have.

2. Education, such as an MFA, goes here. Don’t get crazy with GPAs, minor awards, what professors have to say about your work and such. Just mention the school and your status if pending a diploma.

3. Contact information. Many agents and editors use submission services, and these programs can strip off your email header. Adding contacts inside the body of the email helps agents and editors can find you faster. Be aware, listing your blog or social media contacts means an interested agent will look you up.

Most publishers and agents want to work with writers who know the publishing market and that means your query should show your preparation. If you’re unsure your letter will stack up, consider sending it other writers to read. Or think about entering a query feedback contest. Also take the time to read winning queries, and follow Twitter feeds (or MSWL) where agents talk about rejecting or requesting pages based on queries. These are great places to learn about the query process. You have only one or two minutes to crawl up from the slush, make them count!

Please share your favorite query tips or pitching experience in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/query-letters/

Pitching 101: Finding Perfect Book Comps

Pitching 101(2)The cornerstone of all marketing is the pitch. It is used to sell everything from political candidates to dish soap. I think every writer should know how to pitch, even if they have no interest in working with agents or publishers. Don’t you want to pitch your books to readers? And should you want to grow your self publishing empire, maybe you will want to pitch to reviewers, small bookstore owners, librarians and movie companies.

Regardless of who you plan to pitch, the foundation of book pitching is made up of the same basic parts. That’s why WriteOnSisters is running this Pitching 101 series all month. We are trying to help demystify the many stages and moving parts of the pitch. I’d originally planned to talk about the query letter today, but I realized it was still too soon. There is one more critical step in the process I wanted to talk about first: The Comp!

Pitching 101_ Finding Perfect Book CompsThe comp, or comparable title, is a term the publishing industry uses to help sort books beyond the typical ranges of genres and sub genres. It’s a valuable marketing tool for every stage of a novel. It demonstrates the author understands their novel, their writing style and the marketplace they hope to dominate. When authors find the right comps, everyone benefits. Good comps not only help sell books to agents, but agents use them to sell books to publishers. They are so critical to the traditional publishing process that the comps often follows a manuscript all the way to the final book jacket blurb.

Including two to three comp titles is typical for a standard query letter, but narrowing down your list to the right titles is not as easy as it sounds. Here are 7 tricks I use to find comps:

Read your genre:
I love to read in my writing genre, but I know lots of writers don’t because they worry it will influence their writing. I respect that. You have to understand your writing process and do what works best for you. However, once the book is done, it’s time to read the popular titles. Reading is not just the best way to find comps; it also helps us understand what is on trope and what is unique about our stories. It’s always useful to know the difference. One helps the story fit in and gives readers what they expect, while the other makes sure the story breaks new ground. The balance and contrast of these two forces is what makes each book feel special, or too reminiscent of another book. When I’m looking for comps I never expect to find a perfect match, so I strive to find titles that invoke a sense of the manuscript in at least two to three different aspects.

Research your short list:
Once I’ve pulled together a small group of titles, I do research on them. I want to get a feel for each book’s popularity. Is the book still selling? Does it have a lot of reviews? What do readers on Goodreads and at book blogs have to say about the book? I’m looking for books that have done well, and would be recognized by someone who keeps track of the genre. I avoid self-published books unless it’s an exceptionally well-known title, and/or it’s by a successful hybrid author. Researching the market is also a great way to get a feel for the current landscape of any genre and it provides clues about where the genre is heading in the future.

Weed out the genre’s top 1%:
Using the names of the stellar standout authors will just get the comp titles dismissed. I try to pick comps written by the new rising stars of the genre, or mid-list writers with a solid track record of sales. I also try to pick books that have been published in the last two to three years. The one exception to the 1% rule is the mash-up. You often can’t pitch a genre bending project without poking a stick at the literary canon. In those cases it’s best to take the biggest name you can think of and make it work.

Create a contrast comp or mash-up:
When working with a genre-bending book, it’s often necessary to create a mash-up comp. The way you do this is select a title that shares some critical elements (most likely it uses the same masterplot as your story) and you team that title with something that reflects the other half of your book’s style. This type of comp shows up a lot in retellings and in books that cross genre lines. These crazy what-if creations are often strangely compelling and can make fantastic taglines. For example:
If SLEEPING BEAUTY was told by Stephen King and set in a time-traveling alien universe.
(BTW I would totally read that book.)

Look for other sources:
Novel titles are the most common source of comps, but they are not the only source available to you. Consider using movies, comic books, music videos or TV shows. If you decide to research other sources you can use older titles. With DVDs and other types of on-demand media content, there is a much longer shelf life for these examples. When using media, make sure you clarify your source. After all, there might be a book with the same name and you don’t want to confuse people.

If you get stuck:
This is not supposed to be easy, but it should be possible. If I can’t find any comps, I go back to  the bookstore, or jump back into Goodreads and Amazon to start over. Goodreads is a solid source of book topic lists. Amazon works best for me after I’ve already pinned down one perfect title, then I can use their book suggestion algorithm to find a second book. I also ask people who have read my manuscript for some suggestions.

Important tip:
Avoid saying your book is a better version of some other classic or popular title. Even if it is better, you don’t want to be the one saying it. Publishing is a small world; a negative comp will stomp on someone’s toes. Reading is subjective, what you hated, others loved. You don’t want to use your comp to attack another author, instead compare your project with titles you respect and admire.

Knowing your comparable titles shows people in the publishing industry you did your homework. For self-published writers, it helps defines who and where the likely readers are, and that makes focusing any marketing efforts easier. When we understand our readers better, I think we write better books. Personally I’m swayed by comps as a reader; I just pre-ordered something mostly on the basis of the comps. However, I’m interested in hearing what you think. Do you worry about finding good comps as writers? And do comps influence your book selections as readers?


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/finding-book-comps/

3 Reasons to Write a Pitch Before Finishing Your Novel

Pitching 101(2)

This month at WriteOnSisters we’re talking about pitching! A pitch comes in many forms – query, synopsis, one-liner, or book blurb. Anything that “sells” your book to anyone else is a pitch. Usually pitches are written after a novel is complete, because that’s when a writer needs to “sell” their novel to an agent or a publisher or directly to the masses via self-publishing. However, I’m going to encourage you to use pitches differently…

As story development tools.

Yes, I’m suggesting we write those dreaded pitches before and during the novel writing process. I’ll give you three reasons why…

Pitching 101 - 3 Reasons to Pitch

#1 – To test the Story Premise.

It’s common screenwriting advice to write a logline (aka a one-line pitch) before writing the first draft as a test to make sure you have the basic story premise down (PROTAGONIST + PROBLEM + GOAL) and to confirm these elements connect. Read How To Write A Logline for more on that.

Other benefits of writing a one-line pitch? When people ask what you’re writing, you have a concise, catchy answer for them!

#2 – To see things from an Agent/Publisher’s Perspective.

A synopsis or query (aka a paragraph or one-page pitch) includes the story’s major plot points. Once you’ve done some story development (for plotters that can be a beat sheet or outline; for pantsers that’s the rough first draft), write a test query letter to put yourself in the mindset of an agent or publisher. Now, from a publishing professional’s perspective, does this synopsis make sense or are there plot holes? Does it intrigue or confuse? Does it sound original or generic? Would it stand out from the thousands of other queries received? Be honest. The reason you’re doing this now is so you can make changes to your WIP long before you’re at the submission stage. Because by that time, well, it’s a little late.

#3 – To clarify the Hook.

A book blurb is a pitch to the reader that leads with the “hook” that gets them to buy your book. This is a little different than a synopsis in that a blurb doesn’t include spoilers like plot twists or the ending. And because those things are omitted, it forces you to see if you can sell the story without revealing that amazing twist. Because you have to! If you can’t, that’s a sign you need to come up with a proper hook. Also, finding and defining the book’s hook helps locate structural issues, like too much set up. I blogged about that in this post: What Book Jackets Teach About A Story’s Hook.

So even if you’re not near the official agent/publisher pitching stage, I’ve just given you three reasons to stay tuned this month as we blog about all things pitching, including query letters, the elevator pitch, and the increasingly popular Twitter pitch.

Do any of you write pitches before or during your writing process?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/write-pitch-before-finishing-novel/

Screenwriter Tip for Novelists – Pitch Before You Write

If you’ve read my first post, you’ll know I’m a screenwriter who took 2013 off from a career penning cartoons to write a novel. Now it’s 2014 and I’m back in the TV biz writing on a super fun animation show. Not that I’m shelving the novel, no way! I’ll still work on it in between the many stages of writing scripts. However, this television gig is reminding me of all the useful (and sometimes nerve-wracking) things screenwriters go through before they get to that final draft, and I’m going to share that info with you in a little blog series called Screenwriter Tips for Novelists. First tip? Pitch before you write!

So what is a pitch? A pitch is a paragraph or two that tells the whole story from beginning to end, touching on just the important beats: protagonist’s problem and goal, rising action, midpoint, crisis and finale. (Check out this post for a refresher on story elements.) You can either let someone read a pitch and give feedback, or pitch it verbally and gauge your audience’s reaction in real time.

Often novelists don’t even think of how to pitch their novel until they start querying agents or publishers. Why would they? You can’t sell a novel until it’s written! But freelance screenwriters have to pitch before they write even one episode. That’s how we get the job. We must prove to the story editors, producers and broadcasters that we’ve thought up a great story worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will take to create the episode. If not, they won’t agree to produce it and you don’t get the job to write it.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But producers and broadcasters don’t want to invest in a crummy story. Neither do agents or publishers.

So think of pitching as a way to save time, money and heartache. You want your novel to be published, right? Pitching could mean the difference between a pile of rejections and a publishing contract. Here’s how to do it…

4 Tips To Pitch Like A Screenwriter

  1. Create lots of story pitches! This way you’ll force yourself to pick the absolute best one, and have more ideas waiting in the wings for later.
  2. Pitch out loud to friends and strangers. Watch for their honest reaction. They may say they love it, but did you see their eyes glaze over? Better to learn now that your idea isn’t so great before you spend years writing it.
  3. When your pitch doesn’t pass muster, edit it or write another. Then repeat step 2 until the reaction is, “Oh my gosh, I so want to read that!”
  4. Don’t take it personally. Seriously, if there’s any wisdom us screenwriters can impart, it’s this. Not every idea is gold.

Whether you’re coming up with a brand new novel idea, developing a story, or editing a manuscript, pitching will help hone your story and make it better. I know it’s tough and daunting and scary, because feedback can be harsh, but fear not – next post will help with that.

Next Up from Heather… How to handle feedback.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/screenwriter-tip-for-novelists-pitch-before-you-write/

Strike Three! You’re Out! Throwing the Perfect Pitch

BaseballSometimes I think I’ve hurled more pitches than a major leaguer. And I’ve struck out nearly as much. Only that’s a good thing for a pitcher, not so good when you’re trying to sell a manuscript.

There are two ways to pitch: in a query letter or in person. Of course a query letter is easier but it’s random and you have to understand that agents get thousands of queries each day and the chance of yours making it to the top of the slush pile is remote, especially if you don’t have a great pitch. More on the query letter next week.

The Pitch Conference: I’ve attended my share of pitch conferences over the years and they’re exciting and intense. The first time I was a total newbie and had absolutely no idea what to expect. I can only liken it to pledging a sorority- bonding with people I didn’t know over the common goal to be accepted. We all came with a 250-word pitch, which our workshop leader promptly shredded into confetti. We rewrote during lunch and tried again. He destroyed us all over again. We rewrote that night in our hotel rooms and arrived early the next day, grabbing anyone who would listen. “Is this better?” we cried. “How’s this?”  We presented again. Some of us faired better, some worse. It was brutal.

And that was the easy part! We spent two days honing our pitches until they measured up. Then we got a chance to pitch to real live agents and editors. Our palms sweated, our hearts pounded, our pulses raced…we made way too many trips to the bathroom. Our workshop leader sat alongside the agent /editor as we pitched. I pitched to a senior editor from Penguin group… and I didn’t die, however my workshop leader followed me out afterward and said, “WTF? (He used the real words) You did everything I told you not to do!” “I know,” I whined. “I don’t know what came over me!” (Turns out that editor did request my manuscript after all. Thanks to a great pitch.)

Whether you are sending your pitch in a query letter or delivering it in person, remember these are just people. Use the old “picture them in their underwear” mode of thinking. And they want to find a great manuscript just as much as you want to sell one.

The key to pitching effectively can be summed up in one simple phrase: Be Prepared.

Do your research ahead of time. Know the rules. I got caught short once when I came ready to read my pitch but quickly learned I had to have it memorized. My nerves went into a tailspin and I couldn’t understand why. I’ve spoken extemporaneously in front of 800 people with no problem, but telling an agent what my book was about had me ready to faint. I still recall observing the people around me: knees bobbing up and down, hands shaking, fingers fidgeting. Everyone mumbled aloud, rehearsing their pitches like a mantra…please pick me, please pick me, please pick me. The guy in front of me on line turned to me and said, “This is ridiculous. I’m a lawyer. I speak in front of people all the time and I’m ready to crap my pants here.” Okay, TMI, I thought. But I sure could identify.

Some other thoughts:

  1. Try not to say something stupid like “I’m so nervous. I’m not good at this.” Show confidence.
  2. Practice. Practice. Practice. Anyone can memorize four lines. Most agents will tell you that writers who can’t describe their work in four or five lines don’t have a clear idea of what they’re writing.
  3. Remember lots of agents and editors go to conferences on their own time and don’t get paid. They’re excited about the possibility of finding an amazing new project. Let it be yours.
  4. Approach publishers and agents as co-professionals and take criticism graciously. If you hit it off you’ll be working together, and an agent wants to know you can be cooperative and professional.
  5. Review the agents attending the conference. Know which ones represent your kind of book. Don’t pitch your YA romance to an agent who handles only nonfiction and children’s books. Try to find something about the agent that can serve as your opening. Read their blogs and their agency bios for something in common. One agent and I both happened to be huge fans of Jim Butcher books and I led with that.
  6. Research similar books and why yours will be different. What category does it fall into, who are the readers and how will it fit into the market?
  7. Don’t go if you haven’t written the book! I met several writers who had a great idea but hadn’t written a single word. That might work for a nonfiction book, but for fiction, I don’t think so. Once the agent starts to ask for details of your story you won’t be able to answer.

So what makes a perfect pitch? The simple formula includes: The hook, the setup, and resolution. Limit it to three to five sentences. Some say it’s great if you can end with a cliffhanger. Whether you’re facing them in person or in a query letter, the idea is to have the agent ask for more because he/she is intrigued. The best approach is to hint at the resolution with a cliffhanger. Here are a few examples:

  •   Will Becky find her father and save the farm?
  •   No one is more surprised than Jason when it turns out he’s the one anointed to save the Earth from total   annihilation.
  •   For they know that she is the one who could destroy them, or perhaps worse…rule them all.
  •   I run in 9 days.

One final thought. Agents look for two important aspects to your pitch: your style as a writer and the voice of your character. Don’t pitch your book with a comic voice when your book isn’t a comedy. Stay true to your story. Many agents lament over the number of pitches they receive that sound sensational but the story isn’t aligned with the pitch. If you’re writing in first person, trying writing the pitch that way. It will allow the agent to get inside your character without reading a single page of your novel. That’s a great hook in and of itself.

Up Next from Caryn: The Query Letter


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