Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

August 6, 2010

Pitching With the Pros

Filed under: Critiques,Technique,Writing — K. @ 9:50 pm

Hi, I’m Kathie and this is my first blog post for Chrysalis. Glad to be here.

This weekend I’m attending my first Willamette Writers Conference. It’s right here in Portland so hard to pass up. I was fortunate to get a tip a couple of months ago (thanks Lisa!) about working as a volunteer and getting in for just the cost of meals. Yeah, I’ll miss a few workshops due to my volunteer assignments, but that’s better than deciding I can’t justify the whole price of admission and not going at all.

Thursday evening was the Open Pitch Practice, free to anyone who showed up. Literature pitches in two big rooms, screenplay pitches over in another area. I sat in on the lit pitches just to see how it all works. I don’t have anything nearly ready to pitch, just barely started, but it sounded like an interesting event and I thought I could pick up some tips from the agents.

The room I was in had three NYC agents on the panel: Paul Levine, Laurie McLean, and Gordon Warnock; and Kristin Sevick, an editor for Tor. Sometimes they all had similar comments on a particular pitch, but each brought their own flavor to the event. Each writer stood up as her name was called and went through the pitch. Then the agents reviewed the pitch itself: what was said, how it was said, what wasn’t said.

Here are my scribbled notes, to keep in mind the next time you find yourself standing around with an agent:

  1. State the title, the genre and word count first off, and say it’s complete. They don’t want to hear that you’re halfway through it or even that you’re making final edits.
  2. Don’t be tentative – have confidence in your work.
  3. Cite similar authors or similar novels.
  4. Don’t give too many details (character names, places, minor subplots) or the agent will get lost.
  5. Have your log line ready. What’s a log line? A simple one sentence summary of your whole novel. One of the agents explained it something like this: Take your synopsis and cut it in half. Take that and cut it in half. Keep doing that until you’re left with one sentence that explains it all. Here’s some info and examples.
  6. Develop various pitches and practice them all. You should have a log line, a 1-minute pitch, a 2-minute pitch and a 3-minute pitch.
  7. You can start with, “It the story of … “
  8. Hit the high points – Act 1, Act 2, Act 3
  9. Don’t read the pitch, and don’t recite from rote. Talk about it. Your pitch should tell about your project but not be a memorized speech.
  10. They know you’re nervous and excited and will excuse most of that, but you need to speak coherently enough so they can follow your plot.
  11. If it’s a memoir, it can’t just be your life story, if you want to sell it. It needs to have overarching themes that everyone can relate to.
  12. Know where your book would fit in the bookstore – where would it be shelved? This was asked repeatedly by one of the agents. “Where would I find your book? Tell me your genre.”
  13. For a first-time author of adult fiction, 80-100k words tops, for reasons of publishing economics. The publisher will want to keep the price point low for a new author. A long manuscript means the publishing would be too expensive and so they will have you cut your MS down a lot.
  14. Be agreeable – the agent is not only considering your work, but also *you.* Does the agent want to work with you?
  15. Don’t query until the work is ready to go – agents only want to see your best stuff, complete and polished.
  16. Tell the agent about your background and any writing/publishing credits you have. Especially if you’re writing a non-fiction book and you have a degree or career in that subject.
  17. If you have to explain your story too much, then it’s not right. Fix it.

Wow, that was a lot of info packed in the two-hour period, and it was really helpful to hear the pitches and then the agents’ responses. The agents were polite and respectful but also to the point, which is the only way to truly give good advice.

So my goal now is to have something to pitch next year. Better get started!


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