How to pitch your novel to an agent

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Most of the time, authors must impress an agent with a query letter. At a writer’s conference, a new (and nerve-wracking) avenue for getting your story idea heard crops up. They call it a pitch session.

I might rename it “An exercise in stressing out without giving in to the urge to vomit or run screaming from the room.” Whatever works.

All conferences are not created equal. Different groups organize these events with different priorities in mind. Attending a conference hosted by a group of writers? You can expect opportunities to pitch and improve your work.

I experienced my first one-on-one agent meeting on August 2, 2014. In the process, I learned a few things to help writers prepare.

Months Before

I scoured the page of prospective agents attending the conference before I even registered. (I signed on the first day registration opened, but that’s a different story.) I read the brief bio provided and followed the link to their agency webpage.

Some people I spoke with at the conference did likewise and still ended up pitching to someone who said they didn’t represent that sort of project. Thus, research and research again before investing your money to sit across the table from an agent and pitch in a genre they don’t accept.

Still online, I surfed well-known writing blogs for advice on how to make the best of this pitching session. I’ll admit, I learned the most profitable tidbits from those articles and posts written from an agent’s point of view. Go figure.

A pitch:

  • Should be short (100 words)
  • Include your protagonist and their desire
  • Include the major conflict in the story
  • Showcase your logline (more on how to develop one here)

So few words, really? You will say more, but as far as the story goes, those four elements will get the job done.

Days Before

I wrote and rewrote my pitch. I practiced my top choices on my friends and family to weed out the things that didn’t work. Then I combined those voted “most likely to hold the agent’s interest” and read the result aloud several hundred dozen times.

Whatever it takes for you to embed the essence of your “elevator pitch” in your mind – do that.

Practice saying it aloud. I tried the mirror presentation, recommended by many articles on the subject, and it distracted me. I got distracted by how big my teeth look and how I move my hands when I’m talking.

In the end, I found sitting in a chair and staring at an invisible person worked best for me. Again, whatever you find eases your tension and helps you imagine speaking to a real purpose – do that. Over and over.

Eventually, the words will run through your mind like a live broadcast. This is a good thing as long as you can spill them with an ease that sounds unrehearsed. Rehearse so I sound unrehearsed? Yes, that’s the ticket.

I also prepared a One Sheet on my novel, which includes the log-line, a short synopsis and the character’s journey. It also has a short biography, photo of the author and contact information.

Minutes Before

Read over the pitch. Recite it in your mind.

Pace – because sitting with the others who are waiting raises your nervousness factor exponentially. Or maybe you’re a sitter and that will relax you.

Try to relax. Visualize yourself strolling confidently up to the agent. You are a professional. They want to hear about your story.

Do not throw up. I felt like throwing up while waiting the first day. Then I found out I had to reschedule the appointment for the next day. All that terror wasted.

During

Most of the time, a herd of pitchers will enter the pitching arena at the same time. I was (un)fortunate enough to be the only person scheduled to present to anyone when I made my pitching debut.

I strode over to her table, keeping eye contact. Reaching toward her, I shook her hand and introduced myself. I handed her the One Sheet and sat across the small table from her. So far, so good.

I asked how the conference was going and told her I enjoyed her workshop on the perfect pitch the day before. “I hope I can demonstrate I was paying close attention.” Laughs. Laughter conquers nerves for me.

Introduce your novel: title, genre and word count. Give an idea about what your writing is like: “Lord of the Flies meets Survivor.” I used two authors who write in the same genre as my book for my comparison.

Now it’s time to deliver your 100-word pitch. I started with my premise question “What if…?” The second sentence was my logline. The rest of the words included what the protagonist wanted, what stood in her way and a hint about the journey she would take.

Stop. Breathe. The hardest part is finished and you did it.

Let the agent ask questions. They will. Answer each question with simplicity and clarity. If they don’t ask for pages, ask them if they want you to send pages. (Thankfully, I didn’t have to ask that.)

After

Dance a jig, jump up and down, or, at this point, feel free to vomit if the urge persists.

Now, you’ll be thinking about how to prep your manuscript pages. If they ask for a synopsis as well, you might find yourself researching how best to write one.

Send what they requested as soon as it represents your best work. Within a week or two is probably best. In the query letter (yes, they still want one of those hideous beasts introductory pages), mention the meeting at the conference and remind them they requested to see your work.

They should have given you an address that will bypass their towering slush pile (up to 2,000 manuscripts per week). Check their website to find out how long before you might hear back from them (usually 4-8 weeks).

If you want to polish the rest of that manuscript in hopes they will be requesting to see it, that’s a great use of time. Write something new. Don’t sit by your computer staring at your email inbox.

What is your experience with pitching a project? Your words of wisdom are welcomed.

Defining Hard Work in an age of Sit-down jobs

I’m a writer. I sit down while I work. And I hate it. Really.

Before this, I was a teaching assistant, and I sat down for my 30-minute lunch. Every day. Five days per week (except for summers – such an awesome benefit). You can bet I was happy to take a load off once I got home.

In process of writing my latest novel and getting it reader-worthy, I’ve worked so hard my back ached, my head ached and I saw spots dancing before my eyes. All of this while sitting in front of a computer.

Isn’t hard work defined as physical labor?

I raked a load of bark dust over my flower beds. Thankfully, I wore gloves and spared myself blisters. I dripped sweat, got a first-class kink in my lower back and suffered from stiff shoulders the next day. Must have been hard work.

When I watch movies of life in the pioneer days or earlier, I shudder to think of living in such a time. I like having time to sit on the deck and read a book. Those people sat down and fell asleep because their bodies needed to rest.

What constitutes hard work in an era when most of the desirable jobs involve a high-percentage of sitting and utilizing brain power rather than brawn?

This is my take on this subject. Five things that might mean you’ve worked hard:

Something gets accomplished

It might just be all the clothes washed, dried, folded and put in their appropriate spots. This is one task I would have despised as a pioneer. Washboard anyone? I’ll pass.

Visible results

Some people might say this is the same thing, but I think there’s a difference. After all, anyone who’s done laundry knows that all the clothes are never done. What happens when you get ready for bed on wash day? Right. You throw a bunch of dirty clothes in the hamper.

I wrote three blog posts today. Then I put them up on my website, programming them to automatically post on the appropriate day. I can show you this using the “All Posts” tab on my WordPress dashboard.

You feel it physically

Let’s face it, they don’t call that hour-long kickboxing class a workout for nothing. You will work your body. You will sweat. You will grunt. If it’s been awhile since you did it, you will groan for a few days to come.

Things like accounting and marketing don’t require the use of the same muscles as your cardio class. They do, however, make your brain sweat. My eyes feel like crossing after looking at the computer screen too long. I’m feeling it in my body.

Someone pays you to do it

Okay, I personally hate this one. I don’t consider some things people are paid for “work.” For instance, sitting at a front desk, smiling at people and showing them to the right room.  I know people who get paid to do this. I do consider revising and editing my manuscript brain-straining labor, and no one has yet to pay me for doing it.

Satisfaction follows on its heels

This is the biggest indicator. Labor for hours and finish a project. Afterwards, you can sigh and say, “That’s done.” (If you’re a mother, you will have to do the same exact thing again tomorrow.)

Work should bring with it a sense of accomplishment. I have had jobs that gave me nothing more than a paycheck. Some of them were physically demanding, and I worked quite hard while on shift. Afterwards, I just left tired.

When you do the work you’re meant to do, a sense of satisfaction rides on the bumper. Even in the midst of the project, you can look at how far you’ve come and feel good about it.

Why do people want to avoid work so much in this era? I have never gained the same flood of joy from playing a game or watching a movie as I do from writing a single scene in my novel. It just feels good to finish a job.

What’s your definition of hard work? Do you think a strong work ethic is being emphasized in today’s American culture?