Whether you’re pitching an agent at a conference or through a query letter, you need to create the perfect pitch, one that would take 60 to 90 seconds to say and would take up about half a written page to type (leaving you room for your credentials and some personalization for each agent).
(Self-published authors – you need this too. This is your cover copy and Amazon blurb!)
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop run by Chuck Sambuchino, author of the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, on how to write the perfect pitch. Thanks in large part to his workshop, Lisa and I had great success at the three-hour pitch slam in New York. Although not every agent asked us to send them something, every one of them complimented our pitch.
So what does it take to make the perfect pitch?
Don’t start off with your pitch.
I know. This is a post about writing the perfect pitch, but you don’t want to leap right into the body of the pitch. Imagine a meal where you didn’t get to smell or see the food first. Wouldn’t it be weird to take a blind bite?
Give the details of your book first—genre, title, word count, and whether it’s complete.
My co-writer and I have a completed 100,000 word historical fantasy called The Amazon Heir.
(Note: According to Sambuchino, books are titled, people are entitled.)
You might want to argue that the details are boring and you need to immediately catch the agent’s interest, but when you give the details first, it shows the agent that you’re pitching something they represent. When you’re able to name your genre and give a word count that’s appropriate, it also shows you know where your book fits in the market. Finally, it gives the agent a framework into which to place your book so there’s less confusion.
Follow with the logline.
A logline is a one-sentence summary of your book. Sambuchino likened this to the cover on a published book. When you pick up a book, you get an instant impression of the book from the cover. Since you don’t have a cover to show the agent, give them something vivid to hold on to.
(In the workshop, someone asked if they should bring a cover mock-up with them to a pitch, and the resounding answer was NO. You need a written logline, you shouldn’t be handing an agent anything in a one-on-one pitch, and you definitely shouldn’t be including extras with any submission.)
Loglines come in different varieties.
You can compare your book to others that are out there. A comparison logline won’t work for every book, but when it does, instant picture.
Our logline ended up being Xena warrior princess meets Game of Thrones.
We have a fast-paced, action-packed story featuring a sexy Amazon princess (like Xena) that’s also full of rich details, political intrigue surrounding an heir, and a power struggle over two thrones (Game of Thrones-style).
For advice on writing a more traditional logline (character + conflict + stakes), check out this post I did a few months back on crafting a 25-word pitch (a.k.a. your logline).
Introduce your main character(s).
Now you start the meaty part of your pitch. From this point on, you need to summarize your book in 3-10 sentences.
Introduce your main character by telling what they want or by saying something interesting about them (or both).
Zerynthia is an Amazon princess with more man-kills than any other. Tradition says that to take her mother’s throne she needs a female heir from a prince of the nation that’s known as the boogeyman of the Greek world.
Don’t name any characters other than your main character(s). The fewer names you include, the better. You can usually refer to any other characters that need to be mentioned by their relationship to your main character (e.g. her brother, his childhood friend).
Give the inciting incident.
What propels the story into motion and moves everything forward? What is it that disrupts your character’s normal life and forces them to act?
Tell what happens next.
Just tell us what your story is about in an exciting, genre-appropriate way. What do your characters do in reaction to the inciting incident? What are the stakes if they fail?
Don’t include subplots.
If the agent doesn’t need to know it to understand your plot, leave it out. The example Sambuchino gave was “The main character is an elven princess who bids on an alien planet.” You don’t need to give the name of the planet or the race of elves she belongs to for the agent to understand the basis of your plot.
Only name your theme if it’s really, super unique. (Most themes aren’t, and that’s okay.)
Add in complications.
What other bad stuff happens?
When Kaduis’ brother devises a plot to cast doubt on the paternity of their child, their nations are brought to the brink of war.
Avoid generalities like “life gets turned upside down.” You want to paint specific pictures to help the agent get an idea of your voice and to keep their attention.
Don’t give away the ending.
In a synopsis, you always tell the ending. In a pitch, you’re only covering about the first half of your story and leaving them hanging.
Should you pitch a series?
Just pitch one book. If you have to say something, say, “This book could easily be a standalone project, but it could also be the start of a trilogy.” That lets the agent know you’re flexible.
What’s the point of your pitch?
In his book How to Write A Great Query Letter, agent Noah Lukeman writes, “Many writers hope to, in this one page letter, convey all the nuances of their plot, their characters, to convey everything about who they are, and to, by its end, have an agent commit to represent them. Herein lies the problem. Most writers expect too much of a query letter . . . The goal of a query letter is, simply, to get an agent to want to read more” (16).
That’s honestly the point of every step along the way from query letter to published book—get them to want to read more.
Does this make you want to re-work your pitch (the way it did for us)? Or does it give you confidence that your pitch is ready to go?