MAKE THAT PITCH
Perhaps you meet the agent at a writing conference, and she asks what you've written. Unless you've prepared your pitch, you're likely to stand there nervously mumbling.
It's not that you don't feel passionate about your work. It’s your baby. You want an agent and an editor to love it. However, to them it’s a product, and you must captivate them with your pitch so they will feel as passionate about it as you do. The pitch is the agent's introduction to your book, the first open door to a literary agency and to possible publication. Your description should sound so intriguing, so well constructed that she'll invite you to send her your manuscript—or at least a portion of it.
Your pitch should be sharp, pithy and compelling. It should reflect your story, your writing and your voice. And, by the way, try to do all that in one sentence.
What? You claim you can't? You can't shrink your magnum opus to one sentence?
Of course you can. Check these out:
"When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson's farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever."
-- Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
"A murder in the silent after-hours halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ."
-- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Here's a one-sentence pitch from my first novel, The Starlite Drive-in:
"When a star-struck 12-year-old girl, an abusive theater manager, his agoraphobic wife and a handsome and mysterious drifter come together at a rural Indiana drive-in theater in the steamy summer of 1956, you have the makings of a love triangle and a murder."
The first four agents I pitched The Starlite Drive-in to at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference invited me to send all or parts of my manuscript. I sent it to two agents, and they both offered to represent me.
If you still insist you can't describe your book in one sentence, take three or four. Here's a short but excellent pitch written by one of my former students in the University of Washington Outreach Program:
By Mark Figlozzi
"Nikola Tesla is a brilliant, charismatic inventor and a compulsive hand washer. In 1899 he begins construction of a tower designed to broadcast free energy to the entire world, but when his financier, JP Morgan, learns the truth about Tesla’s machine, he turns against him. Soon the paranoid inventor finds that everyone really is out to get him."
It took Mark more than one draft to hone this pitch to precision, but he proves you can do it.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Use active, colorful verbs and adjectives.
2. Make each word count.
3. Practice your pitch aloud, then in front of your critique group or anyone who'll listen. Ask them to make suggestions.
4. Memorize your pitch so you won't become tongue-tied when you meet an agent.
5. Don't ever try to pitch an agent by phone.
Happy writing. And when that agent says, "Send it to me," pitch yourself a tasty chocolate truffle.