Tuesday, September 07, 2021

oh good, more advice on how to pitch agents from people who aren't actually agents

I recently visited a good friend who is a multi-published best-selling author. She very generously worked with me on my verbal pitch if meeting (or Zooming) an agent or editor (or anyone else, really) who says, “tell me about your book."

She told me that there were three key elements to a good pitch, other than being able to say it smoothly and naturally (practice!) and to complete it in about 30 seconds or so:

Basic logline: check. I knew that.

Simple comps: check. I knew that. But she suggested a “story” comp (a similar important story element to the comp book) and a “writing” comp (similar writing style or storytelling style to the comp book). As in “those who enjoy X book or the writing of Y author would enjoy my book.”

“Hollywood” comps: Uh…what???

She said that these days your pitch should also include a couple of TV series or movies (successful, well known, maybe not required to be as current as publishing comps) to grab attention even if you’re pitching a novel.

(1) Is this really true? If so, should that be included as part of the query letter too as part of the hook to grab attention and interest?

(2) The way this ended up was a verbal pitch (not a query!) something like this:

TYGER’S CLAW is MEDIUM meets BLACK WIDOW in an urban fantasy setting.
In an authoritarian future dystopia, a young mortician who moonlights as an assassin uses her unique ability to speak to the dead to protect her frail twin brother. In the process, she challenges the social order and reinvents the world she lives in.

Those readers who enjoy Jennifer Estep’s Spider series or the writing of Patricia Briggs would enjoy TYGER’S CLAW.  
Would this be a good format for a verbal pitch? Would it translate (with a little more detail about the story, plus appropriate length and other details) into a good query letter? Or should the Hollywood comp be left on the cutting room floor (as it were)?

Thank you so much for addressing this question. I thought I had a handle on how to pitch a book but my friend’s revelation was new to me…if you think it works.


There are three things you need to include in a verbal pitch.

She's got one of them.

But before wallowing in my great advice, remember all advice, no matter how well meaning, should be taken with a grain if not a shaker of salt. It's been years since I took verbal pitches at a conference. I find them loathsome, and writers fear them so much it's almost torture to ask them to do it.

But I am not the Queen of the Known Universe (yet) so pitching continues.

Here's what you need to remember about pitching: it should be a conversation not a presentation.

That means you give the agent a couple of sentences about the overall plot of the novel.

You've got that.

In an authoritarian future dystopia, a young mortician who moonlights as an assassin uses her unique ability to speak to the dead to protect her frail twin brother. In the process, she challenges the social order and reinvents the world she lives in.

What's the next thing an agent needs to know?

If you've got a young mortician, she needs to know if this is YA or adult.

If your pitch doesn't lead an agent to wonder about YA or Adult (i.e. the first word used to describe your character is not young), it's ok to not mention it.

What's the next thing an agent needs to know?

Word count (not comps).

No spiffy movie comps or terrific log line is going to save a 200K word novel. Or a 50K word novel.

So you'll need your word count right up front.

And third, you need to tell the agent the novel is finished (not what kinds of movies it's like).

I got pitched on several novels that weren't even close to being done. The conference guidelines didn't require a writer to have a finished novel, and I think the writers just wanted to see if I though their idea was interesting (an interesting idea is no guarantee of an interesting book, sadly,\.)

That was ok with me, but it meant I wasn't requesting their full until it was. I keep track of what I ask for and follow up if I don't hear from an author. If your novel isn't done, you're not ready for that level of nagging.

So, yes you need a log line
And you need the word count
and you need the completion status.

Those are the three things every agent needs/wants to know first.

Do you need comps of any kind?


So be prepared with books, movies, whatever.

BUT don't blurt all that out. Wait to be asked or until the conversation veers in that direction.

Some agents will ask.

Some don't give a rat's asterisk about comps (me, for example.)

The key to effective pitching is be prepared for all sorts of questions, but WAIT to be asked.

Start with your log line, word count and completion.

Speak slowly enough to be understood.

Then ask "what more can I tell you about my delicious page turning wonderful novel?"

The biggest problem I saw when writers were pitching is they absolutely could not shut the fuchsia up.

Pitch sessions are often very short. Some were barely three minutes.

More than one writer talked for the ENTIRE three minutes, telling me nothing of what I needed to know.

The bell rang, I said "thank you" and the writer had to leave.

I started telling writers to stop (which takes practice let me tell you!) so I could ask some questions. I was rude to them yes (I didn't actually say "shut up" but I did say "please stop talking") but it was for a good cause.

I'm not sure some of them ever truly understood that.

And one last note: the world is full of people telling you what to do. (I’m one of them of course). When people give you advice, do some digging. When was the last time your friend pitched anything? And to whom? Pitching a film agent is VERY different than pitching a book agent. Or pitching your long time editor.

A lot of authors want to help the new authors coming up the pike.
That's laudable.

But often they only have their own experience to draw from.
That can be useful.
Can be. 


Colin Smith said...

You know the saying: "Everyone's entitled to their opinion" (or as I like to say, "Everyone's entitled to my opinion" 😉). Such is true. But opinions need to be weighed. All opinions are not equal. I appreciate when a non-writer likes my work, but when an accomplished writer gushes over something I've written, well that's particularly gratifying. Such is also true with advice. Anyone can give you advice. But you need to weigh that advice. Consider the source.

More than once when the topic of querying advice has come up here, I've referenced Stephen King. If I may be permitted to post a link to my blog (which I try not to do), here's why:

How Not to Get a Literary Agent by Stephen King

King is a great writer, but the last time he queried an agent was in the early 1970s. Things have changed a bit since then.

As Janet says, when you want advice on querying agents, ask an agent. You can ask a writer, but the best advice we can give is whatever agents tell us.

That's my 2c for the day. Perhaps...

french sojourn said...

I found your plot very compelling... Please notify me when it gets published.


Craig F said...

It's a be careful what you wish for story involving a new dawn of transportation, especially when that new dawn looks like alien technology, in 98,000 words.

Beth Carpenter said...

The world is indeed full of people telling you what to do. I've learned not to complain aloud when I've hit a rough patch in a novel or query, because helpful people want to help me brainstorm, and then I feel guilty if I don't use the advice they so generously provided. I once asked for help on a blurb from an online group, and by the time I'd incorporated all the suggestions, it was an unwieldy mess.

Brenda said...

Interesting note regarding the mention of whether the novel is complete. Does this apply only if you are pitching in person. Should we say 'completed' in our query, or is it presumed that someone querying would not have the temerity to pitch an unfinished novel?

Mister Furkles said...

SO: "...should be taken with a grain if not a shaker of salt." But my advice is best taken with a salt lick -

Also 'thought' ends with a 't' which I notice because my left index finger hates hitting 't' or 'r' at the end of words like 'thought' or 'your'. I've discussed it several time with my left index finger but it just wiggles at me like something from a Stephen King story.

LynnRodz said...

Great advice, Janet, a conversation, not a monologue. Btw, what a lovely photo, very tranquil.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This post just wants me to forego any pitching ever again and go off and read with an elephant. Or to an elephant.

John Davis Frain said...

I think that youngster is reading about the elephant in the room without realizing the chair is an elephant. But you can ignore this.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Excellent advice, beautiful photo! Thank you :)