WD Conference–How to Pitch

First day of the Writer’s Digest conference, Chuck Sambuchino gave a world-rocking presentation on how to pitch agents.

If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a conference where he is speaking–GO!

He started off with an overview of how the  WD Pitch Slam works. Each person had 3 minutes with the agent. 60-90 seconds to pitch and then 90 or so seconds for agent to ask questions and request your full or partial manuscript. Then a bell goes off and you move to your next line.

In 2008, 4 people got signed as a result of the conference and 2 received 6-figure deals.

So what happens after you get through your pitch?

The agent will say one of three things:

  • It interests me, please send something (partial or full with query and synopsis usually) and gives you their card telling you how they want it delivered
  • I’m not sure it’s for me. Just signed a similar project. Not representing that anymore
  • Asks you questions about your writing history/novel

The pitch is similar to speaking your query out loud. However, You SHOULD NOT read your query letter to the agent.

When you speak to an agent, you need to set the stage and have a conversation.

A bell rings, you sit down, introduce self and shake hands. Then start your pitch.

The pitch is:

  • The back of the DVD box without the pictures
    • Use your words to create scenes and pictures in the agent’s head
    • Be specific
    • Try to work in character arc in pitch if possible
    • Use as few proper names as possible–it confuses the listener
      • Refer to secondary characters as: the professor, the bully, the boyfriend, etc.
    • Focus on protagonist in pitch
  • Should be 6-10 sentences about the book

Here are the key parts of your pitch:

  • Start with the details of the work
    • Genre/Category
    • Title
    • Wordcount (as long as it’s appropriate. Don’t say it’s a 130,000 word YA paranormal)
  • Logline–1 sentence description of the work. Give gist of it before they hear more
  • Pitch itself–quickly introduce protagonist because agents hear tons of pitches
  • Inciting incident–what propels the story forward into motion.
    • Focus on conflict–what is the problem/creates tension in story?
    • Bring antagonist in if important to main plot

When you finish the pitch you can say something relevant to the topic/subject matter, talk about previous publications, or mention membership in national writing organizations like MWA, SCBWI, MWA, or RWA.

For non-fiction, Chuck mentioned you have to also include:

  • What makes the book worth publishing
  • Who are you and what ability do you have to sell the book. This is considered your platform.

Of vital important in a fiction pitch: DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE ENDING. You want to peak their interest.

What kills pitches?

  • Generalities
    • Life turned upside down
    • Many highs in lows
  • Synopsis-style pitches. Be succinct
  • Talking about subplots that involve secondary characters
  • Using more than 2-3 proper names
  • Talking about how long it took you to write it (unless relevant to research)
  • Singing your pitch
  • Talking about movie adaptation
  • Handing agent your business card/query/manuscript

When choosing who to pitch:

  • Do your research and make sure they rep your genre
  • Don’t pitch anyone who rejected you in the past
  • Realize there is a time limit and a long line may mean less pitches

Generally, you should only pitch a finished novel. Pitching an unfinished novel has two downsides:

  1. You have to finish it and can’t send it in a timely manner
  2. You don’t revise enough and it’s not your best work

When you get a request, send it in a timely manner. Agents tend to remember top and bottom pitches. The rest blur together.

Try to stay calm. These are the gatekeepers, but they are human beings.  If there is an awkward moment ask if they have any questions.

This was one of the best pitch overviews I’ve ever heard. Many thanks to Chuck for helping a room full of aspiring authors take one more step toward their dreams of publication.

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9 Responses to WD Conference–How to Pitch

  1. Gerard says:

    What a great review. Never knew that authors go through this kind of process to get published. I guess I never thought about how competitive the fielld is. Keep it up!

    • Chuck is an amazing speaker. He engages the listener, stays on topic, says it like it is and makes you laugh despite your nerves about pitching. Most people can write and many can write well. But the business of writing is where you distinguish who can become a published author. So there’s lots of people competing for very few slots. Like applying to Harvard or trying to become the next Brad Pitt.

  2. berry says:

    You should write a how to book on pitching. You’d make millions.

  3. Another excellent post, Kourtney…I’ve just tweeted about it!

  4. Pingback: Long Overdue Blog Awards Post « Kourtney Heintz's Journal

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