While attending the San Francisco Writer’s Conference (SFWC) in February, I took two Master Classes with industry professionals both of which were extremely beneficial. The first, Master Pitch Theater with literary agent, Katharine Sands, discussed pitching your project to agents either via the query letter or in person. Sands is also the editor of the book, Making the Perfect Pitch
Katharine noted writers have one page or maybe three minutes get to your point of your book, thinking of your pitch as auditioning your work. She quoted the editor Max Perkins who asked, “Why does the world need this book?” If you can’t articulate this reason, no one else will either. Fabulous advice. Here are highlights of her class:
- Pitch Craft – the communication you do about your work. You are auditioning your work, the story you want to tell
- You are an ambassador for your work – in other words, what do you have to offer? Some examples:
- Reader benefit
- Find pictures of what your target audience looks like and perform your pitch before them. Talk directly to them. What do you as an author have to offer them?
- When you’re pitching your work, you are telling a story and you must be a good storyteller. You are there to share a story, not sell yourself.
- Good training for pitch craft is channel surfing. What makes you stop and watch vs what makes you keep passing programs by?
- The pitch you create is used by:
- The agent
- The editor
- The publisher
- Know what the ‘take away’ is for the reader:
- Resources to offer
- Filling a gap in the marketplace
- How to do something better
- Pitch craft’s Golden Rule: Show, don’t tell
- In your pitch, you are creating a piece of theater that stars you. Those 2-3 minutes pitching your story is your time to shine.
- What is your narrative arc?
- A pitch takes the agent/reader inside your story
The same principles apply to writing the perfect query, but the two work together. As a writer you have one page or less to keep an agent reading. Why queries fail is what Katharine called “query killers” and include:
- Nothing piques the agent’s interest
- Query is too general
- Author is full of hubris
- Query has nothing engaging or dramatic
- Authors stays outside the story
- Trailing off
Katharine also discussed some of the many misconceptions writers have about agents. For one, agents are not simply looking to reject your writing. They’re not cackling gleefully when they reject an author.
- Agents want to discover something new.
- Agents are also looking for a reason to keep reading your work.
- Agents are there to facilitate authors moving into the hands of a good editor.
- Remember that agents work on commission and like all good salespeople are looking for writers that are the best match for them.
Authors also need to re-think the concept of “rejection”. Sands emphasizes two points:
- Get rid of the idea that “no” means “no” regarding your writing.
- Think of a “no” as “not this way” and does not mean a rejection of your writing.
Visualize agents sitting in darkness with their eyes covered: Your vivid storytelling brings the story to life.
I found Katharine’s recommendations extremely helpful. She brought up topics I hadn’t considered before. Whether I pitch an an agent in person or via query letter, I am certainly reading Making the Perfect Pitch where she provides real examples of exactly that.