Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writing a Pitch

I have been hoo'ing and humming over writing this post for several weeks. It is something that is asked for frequently, but also something very difficult to actually write a guide for. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious one is that my experience with pitches is not as much as I could hope for it to be. This is one of my weaknesses.

That said, it doesn't seem productive if I just post to you a series of links that are on the subject of the pitch. That does not seem fair to you, who is struggling to make your way through the writing world just the same as I am.

That said, I have a great deal of experience pitching for freelance writing. Without a good pitch for this, I lose my contract to someone else. Because I charge more than the average person, I have to have a really good pitch to get any contracts at all. (For those of you not aware of the freelance writing market at the moment, it is not a good picture, as the demand for quality is far, far less than it used to be. Passable English suffices, which means many of the people want to hire those from India who charge significantly less than a cent per word for work.)

Now, onto the good stuff.

First, I would like to direct you to view the Post-Mortem of the pitch fest over at Johnson Literary. Unfortunately, the pitches themselves are long since gone, but this is a good overview of what was submitted.

Next, I would like to direct you to Elana Roth's Anatomy of a Query Letter. There are tied together as your pitch is an important element to your Query Letter.

However, as this is about the pitch itself and not about the Query Letter, let us focus on the Post-Mortem.

Let us begin with the initial statistics so kindly provided. Of 164 submissions, two survived the pitch to become full manuscript requests. This is a very low number, and a very good representation of what you need to do as a writer. There are lots of individuals putting out pitches. You need to learn how to present your story as one that stands out.

Four were invited to send in sample chapters. This is promising, but not quite as grabbing as those two who made their one hundred words go the distance.

That is right, ladies and gentleman. One hundred words was the limit for these pitches. And, an agent can tell, just from these one hundred words, whether or not they are interested in your story.

Before I go into my speech regarding the word count, I wish to point out that seventeen people did not follow Elana's directions on what she was looking for. You may think you are God's Gift to Readers, but unless the agent is interested in your style of writing, please don't submit to them. You are wasting your time and theirs.

That said, there is no reason you can't, if the situation provides itself, learn from these agents or even be professional acquaintances. Knowing people is a very good thing. Wasting their time is not. Please do not waste the time of these agents. They are busy enough without having to process a manuscript they cannot properly work with. You may have an interesting pitch, but these individuals represent a certain style of work because that is the type of work they enjoy reading and selling. Sure, a domesticated cat can hunt mice, but a dachshund is much better equipped to deal with a badger. Don't make your cat hunt a badger, it will end poorly for the cat.

Let us return to the Pitch Fest itself. First, the rules were simple. Each agent wrote a list of requirements for their pitches. They all wanted different types of stories, and were clear in what fields they were interested in. Then, there were a series of instructions. For example, no more than one hundred words. The paragraph below is exactly one hundred words so that you can see how much each writer was given to work with.

This is a demonstration of what one hundred words looks like. This is only to show you exactly how much space that these writers were given in order to present their characters and plot to an agent and get them completely interested in it. One hundred words, unfortunately, is not really a lot. However, it is sufficient to prove your writing skills and whether or not your story is interesting. With a required count so low, it is important that you understand that every word must count. Only then can you make your pitch as viable as you possibly can.

I had the pleasure of reading the pitches before they were removed from the site. There were some interesting stories present. Some used as few as ten to fifteen words. Others used too many words! There were moments where I was scratching my head and wondering where the pitch was in their pitch. There were others that made me want to grab their book and read it.

Your goal, when you write a pitch, is to make the agent want to grab your book and read it.

This is strictly my opinion. I am no professional pitch mistress, and every agent wants something different in their pitches. However, this is what I picked up from talking to agents and reading pitches from others. I will call these Rebecca's Rules of Pitching.

1: Make every word count.

This should be obvious, but when you pitch, every word must count. If the word does not serve an immediate purpose, it should be removed. If it does not forward your pitch or add to the intensity of the story, it should be removed.

2: Pitch only to agents who are interested in your work.

Don't pitch a fantasy or science fiction novel to a romance agent. They won't be interested, no matter how interesting you think your book is. This applies to every genre. Don't send romance to science fiction agents, don't send non-fiction to a mystery agent. Pick your market properly.

3: Pitch to your market.

Every agent likes something different. Many agents have pet peeves. When you are considering pitching to an agent OR a publishing house, see if you can find blog posts or other information that reveals their pet peeves. See if you can find out what interests them. By pitching to a captive audience, you greatly increase your chances of a manuscript request. Remember, a pitch may or may not include chapters. You want your potential new agent to be alive with interest in your story before they pick up the first page to read.

4: Grammar. Use it.

Please try to use good grammar when you pitch. Your pitch is a presentation of your writing style. Don't close the door to an agent or publishing house through being lazy.

5: Love your pitch.

If you are not on fire with enthusiasm with the quality of your pitch, then it is not going to be suitable for an agent or publishing house. Enthusiasm is contagious. Agents can often detect, just from writing style and presentation, how much a writer puts into their story just from their pitch.

6: Grow thick skin. You'll need it.

Many writers will see many rejections before they see an acceptance. The same applies to your pitches.

These are points I've picked up from reading the experiences of other people. I do not know how well they will translate into how well I pitch.

I had been intending to show you some of the pitches for a 140 character or less pitch fest I did with some individuals during NaNoWriMo, but somehow, these pitches have disappeared. Seeing as I have people coming over in an hour or so to fix my cable, I need to get cleaning. This post is not nearly as long as I would like.

Perhaps I will revisit it someday, and that someday, I will even include pitches of my own to share.