(Writey friends, are you participating in WriteOnCon’s Mid-Winter Pitch Fest? WHY NOT? There’s still time! It could score you an agent – mine found me during WriteOnCon’s main event in August. GO GO GO here.)
I waited a while to post this because I wanted to spend some time perusing the pitches on the WriteOnCon forum. I wasn’t sure what I’d find effective. I’m not an agent, an industry professional, or even a particularly good amateur book reviewer (see my first book review EVAR below).
Regardless of my pathetic lack of credentials, I do read. A lot. And I’m a pretty eclectic reader – I’ll read (and enjoy) almost any genre if the writing is solid. I love science fiction and fantasy the most, but I always enjoy a heart-wrenching, well-written YA contemporary. Because I am always on the lookout for books that will appeal to my male students, I read a fair amount of male-protagonist (non-sports) YA. I also read adult fiction across genres (usually based on a strong recommendation), but my heart will always belong to the literary classics that hooked me as a teenager.
Enough of my nerd-bragging. My point is that I’d like to say that I know good writing when I see it (this bragging does not extend to my own writing) and I am a selective reader who reads across genres.
And, after some lurking and commenting on the WriteOnCon forums, I think I’ve discovered three criteria that my favorite pitches, regardless of genre, all satisfy:
1. An original premise. The pitch format forces you to strip the fluff from your query letter and expose the spine of your work. If it’s something I’ve read before, I’ll stop reading early on. I probably won’t even bother critiquing it. Unfortunately, if you haven’t figured it out already, every plot’s already been written, which is precisely why you need to focus on what makes your premise unique. You can have a depressed, heart-broken stock character, or a unique character who’s been drowning her depression in Mexican food and online shopping for a used minivan. Chances are, you have the second kind of character in your book already, so do her a favor and describe her that way.
2. Flow. Writing a query is one of the most maddening activities in the world, because you’ve got to fit 300 pages of plot into fewer than 300 words – well-written words. Getting all that plot into just a few sentences usually forces us to write absurdly long, complex sentences full of appositives, parenthesis, Oxford commas, and other otherwise innocent grammatical structures. Problem: THERE IS NO WAY TO TELL IF YOUR OWN PITCH FLOWS because you’ve probably already read it eight thousand times. That’s why you should post your pitch soon and listen to all of those blessed angels who take the time to copy-paste your pitch into their comment boxes and comma-push. When a pitch features anything other than perfect flow and grammar, the reader has to go back and reread sentences, and that’s when they get confused and lose interest. Take advantage of the short length of the pitch and really polish it to be the best piece of writing you’ve ever produced. I think that’s exactly what agents are looking for – a little microcosm of your novel – your writing at its most precise.
3. A sense of urgency. Amazing pitches – regardless of the genre – make our hearts race: If ______ doesn’t ______, he/she will ___________. “OMG!” we cry. “I really kind of liked that MC in the three sentences I read about him/her! HOW WILL HE/SHE EVER GET OUT OF THIS HORRIBLE SITUATION?” I see a lot of agents referring to this as “raising the stakes.” Although we should care about your MC by the time we find out he/she’s in terrible trouble, be careful not to meander through your pitch with heavy character or setting descriptions – make the high stakes the focus of your pitch.
I’ve already seen some excellent examples of all of the above on the forums. I can’t wait to see which ones receive the most attention!
Good luck, everyone! See you around the forums!