The first thing to know about pitching to an agent or editor is, “Don’t panic.”
I know getting an audience with an agent or editor feels like your entire writing career, your life and those of your pets and children are at stake.
I assure you they are not. A pitch is only one small shot. In your career as a writer, if you write hard, educate yourself on the bizz and put yourself in places where you’re likely to run into agents and editors (i.e. conferences, classes, etc.), you will have plenty of shots. The main thing to keep in mind is that agents and editors want to love you and your work.
They are actively looking for The Next Big Thing. Having said that, a pitch is one of many important tools to help you get the attention of an agent or editor.
1. What is a pitch? It’s a short interview with an agent in which you get to know each other and give a mini-synopsis of your book. It usually doesn’t make or break a career, but it does give you a very important connection to the publishing industry. There are several types of pitch formats, including an elevator pitch, one-on-one, and group pitch.
2. An elevator pitch is often “High Concept,” i.e. Julie Kenner’s bestseller, Carpe Demon, with an elevator pitch of “Ten years after hanging up her pom-poms and wooden stakes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is forced out of retirement as a suburban soccer mom to kick some suburban demon tail.” My elevator pitch for Scoop was, “Janet Evanovich meets the Ya Yas.” High concept elevator pitches are usually a one-sentence description using visual words with icons we already know and relate to. These should be catchy and concise, and will usually lead to, “Tell me more.”
3. That’s where the more extended, or one-on-one, pitch comes into play. My extended pitch for Scoop was: Cauley MacKinnon is staring down the barrel of thirtieth birthday, certain the only things standing between her and certain doom are instinct, pure dumb luck and a kick-ass hairdresser. Starting over after a truly bad marriage and armed with a freshly minted journalism degree, Cauley is disappointed to find that the only job she can get in her hometown of Austin is as an obituary writer—something that only happens to interns who’ve been very good, or reporters who’ve been very bad. Somehow, Cauley’s managed to do both. And of course, being the Obituary Babe wreaks havoc on her already disastrous social life. While on the hunt for a story that will get her off the Dead Beat, Cauley’s life takes a turn for the worse when hapless childhood friend, Scott Barnes, threatens suicide and barricades himself in a dilapidated old shed where he phones Cauley for help. Cauley manages to talk her friend out of the shotgun and the shed. But Cauley is soon devastated when she discovers Barnes dead at his computer with an empty bottle of bourbon and a computer-generated suicide note. Soon, Cauley is up to her eyelashes in dead bodies and everyone wants to know what Barnes said in the shed—the last time anyone saw him alive. Soon Cauley is on the run from an earless homicidal maniac and in search of the mysterious, hot FBI agent who she is certain has all the answers, all the while dodging her martini-drinking mother and her well-intentioned gang of girlfriends. This can be longer or shorter, and remember, save part of your ten minute interview to ask questions about your agent, and to let them ask questions of you.
4. If you discover your dream agent or editor has only signed up for group pitches, don’t fret. It’s often easier, because it takes the pressure off of you when others are in the same boat, and agent/editor will often ask all in the group for a submission. Think of a group interview as an extended elevator pitch or a shorter extended pitch. In closing, remember that if the agent/editor has requested proposals, make sure yours is in tip top shape and ready to go prior to the meeting. Ask how the agent/editor prefers submissions, i.e. via e-mail or *gasp* snail mail.
Make sure you know how many chapters–usually three–how long the synopsis should be, etc. Then, get e-mailed or snailed as soon as humanly possible. When sending in requested material, mark the subject header (or envelop) with “Requested Material” unless other instructions were given. And remember, be sure to send agent/editor a thank you note via snail mail regardless of the outcome. Small courtesies go a long way in this business. Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions! –Kit