Pointers from the Pros: Chuck Sambuchino Talks Pitching Agents in Person

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.*

I attended the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, Ariz., in September.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at those I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

Here is what Guide to Literary Agents editor and Class-1 Gnome-Slayer Chuck Sambuchino had to say in “Pitching Agents in Person”:


WHAT IT IS & HOW IT WORKS

  • Essentially, you’re reading your query letter out loud—except you’re not actually reading it. Have it memorized.
  • You should be done in 60 sec. Generally, this gives them time to ask questions, etc.
  • You pitch can be anywhere from 3-10 sentences.
  • A pitch is NOT a synopsis.  He points to the backs of DVD boxes, Netflix descriptions, and book jacket flap covers as examples of short pitches yours should emulate.

DO

  • Introduce yourself and state any connections you might have to the agent right away.
  • It’s not like a query letter pitch, where they can read things again if it’s confusing, so be as clear as possible.
  • Give the logline first (a one-sentence description of your manuscript so they understand what it is right away) Then, you can go into the details.
  • State the genre, word count—especially if it’s appropriate to your genre—the title, and that it’s complete.
  • Start with your main character. He says sometimes there is a tendency for writers (especially in sci-fi/fantasy—really, anything with a lot of worldbuilding in it) to begin with setting, but he urges you to start with the main character (MC) and get to the inciting incident.  This propels your book forward—gives the conflict. What goes wrong? Every story is about something going wrong, he says.
  • Show the arc of the character in the pitch—we need to see the character changing.
  • Introduce the antagonist as well.  Show how the MC and antag clash.
  • If you are unsure of your genre, just take a stab at it. Sometimes agents will see your book in a different genre than you anyway.
  • Make sure the agent you’re pitching reps the kind of project you are pitching.
  • After the pitch, then get to the bio stuff—organizations you are part of, previous publications, awards, etc.  If you’ve ever been paid to write, say it—if you don’t have any previous publications, just don’t say anything about that.  They should be interested enough in your book without that stuff (the bio stuff), so don’t stress if you don’t have it.  The important thing is to mention whatever you have done quickly and humbly.
  • Memorize your pitch, but make it more conversational.  Agents are people.  It’s awkward if you just read something or rattle off something you’ve memorized.
  • Pitch them one project.

DON’T

  • Don’t give away the ending.  A pitch is designed to pique interest.  The agent *could* ask for the ending, after your pitch, but don’t offer it unless they’ve asked.
  • Don’t say it’s a series unless they ask.
  • Don’t be general (“highs and lows”—“twists and turns”—“circumstances out of their control”—“sequence of events”).  Give them something specific and concrete. (In his book, Save the Cat, the late screenwriter Blake Snyder talks about the “promise of the premise”when you say what the story is about, scenes pop into the audience’s head—you guess what will happen.  Chuck says, make your pitch delivers on these things.)
  • Don’t talk about your themes.  These should shine through. (Show vs. tell)
  • Don’t hand the agent anything.
  • Don’t spend time on names & quirks of secondary characters.  You don’t want to bog them down with details.
  • Don’t sing it!
  • Don’t mention movie adaptations—that it’s going to be a mega hit, NYT bestseller, etc.

NONFICTION PITCHES

  • These tend to be dry—they’re not designed to be entertaining.  So, talk about what makes the book unique or memorable.
  • You HAVE to have platform here. Who are you? What have you done? Why are you the person to write this book? Are you an expert in the field? A speaker? Do you have leadership roles with something connected to the subject matter? Previous publications?
  • When pitching memoir, try not to focus on the sad details too much.  Show how it can transcend to more than just people with that experience only.  Show it’s a story about X,  but it’s more than that. It can reach more of an audience.

QUESTIONS FROM THE CLASS

Q: Should you say it’s similar to a bestseller?

A: It’s tricky. If you do, avoid all the clichés—(Harry Potter, Twilight, The DaVinci Code, Eat Pray Love).  It’s probably better to say it’s X meets Y.  However, this can come off as kind of egotistical as well, depending on what you’re comparing it to.

Q: Should you pitch a short story collection?

A: Generally, no.  If you have those, you’re better off networking with them at conference—getting your face in their memory for when you query them with it later.  While we’re at it, don’t pitch articles or poetry collections in-person either.

Q: What tense should the query be in?

A: Third-person, present tense for the pitch sentences.

Visit Chuck at the GLA blog or follow him on Twitter.

*Click here for more “Pointers from the Pros.”

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