Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pitch Perfect

(Image:  Seattle Mariners starting pitcher, Felix Hernandez)

Sorry sports fans, I'm talking about literary pitches, where an author discusses his, or her, book to perspective agents and editors.  But as long as you're here, you may as well read the rest of the blogpost, right?

The Pitch Perfect workshop was hosted by Janna Cawrse Esarey, author of The Motion of the Ocean.  (If you've read my last PNWA 2012 blogpost, or even if you haven't, you should be able to guess what the setting is in this book.  I won't even get in to who's obsessed and who the protagonist are...)

But before I discuss Janna's seminar, let me give you something of a (Oh no! The dreaded) backstory...

This year PNWA ran its pitch sessions differently.  They were called "Power Pitches,"  which were conducted in 90-minute block-times on Friday and Saturday.  Each author had 3 minutes to win the heart and mind of an agent.  Kind of like speed dating.  It was under these rules of engagement, that Janna tailored her workshop.

We now return you to our (ir)regularly scheduled blogpost...

A pitch, Janna explained, simply tells someone what your book is about, as succinctly as possible.  The basic parts of the pitch are:

--Be clear
--Be interesting

Within the 3-minute window each author had with an agent, they had a mere 60 seconds to pitch their book, which is often called the Elevator Pitch

Janna's tips on maximizing this time included the following tips, which can apply to anyone you're scheduled to meet and pitch an idea to:

1. Do your home.  Research the agent, or other person of interest, you're scheduled to meet.  Read their bios and website and find out what they're interested in.

2. Never give an agent or editor any hardcopy material--they don't want to lug it back with them.

3. It's okay to hold a notecard, but maintain eye contact with the agent your pitching to.

4. Pitch only one book.  Now is not the time to discuss your trilogy.

5. Pitch to fellow writers every chance you get.

6. Be professional, prepared, polite and brief.

#6 should go without saying, but stories emerge from lots of writers conferences about people violating this rule. 

Pitch Delivery
--2-5 sentences within 60 seconds or less.
--Answer any questions--briefly.
--If you get no response, ask if you may send additional material.

If you do get the go-ahead to submit your work, be sure the subject line in your e-mail reads:  Requested Materials Enclosed.  This will remind the agent about your meeting, and will save your submission from being cast into the spam filter/recycle bin.

There are two basic pitch formats, one for fiction and the other for non-fiction.

Pitch Format (Fiction)
Intro:  Title and genre.
Set up:  Protagonist and setting.
Conflict:  A problem or compelling turn of events that changes everything for the protagonist.
Resolution:  A wrap-up that evokes an emotion or big concept.

Pitch Format (Non-Fiction)
--Title and Genre.
--The book's concept.

Formatting is one thing.  You still need to deliver a good pitch to woo an agent.  Janna had the following tips for delivering a good pitch:

1. Be clear about the title and genre.
2. Make it read like the back-cover of a book.
3. Provide set-up and resolution.
4. Don't talk ABOUT your book.  Instead IMMERSE the reader into your book.
5. End your pitch with a big concept using an active voice.
Since "practice makes perfect,"  Janna had all the attendees write their pitches, then break into small groups to read aloud and gain feedback.

I wasn't pitching anything this year because I'm writing a webcomic.  However, I thought I could use the practice and maybe get use to doing in-class writing exercises.  (I normally hate these, because it takes me longer than a few minutes to get "in the zone").

Even though we worked on pitches in Pam Binder's Popular Fiction-I class, I'm glad I participated, because I received a couple of great tips that I incorporated into my narrative.

So, if I were to pitch my webcomic, it would read like this:

Breakout from Bongolaan is my Star Wars graphic novel.

Callithea Lockridge, administrative assistant to her ambassador, is on the planet Bongolaan to help negotiate a trade deal for her world.  However, negotiations are cut short when the Galactic Empire invades the planet.  Now trapped, Callithea must find her way off war-torn Bongolaan and make it to the custody hearing on her homeworld.  Otherwise, her ex-husband will be granted sole custody of her son.

Friend and foe alike, will learn that not even a galactic empire should stand between a mother and her child.

It might be a while before I actually pitch a book to an agent or editor.  But at least I have a template to work with.


Tara Sheets said...

Really love your pitch for your story! I remember you working on it from Pam's class and I think you've really nailed the emotional journey and the conflicts for the main character. As a mother, yes, I'm invested when I hear she must win custody of her son :) Great job!

Ted Henkle said...

Thank you very much Tara! The story is actually based on a role-playing game I ran. The focus of the story will widen to include the 3chatacters introduced in Chapter Four. But as you mention, after taking Pam's class, I realized I needed a hard-hitting pitch/synopsis.