**This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.” Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.**
A literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, Katharine Sands has worked with a varied list of authors who publish a diverse array of books.
She’s the agent provocateur of Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye, a collection of pitching wisdom from leading literary agents.
Actively building her client list, she likes books that have a clear benefit for readers' lives in categories of food, travel, lifestyle, home arts, beauty, wisdom, relationships, parenting, and fresh looks which might be at issues, life challenges or popular culture.
When reading fiction, she wants to be compelled and propelled by urgent storytelling, and hooked by characters.
For memoir and femoir, she likes to be transported to a world rarely or newly observed.
Your Pitch is Your Passport
It's the pitch and nothing but the pitch that gets a writer selected from the leaning tower of queries in a literary agent's office.
Are you writing a novel that will keep readers turning pages, instead of turning in for a good night's sleep? Will your book show readers how to talk to the dead, trim their thighs, manage their money, make better love-or all at the same time? Then get ready to distill the most dynamic, exciting, and energized points about your work: your pitch.
Your pitch is the passport that you carry into the literary marketplace.
Why is pitching your work so important? Because whether for fiction, faction, nonfiction, thriller, chiller, cozy, category romance, or chick lit, it's the pitch and nothing but the pitch that gets an agent's attention.
The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself.
To effectively introduce a novel or book idea to a literary agent, you must persuade him/her that there is a readership for your book.
The writing about your writing is part "hello," part cover letter, part interview for the coveted job of book author. It's the best of the best of the best of your writing. If you were an Olympic figure skater, it would be your triple axel on the ice.
Yes, agents do deeply care about the craft of writing. But understand that now you are taking your work into the literary marketplace. The way you query an agent—the way you introduce your work—must be influenced by these things. They are more than trends.
Your Query Letter
If you want to understand and speak the language of bookselling, answer the question posed by editor Max Perkins (who discovered Hemingway and Fitzgerald), still being used by editors today: "Why does the world need this book?"
Imagine you are Atticus Finch arguing for the life of an innocent. Because you are. From the agent's point of view, your query letter is a plea for life.
Practice PitchCraft Checklist
1) Interview yourself.
Pretend you are about to be interviewed on your favorite talk show. What would you say if you were on Oprah? What would you want your listeners, your readers to know about your work?
Think and write out five questions. Answer them. Your answers can now be crafted into your pitch in 25-50 words. Try to the mirror, the cat, think of pitch as a show, produced written and directed by you. Your query is a kind of performance, think of it as theatre of the page.
2) Practice your PitchCraft in the form of a Sound bite.
What are the best words and phrases to use? Remember to pick descriptive words that work well together.
3) Have you identified your hooks?
Hooks are the most exciting elements to compel your reader and propel your story. Think of a way of building in a cliffhanger, a question in the reader's mind to be answered by more reading.
"The best query letters have a strong hook in the first two lines. What is a strong hook? Something that grabs the reader's attention and keeps them reading," says Sheree Bykofsky.
4) Think of your pitch as a movie trailer.
Imagine your setting, your world, your universe for someone who has not lived in it before. You, the writer, are a camera. Put the camera on one character, the setting, the aliens…
Have you set up the reader and communicated quickly your concept and the overview, the impact? Have you identified what is provocative and compelling in your overview, your argument for book's life, your insights, what's fresh and unique, your ability and authority.
Have you told a story arc? "It starts here, ends there, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." It's is the old Hollywood chestnut, but it works.
"Study ads, movie trailers, junk mail," says Jeff Herman. "Junk mail is a free mail-order course in how to write excellent copy. Junk mail is a billion-dollar industry that test markets how to write copy that will have an impact.
Are you leading with the most important points?
Do you have evidence, statistics, articles, Zeitgeist? Point out why readers want this book. Argue your case. Pretend your book is on trial. Indeed, an acquisitions editorial meeting is a trial for life for your work.
Does the tone, descriptive words, intention match? If you are writing a dark and disturbing thriller the pitch should reflect that. For chick lit, you want cute, punchy title, and voice.
Writing is solitary, publishing is collaborative. The key point is to understand is that you want to get others excited about what is exciting to you.
When writers ask me what I might be looking for in a client I always say 'fire in the belly' because as a writer you must always be an impassioned ambassador for your book. To succeed as an author you must find it joyful to share your work with potential readers. It’s comparable to running for office; you must ask for their votes. Today’s authors need marketing moxie more than ever before.
(Excerpt from Making the Perfect Pitch, by Katharine Sands.)
A literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, Katharine has worked with a varied list of authors who publish a diverse array of books. Highlights include:
- XTC: SongStories
- Chasing Zebras: THE Unofficial Guide to House, MD
- Make Up, Don't Break Up with Oprah guest Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil
- Playwright Robert Patrick's novel, Temple Slave
- The Complete Book on International Adoption: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Child
- Hands Off My Belly: The Pregnant Woman's Survival Guide to Myths, Mothers, and Moods
- Under the Hula Moon
- Whipped: A Professional Dominatrix's Secrets for Wrapping Men Around Your Little Finger
- The Gay Vacation Guide
- CityTripping: a Guide for Foodies, Fashionistas and the Generally Syle-Obsessed
- Writers on Directors
- Ford model Helen Lee's The Tao of Beauty
- Elvis and You: Your Guide to the Pleasures of Being an Elvis Fan
- New York: Songs of the City
- Taxpertise: Dirty Little Secrets the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know
- The SAT Word Slam
- Divorce After 50
- The Complete Book of Bone Health
- The Safe and Sane Guide to Teenage Plastic Surgery
“How did I choose this career? Well, here is a a vivid moment for me: I went to hippie school in Greenwich Village...(we really did sit cross-legged and sing kumbaya)…and one day the third-grade teacher singled me out, and asked me to read my story aloud to the entire class. From that day to this I have believed creativity and expressiveness are the most exciting things. . .especially when shared.”