If you’ve seen the signs that you’re ready to pitch, excellent work! Now the real challenge begins. Pitching a novel to a literary agent for the first time can feel scary, no matter the quality of the writing. Why? Because the writer puts a lot of stuff on the line: identity, hard work, creativity, time invested, and a little bit of self-worth, truth be told.
But pitching doesn’t have to be the worst experience ever. I’ve pitched a number of times and after each round it feels a little less scary. It can even be fun when you’ve got your Writing Buddy nearby for support, as Whitney and I experienced recently.
But to reach the point where pitching stops feeling scary and starts feeling fun, ya gotta do a whole lotta preparation. So, folks, I can help you compose the materials that will eventually get your novel in the right hands. Follow these steps:
Write your logline … as one sentence
A logline is a sentence that conveys your protagonist’s goal, the central conflict, and an emotional hook. No spoilers! And as I’ve learned from scribbling in my notebook and reciting logline after logline aloud, the fewer words you can use while still being clear and compelling, the better. A poorly-constructed or wordy logline sends up a red flag to experienced agents: this novel ain’t ready. Shoot for a logline that takes you less than thirty seconds to deliver aloud.
As you’re scribbling, tinker with this formula, filling in the words in caps with your details:
CHARACTER faces an OBSTACLE and must perform an ACTION to overcome OBSTACLE.
Practice with your buddy
You might be thinking, “Well, hell. How’m I s’posed to boil down hundreds of pages into a this tiny little formula?” The answer is, trial and error. Whitney and I have spent many an evening IMing our loglines to one other. “What about this one?” one of us asks. The other responds, “Good, but can you shorten it some more?” or something like that. Then, clickety, clackety, and, “How ’bout now?”
And then on and on we go. Without feedback from others who are going through the same process, you are writing and pitching into a vacuum. And that’s a scary experience.
Practice pitching other books
After a lot of scribbling, Whitney and I discovered that it helps to practice writing a logline for other novels, like this one for The Silence of the Lambs:
Agent Starling races against the clock to catch “Buffalo Bill,” serial killer at large, but can she convince convicted killer Hannibal Lecter to give her vital insight into the case before another victim is killed?
Once you get the hang of identifying a story’s central conflict and emotional hook, turn your attention back to your own novel. Also, skim movie listings in Netflix to get a feel for the loglines that get you to press PLAY.
Feel like ya got a good logline? Memorize it and practice pitching it orally with members of your writers group.
And then …
Pitch at a conference
Although actually pitching to an agent–reciting your logline aloud to a living, breathing human being–may seem like a final step in this process, I consider the first round of pitches part of the composing process. As I wrote in Four Signs You’re Ready To Pitch Your Novel, pitching can help you revise your novel with purpose AND can help you tweak your logline for future rounds of pitching.
Watch agents’ faces as you recite your logline. Do they look bored? Confused? Inspired? You’ll see it in their eyes and mouths, the motion of their heads as they nod energetically or still as a fence post. You’ll hear their reactions in their voices–not just in what they say, but the tone too. Use that info to tweak your logline and then pitch again.
Are you ready to start sending materials to agents? Be sure to check out forthcoming installments in this series on turning your pitch into a query letter and how to survive your first writers conference!
As always, share your experiences and thoughts in the comments!