Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Final Word on Pitches

Thank you so much to everyone who was brave enough to submit a pitch for critique and thank you to all the readers who stuck it through and actually read and commented on all the critiques. It was really amazing to me to hear you all give your own feedback and support. Pitches and queries are as important as your manuscript, especially if you are an unpublished author, and sharing your knowledge and advice can be invaluable.

I hope I was able to help more than confuse in my critiques. In reading some of your comments and concerns I wanted to end on what I hope is a final and uplifting note about pitches.

Pitches, like writing a book, a query letter, or, really, any other aspect of this business, is not an exact science. So often I hear desperation from authors who are looking for that magic answer. They want me to tell them exactly what they should and should not be doing. Trust me, if I could tell you that I would be living in a nice penthouse overlooking the Hudson River right now. I'm not (just in case you were wondering).

In my initial challenge I think I encouraged readers to try to give a pitch in one sentence, and yes, that's nearly impossible. But yes, it can be done. Why did I place such a difficult guideline on an already difficult challenge? Because I think by focusing on one sentence you are forced to be as concise as possible. The real question, though, is whether or not you can pitch your book in one sentence. It is possible, but it also depends on how big of a concept you have and the genre the book is in. I've sold books on basically that, one sentence. A cozy mystery series featuring a Bible study group. A thrilling romantic adventure series featuring heroes who are hotshots, elite firefighters often considered the Navy SEALs of the firefighting world. Both of these would need more of a description, but when asked what their books are the authors can describe them in one concise sentence. Do these pitches do what I'm requiring you to do? Do they give you the plot, the characters, and the conflict? No, not in so many words, but they do hook an editor in (at least one who might be looking for these types of books).

I get a lot of questions from readers wanting to know how long a pitch should be and how long is too long. For those of you who need numbers, I would say one to five sentences. The truth, though, is that a pitch is too long when an agent stops reading. You aren’t writing a synopsis, you are simply trying to hook someone in, and let’s face it, none of us have attention spans that will hold for more than one to five sentences. If we want more we’ll start reading the book.

I also know that many of you are looking to these critiques for a format or formula that you can simply drop your own storyline into. The truth is that no one format works for all persons or all books. For some the conflict is going to have to come from the characters, for others the plot. The trick is that you need to figure out what really makes your book stand out from every single other book in your genre. Is it the unique situation the characters find themselves in or is it the characters themselves? It will also depend on your readers. Cozy readers often pick up a new series simply based on the crafty, cozy hook; romance readers often look for a unique hero or heroine; and fantasy readers will want a world they haven’t been in yet. Of course that’s oversimplifying, but I think you might know what I mean. Knowing your reader and what she looks for can help you define your pitch.

And last, it’s important to remember that a pitch is different from a query letter. A pitch is that enticing paragraph that grabs the reader and only talks about the book. The query letter will include title, word count, series potential, genre, etc. But of course in a pitch session it’s always a great opener to start with title, etc., and then launch into your actual pitch.

So thanks again to everyone who contributed and played. I had fun and I hope you did too. And I’d love to hear what you learned from these sessions that you can share with those who might still be struggling.