After a sluggish start to my query journey in 2018, I’ve finally gained some traction. During the past month, I’ve had three agents request my full manuscript.
The dramatic shift came after a fellow writer introduced me to various pitching events on Twitter (i.e. #Pitmad and #Pitdark). Basically, during these one-day events, you get to pitch your novel to literary agents in 280 characters or less. If they “favorite” it, you’re invited to query them directly. It’s nerve-racking, but exciting. More than anything, it’s a great learning opportunity.
During my first #Pitmad, I quickly found out how vital it is to have a pitch that stands out from the slush pile; not only during pitch events, but also for query letters, conferences, and any time someone asks, “What’s your story about?”
It’s scary to sum up our stories in just a few words, but we all have to start somewhere. I started working on my pitch last fall, after I signed up for a Writer’s Digest workshop about query letters. Even though I already understood the basic ins and outs of querying, I thought it’d be smart to brush up on the dos and don’ts (I mean, it’s been over five years since I sent my last query letter to agents). More importantly, the webinar included a personal critique from a literary agent. Who better to help with a pitch/synopsis than a real-life literary agent?
To be honest, the feedback I received from the webinar wasn’t as in-depth as I’d hoped for. Mostly just tweaks and fine-tuning. However, at the time, I assumed that meant my query (including its pitch) was solid. So, with the utmost confidence, I sent my first batch of query letters in January.
Yep, nada. Not even a form rejection letter. Ouch! I shook off the sting and told myself it was okay. Nobody hits a home run their first time at bat. So, I sent a few more queries and waited.
I gradually started to suspect something was wrong with my query letter. The pitch, the comparatives, the entire thing–something!
As I began revising the letter (and digging myself out of a creative depression), a friend introduced me to #Pitmad. Initially, I balked at the idea of publicly pitching my novel. What if an agent didn’t favorite my tweet? What if I made an idiot out of myself? What if everyone hated my idea? Yep, the evil doubts so many of us experience came at me swift and hard.
After a full day of hemming and hawing, I decided to throw caution to the wind and participate. The next day, I copied the pitch I used in my query letter and pasted it into Twitter:
Lily Damour, a young woman, is forced to confront her inner demons when she is stalked by an obsessive artist.
I stared and stared at the single sentence. It was okay, but it didn’t POP! Sure, it would work if I only had five seconds to tell someone what my story was about, but I could do better. So, I rolled up my sleeves and brainstormed some new pitches, and shared them on Twitter.
The response wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I only received one favorite, and it came from an editor of a small press (cool, but not my goal).
Participating in my first #PitMad made me realize just how competitive querying/pitching is. Thousands of writers are clamoring for the attention of so few literary agents. (Look at me! Look at me!) It was time to buckle down and revise my query and pitch again. I had to find a way to make both STAND OUT!
The next pitch event, #PitDark, arrived in May. I posted my first pitch and waited to see if I’d get a better response.
Of the nine favorites I received, two were literary agents and one was a publisher. YES! (Side note, as much as we love supporting each other, writers shouldn’t favorite each other’s pitches during these events. We should only comment and/or retweet to show our support.) Of the two agents who favorited my pitch, both requested my query letter and sample chapter(s). And within 48-hours, both requested my full manuscript.
Suddenly, my confidence shot through the roof. At last, I’d found a way to sell my idea and hook an agent’s attention. So, with hope like I hadn’t felt since I sent my first queries in January, I contacted a few more agents and participated in another pitch event (2018 Hot Summer’s Pitchfest).
During the Pitchfest, an agent requested additional materials (and included the hashtag #ExcitedToRead in her response–ha!). As for the batch of queries I sent out, I received a request for my full manuscript after only two days of waiting (eeks!). Now I just have to wait and see if my full manuscript is good enough to receive an offer of representation. Or, at the very least, an offer to revise and resubmit.
So, what have I learned about pitching/querying? Here are my tips:
- Keep it short and sweet. Some writers try and cram as many details as they can into their pitch. My suggestion? Don’t. Get to the heart of the story and leave it at that. I recommend you focus on introducing two characters MAX (ex: protagonist/antagonist, lovers, best friends, etc.), the conflict, and/or what’s at stake. Remember, this is an elevator pitch. If you only had 30 seconds to sell your idea, what would you say? And how can you say it so the only question your audience has is, “When can I read your book?”
- Use comparatives. What books, movies, and/or authors can you compare your story and style to? This will give an agent a snapshot of your novel’s concept/voice. It’ll also show them you understand both the market and your audience. Just make sure your comparatives are relevant, honest, and enticing.
- Avoid spoilers. This is your hook, not your full synopsis. You want to dangle a carrot in front of an agent’s eyes, not feed them the entire salad with extra dressing.
- Be willing to revise. Nailing your pitch and/or query letter on the first try might not happen. That’s okay. If you don’t get any bites after 5-10 queries, consider changing things up: revise your pitch, rewrite your query letter, search for different comparatives, seek input from beta readers. I also suggest you look for advice from industry professionals. There are so many resources available nowadays with blogs, Twitter (#querytip, #amquerying, #pubtip, #askanagent, and other writing hashtags), Writer’s Digest, YouTube, and more.
- Participate in online pitch events. They’re scary, but they’re terrific avenues to practice your pitch and see if it captures an agent’s attention. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to consider revising both it and your query letter. If your story doesn’t stand out on Twitter, it probably won’t stand out in an agent’s slush pile.
- Don’t give up: If you believe in your story, and you know you’ve done everything you can to polish and prepare your manuscript for agents (i.e. fully developed, revised, beta’d, and edited it to oblivion), then don’t quit querying after a handful of rejections. Adapt, adjust, and keep fighting for your dreams. Remember, landing a deal is part talent, part luck, part perseverance. And a lot of hard work.
What are some of your tips for pitching your novel? Do you have any pitching events to share with the rest of us?
To all those who are currently querying or are planning to query in the future, good luck!
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