(This is part of a series about pre-publishing tools.)
Your manuscript is ready. Your flight reservations are made. Your business cards are being printed. Now what the heck are you going to say to agents and acquisitions editors about your work when you arrive at the conference?
Let’s look at preparing the perfect pitch. It’s the most important thing you can do for your writing career, aside from producing the Great American Novel. (In today’s market, even THAT would be a hard sell for an unpublished author.)
1. Look at book covers of authors you read. This was the most valuable investment I made as I tried to figure out how to condense 85,000 words into ten seconds. Find the cover copy; it may be on the back (paperback), or on the inside sleeve (hardcover). Look at the author’s description of his or her story. See strong action words—propel, thrust, critical, tragic? You’re going to have to strip your story to its essentials, and use words like these to engage the listener. Once you’ve found your story’s core, package it so the agent/editor, and finally reader, refuse to put the manuscript down.
2. Consider an outline. If you don’t write by an outline, that’s fine. But if you’re having a hard time streamlining your pitch, consider listing every chapter and, briefly, its contents. You’ll be amazed how little you remember about what occurs in each chapter. This list makes it easier to see the story, and condense from there. Consider this outline a fat pitch, then put it on a strict diet.
3. Make it pretty. Or scary. Or romantic. This is about writing. Writing should manipulate a reader. The point is, your pitch should be consistent with your story’s voice. Think of it as a mini-manuscript. It’s a sales pitch. Invest time to get this right, because you probably won’t get a second chance.
4. Expand it. That’s right. Make your ten-second pitch a two-minute pitch. Be stingy with what you include, but dress it up a little—throw in a few literary curve balls. Discern what makes your work different enough to be interesting, and include a sliver of that element. But be consistent with tone, and don’t be afraid to stop at a minute and a half.
5. Practice. The previous blog in this series confessed I practiced in front of the bathroom mirror. (I felt like an idiot.) But when I delivered my pitch, and they asked for the longer version, it was as easy as reciting my name and address. I knew the versions cold, and they knew I brought professionalism to my work that inspired confidence, and further queries with my agent.
The concept of perfect pitch is a musical term, and refers to a gift possessed by very few. I suspect the perfect literary pitch is no less rare, and encourage you to beat the odds.