Pitching your book from an agent’s perspective: AFCC 2014 Singapore

Writing a great pitch about a book to gain an agent or publisher is one of the hardest tasks for any writer. What do you put in it? How much of your book do you share? What do they want to know????  It’s all very hard and even for published authors it can cause you to pull out your hair and take up drinking tequila slammers again as if you’re at a college pool party.

However help is at hand! One of the panels I went to during my recent trip to Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content was by Fran Lebowitz on pitching. Fran has many years experience as an agent having worked for twelve years as an agent with New York based agency, Writers House. She had some great tips to share and went so far as to collect pitches from the audience and gave helpful criticisms about each pitch to help those authors make a more successful bid for a publisher.

Technically a pitch needs to be short, punchy and sincere. Everyone in publishing is time poor so you need to gain their attention in a way that makes it easier for them. Waffling on about yourself, your hopes and dreams and all the airy fairy stuff will see your pitch relegated to the round file (ie the bin) and send the agent/editor to the drinks cabinet. Don’t do it. You need to project professionalism and convey the heart of your story in as succinct but interesting a way possible. Easy right? Not.

So what did Fran say? This is what I noted down:

1. Start with who you are, if you have any published work tell them and if one of those books sold well, or went into reprint tell them that. If you’re not published don’t be worried about not having any sales to tell, mention something interesting about your self, something they can use to promote you. Something different about you. Did you scale Everest? Win an interesting competition? Have a hobby that sets you apart or an interest apart from your writing that could be a talking point? Really think about yourself as a marketable asset as well. For example I would include that I have an unusual birth heritage and love to travel and how done a lot of it.

2. Now you’re talking about your book. Tell them the genre and readership.  Think about what already published book you can compare  your novel to. Now this does not necessarily mean picking the mega seller. Be realistic and show with your choice what sort of readership your book is for, but don’t undersell it either. Research your market well and be aware of what is already out there so you can tell the agent/editor your book would appeal to those who read X.

3. Find the hook – this is the more interesting part of the story, or part of the character that is different and put that first in your description. The first line about your story can contain a lot of information but it must be substantive, not impressionistic. Don’t waffle be specific.

4. Don’t be repetitive and don’t try to introduce too many names of the characters in your book. Stick to the main characters names and if referring to others just use their relationship to the protagonist. eg. Hannah’s aunt, mother, neighbour, friend. The agent/editor wants to know who the book is about; the main character.

5. As an aside Fran also mentioned that when you’re out and about trying to get attention for your book at conferences, or conventions, think about having postcards printed with the book’s details and your contact information. It can’t hurt.

Good luck fellow writers!