Friday, March 25, 2011

The Perfect Pitch

I've already told my story of meeting Chuck Sambuchino on the first night of the conference. I was of course keeping my sneaky little hawk-eyes out for the agents, too. I saw Katharine Sands at one point, and walked over to introduce myself. I tried to say something like "I'm Alexia Chamberlynn. I have a manuscript critique with you tomorrow. I'm really excited." But it came out at super speed, and I think I tripped over about every word in the sentence. She was super nice though and ignored my lack of speaking ability. Then she made a joke about how she had her own boardroom for the critiques, whereupon I repeated, "I'm really excited," and decided at that point fleeing was my best option. Oh, to be an agent.

So, in addition to being a gracious soul, Katharine was a great speaker. She's actually written a book on pitching to agents, titled Making the Perfect Pitch. Here are the notes from her workshop:

- Agents are looking for sparks of potential. Your goal in querying is to make them feel a spark.
- Use the following formula for query letters: Place/Person/Pivot. She also shared Donald Maas' formula: Setting/Protag/Problem. Basically, the place or setting grounds the reader in what period of history and general location the story is taking place. This shouldn't be an info-dump of backstory in your query letter, but just enough to set the stage. Person/Protag tells us who the story is about. And Pivot/Problem tells us what the main issue of the story is - what does your MC face, what's at stake?
- Querial Killers (mistakes in query letters)
       - Avoiding the elements of the above formulas
       - Lack of a takeaway. Being unclear, lack of cohesion. My first query letter was like that. I thought it sounded lovely, but looking back at it later I realized it was vague and didn't really give anyone a clear idea of what went on in my book.
       - Hubris or humility. Being either overly confident or self deprecating are turn-offs in a query.
- Ask yourself, why does the world need my book? Make sure you know the answer to this and can communicate that in your query (not directly, but through crafting a compelling query with the P/P/P formula.

Katharine had a couple bits of information that contradict what other agents have said, but I'll share them and you can decide.

- Don't include word count in your query letter. She says that if the letter is well written, no agent will reject you for leaving it out. Including it is one more reason they could reject you (if your book is too long for instance).
- Query widely, and don't be hung up on a personalized approach. Her point here was that agents often don't know what they'll love, and you never know when an agency might have just gotten a new agent or assistant that loves your genre, even if their website says otherwise. I don't think she meant not to target agents that love your genre, and do research so that you can include something personalized in your query letter such as how you love such and such a book they represent. I think her point was not to limit yourself only to agents who accept your exact genre.

If you get an offer for representation, these are appropriate questions to ask:

- Why do you want to be my agent?
- What experience do you have representing this kind of book?

So, there it is, writer friends. Ammunition for your querying arsenal.

I'm off to Savannah, Georgia with my hubs for our second anniversary. I will be back to the blogosphere on Wednesday with tips on writing fiction for kids. Also, I'm rather behind on my commenting right now, and hope to get back on the bandwagon soon. That pesky thing called 'life' keeps rearing it's ugly head.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!


  1. Happy Anniversary. Hope you have a great time in Savannah. Do you cook for your anniversary or will you eat out?

    Have a yummy weekend :-)

  2. Ooh, great post! I'll have to look at the pictures of the agents I'm pitching right before the conference or I'll end up doing something stupid like telling a random stranger in the bathroom how nervous I am and then finding out it was her the whole time!

    And life - gah!! At least you're doing something interesting/fun/romantic while you're gone!

  3. Happy Anniversary! Have a great trip. =o)

    And thanks for the informative post.

  4. Wow, these points are awesome! I love that note about giving agents a "spark"--that makes a ton of sense. Have a beautiful time in Savannah!

  5. Happy Anniversary. Enjoy your holiday.

  6. Thank you for the great tips! And happy second anniversary - enjoy your trip.

  7. One of these days, some agent needs to compile a book of anecdotes, listing all the crazy things people have said or done. It would be a bestseller, I have no doubt! Enjoy your anniversary trip.

  8. I'm finally catching up on your posts! Enjoying every word - thanks for being so detailed!

    Interesting how Katharine recommended leaving your word count on in a query. I never would have thought to do that, but yeah, it does make sense!

  9. Good advice. Thanks!

    Marie at the Cheetah

  10. yay! thanks for sharing with me, i mean us! christy


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