PITCHING TO AN AGENT – THE PITCH LETTER PART 1
Probably one of the hardest things an author has to write is the pitch letter. Yeah, I’ve probably said the hardest thing to write is the synopsis, or maybe the book blurb, but when you get right down to it, none of that matters if you can’t sell the book in the first place.
I’m reminded of the teen who doesn’t want to finish high school and comes up with the excuse, “Well Axl Rose of Guns N Roses never graduated, and look at him. He’s a big rock star millionaire.” Well, there’s ambition and dumb luck. He could just as easily have failed and never would have had anything to back himself up with. Mr. William Rose Jr. (his real name) might be the guy cleaning your pool while you’re making the big bucks because you went on to get a degree. Why I bring this up is that some authors think their story is so hot they won’t need to sell it, that agents will be knocking their door down to buy it from them. A pitch letter, or trying to pitch their story just isn’t on their radar. They can skip the hard work because their story is so hot, luck (agents and publishers) will seek them out.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often in the real world. The funny thing is that I actually did see it happen once at the very first writer’s conference I attended in 2005. There was this teenage kid pitching a story he hadn’t even completed. He didn’t have a proper query letter or even any writing samples, as I recall. Yet when he pitched his idea to one of the young adult agents, she signed him on the spot! To this day, I don’t have any idea if anything ever came of that kid or his books (if he ever completed one), but it was one of those magic Axl Rose type moments where lightning strikes and I was there to witness it.
Do you think it will happen to you? Fat chance! You, my friend, are going to have to work for it like the rest of us, if the numbers bear out. So, suck it up and start listening (or reading, if you want to get technical).
The pitch letter or as it is more widely known, the query letter, is your way of getting the attention of an agent or publisher. It’s a way of tapping them on the shoulder and saying “Hey, I’ve got something to show you.”
Agents and publishers get literally hundreds if not thousands of these letters per day/week/month. They’re always looking for the next best thing, something they can sell and make a ton of money off of. At the same time, they have to slog through all this crap. To get their attention, you need to be brief, to the point, no bull. Or as Jack Webb used to say in Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
In past posts, I’ve alluded to staying on track, keeping your story to the point and being concise. It’s critical you do that in a query letter. You’ve got just a few quick lines to blow their socks off, to pique their interest, to leave them wanting for more. By the time that agent or publisher reaches the end of that letter, they should know the story is a good fit for their agency, they should see that you have the chops to pull it off, and they should be intrigued by the premise, or pitch line. If you can pull all three of those things off, I can almost guarantee they’ll be asking for more.
Next time I’ll discuss the structure of the pitch/query letter and some of the various forms.