PITCHING TO AN AGENT – PART 3 – THE SYNOPSIS & FACE-TO-FACE
The synopsis is a breakdown of your story. It’s another form of an outline, but in complete sentences, no bullets. The purpose of the synopsis is to tell your complete story to the agent or publisher. Specifically, you need to outline the main character, the main conflict, and the resolution. Yes, you must tell the ending. The synopsis tells the complete story (I repeat), from beginning to end, in abbreviated form. The key is the length. For the pitch letter at a conference, and for some queries to agents, it should be one page. For some agent queries, it might be two to three pages. From there, where a full manuscript is requested, it could be three to ten pages, depending on the individual requirements of the agency. The key is to follow their instructions explicitly. As a general rule, stick to one page, unless told otherwise. One good thing about sticking to these rigid requirements is that it keeps your writing tight.
THE SYNOPSIS WILL SHOW FLAWS IN YOUR PLOTTING
A synopsis can be extremely hard to write properly. However, it can also be a very good way to reveal how well your story has been put together. It’s a good way to spot any red flags in flow and plot. When you break down your story into a few paragraphs, just to get the key plot elements, you’re going to see right away if it all holds together. If, at the end of your synopsis, you notice that the story doesn’t hold water, you may need to go back and do some rewriting!
One way to develop your synopsis is to start by describing each scene or chapter (if you have a lot) in one bullet sentence. Compile all of these bullets and look them over for the key patterns. If something looks extraneous, maybe it shouldn’t be there. Once you have that down, turn these bullets into sentences and then organized paragraphs so they flow together.
For me, I have the whole story in my head. In my creative process, I only know where I want to start and where I want to end, the middle is a total surprise. Once I get going and write it all down, it becomes locked in my head. As I edit it over and over again, the plot and all the details become locked in so when I sit down to write my synopsis, I already have the big picture going for me. I don’t have to bullet out each chapter. However, I don’t expect all of you out there to write or create the same way I do, so I’m throwing that bullet method out for you.
KEEP CHARACTER NAMES TO A MINIMUM
The key elements are that you introduce the main character and maybe their adversary by name only. Everyone else remains unnamed. They’re just anonymous characters as far as the synopsis is concerned. The first time you name these one or two characters, you put them in italics. From then on, they’re in regular font. Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details such as naming a whole bunch of characters, names or places in the story. Don’t list time lines either, especially on a one-page synopsis! Describe the plot, describe what happens, describe what, where, when, why and how the character gets from point a to point b and what happens at the end. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’re writing a two, three or more page synopsis, a few sentences per chapter might be appropriate unless you have eighty chapters. Again, if you do this, it should read almost like a short story. It should make sense on its own. If it doesn’t, you need to work on the plot some more before you try pitching it.
DON’T LET IT GO, SIGHT UNSEEN!
The final element to all of this, before you ever even think of turning it in to an agent or publisher: Get someone or several other people to read it first! There’s nothing like second sets of eyes to see what you can’t!
THE FACE TO FACE
LIKE A JOB INTERVIEW
I’ve always considered the pitch session as a job interview. That’s exactly what it is. The difference is that it’s a two way street. Not only will you be working for the agent and/or publisher, they’ll be working for you. When you get right down to it, you’re also interviewing them. The biggie right now though, is that the person you’re about to sit down with is holding all the cards. They have the power, the knowledge, and the abilities to take your hopes and dreams and turn them into a reality. Okay, maybe I’m laying it on a bit thick, but isn’t that why you’re there?
To make this less dramatic, you have a product and you’re looking for a manufacturer to produce, distribute and sell that product. That bland enough? You’re the inventor of said product. It’s your job to try to convince a manufacturer to take your product, refine it and produce it for mass consumption.
I think all of you have seen the movie somewhere where a guy in a business suit nervously tugs at his tie, briefcase in one hand, as he sits outside a boardroom to pitch his idea to a bunch of stuffed shirts. Is this all ringing a bell? Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let’s lighten things up a bit and get to the reality of pitching to real people at a writer’s conference.
If you’re lucky enough to attend a good conference, you might have a scenario similar to what we have at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. I’m using this conference as an example not only to once again plug it (it takes place 24-26 April), but also because I have intimate knowledge of how this conference works.
You’ll sign in, and for the price of admission, get to pick at least one agent appointment slot, maybe more, depending on the schedule and the number of people adding in names. From personal experience, I’ve never had a problem seeing any agent I’ve wanted to see. These appointments might be the first, second, or third day, first thing in the morning through the end of each day. Because of that, there’s a good chance that during any classes (seminars) you choose, during breaks, and during meals you might find yourself talking face-to-face with the very agent to which you’re going to be pitching your book. These are good times to get to know them, feel them out, find out what are their likes and dislikes. Get to know them as a person. You’re more than likely going to find them great people. Once in a while, you’ll find a total jerk. That’s happened to me a few times. I pitched to them anyway. Most of the jerks actually had me send them something and I got the expected results. One took two years to respond. I’d totally forgot about him, then out of the blue, I got a letter. “Not for me.”
As I alluded to above, the agent you’re pitching to might be teaching one of the classes (seminars) you signed up for. That’s another good way to get to know them and what they stand for, what they like and dislike, and how you might approach them. Meals are a good place to talk shop and hear the latest gossip in the publishing world. You can learn the trends and even find out what’s going on with your genre. That could help you slant your pitch when you sit down with them.
THE SIT DOWN
When it’s finally time for your pitch session, even though you may have met face-to-face before, sit down, shake their hand and introduce yourself. Then, when they ask you to tell them about your book, start out with your slug line. Those are the one or two sentences that introduce your story. From there, if you wrote them well, the agent should ask you to tell them more. That’s when you give them a brief, and I mean brief, synopsis including how the story ends.
Do not, and I mean do not ramble on and get off on tangents! Watch the agents’ body language. If their eyes start to wander or glaze over, you’ve lost them. You have to give them a one-two punch. You have to make them want more. When you sit down, your pitch letter, with the short synopsis on the back, should be slipped over to them first thing. They may glance at it, they may not. They may actually read it as they listen to your pitch. However, the chances are, they won’t actually take it. They’ll have you mail it to them. If that’s the case, make sure you revise the letter at the first paragraph to include that it was really nice to meet and talk with them at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference bla bla bla (or whichever conference you attend). That paragraph is key, so that it puts a time and place on your meeting. Also at the bottom of the letter, make sure to include “I’ve attached … sample chapters and a … page synopsis per your request.”
One more thing, never ever pitch your book in casual conversation. Don’t be pushy. That’s a great way to turn them off. However, if you’re talking at lunch, dinner or wherever, the subject of your writing comes up and the agent says, “Well, tell me about your book,” they’re inviting you in. Otherwise, leave the pitching for your appointment.
From here forward, all I can say is good luck, and happy writing!