I’ll just whip out a few sentences on the fly, I thought. How hard could that be after writing a novel?
Harder than Writing a Whole Book
Pitching a novel to literary agents is harder than writing a whole book.
A month ago I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. Inspired by the hundreds (thousands?) of writers, agents, editors, authors, and speakers in attendance, I was energized and ready to pitch my novel to agents at the pitch slam session on Saturday. No problem, I thought, I wrote a whole book, how hard could it be to write a few sentences about it? Instead, I used the time to research the agents attending, rank them in order of priority for pitching, and study the floor plans and seating charts. I left the pitch writing to the evening before the big session. No big deal.
Oh yes, it was a big deal. Those few sentences are harder to write than a whole novel. There is a reason there are entire books devoted to the pitch or query (written form of submission) and I was about to find out why.
All I needed to do was write my pitch – in this case, a 90 second spiel describing my novel, and an even shorter “elevator pitch“. In that time I have to convey the title, genre, word count, manuscript status, protagonist and wants or desires, plot, inciting incident, and a hook big enough to reel in every agent in the room. And then I had to practice it out loud with a timer because the pitch slam is like speed dating. The writer has 90 seconds to pitch and the agent has 90 seconds to ask questions, ask for your manuscript (or part of it), or say thanks but no thanks. Then the bell rings and you’re off to the next agent.
I agonized over it all evening, and had agida all morning until my pitch session in the afternoon. How do you distill 90,000 words to a 90 second blurb? Impossible! I mentally berated myself for waiting until the last minute. Yet somehow I managed to get the gist of it. The words were memorized but fled my brain the minute I tried to speak them. I was tempted to skip the pitch slam, but figured if I went ahead at least I’d know what to expect next year.
So I pitched my novel. I’m not even sure what I said. The first four agents asked for more (synopsis, first 50 pages, etc.). The fifth agent declined, and I was happy, thinking it validated the four yeses. And that pitch? When I looked it over at home I thought it was terrible. It took me all of August to fix it and be ready for querying or the next pitch session.
But wait – a synopsis? Another distillation of my novel? There are whole books written about outlining and synopsis.
It’s a good thing the offers from the agents are good for one year from the conference. It will take me that long to finish the synopsis.
You can read the pitch here.