Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lens on: Pitching

Writer's Digest Conference Pitch Slam 2011

Lens on: Pitching
By Brad R. Cook

I wanted to focus The Writers’ Lens on pitching to literary agents, publishers, and editors. In 2011, I had the great privilege to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. After returning I wrote an article for The Scribe, St. Louis Writers Guild’s Literary Magazine, titled The Mechanics of the Perfect Pitch. I’ve updated that article so I could include it in the Lens On: Series, but what I learned still applies.

The Mechanics of the Perfect Pitch
By Brad R. Cook from the Spring 2011 issue of The Scribe

            The Missouri Writers Guild Annual Conference is a month away, are you ready for your Agent Pitch? No. Calm down, breathe, it’s going to be okay. Pitching is easy when you know what you’re doing.

            I had the pleasure of attending the Writer's Digest Conference in New York. It is famous for the Pitch Slam, a two-hour event held on Saturday where a writer has two hours to pitch to as many agents as possible. It was the craziest thing I have ever been a part of, every three minutes a bell rang and you had to get up. When I attended in 2011, 55 agents and 650 writers filled the room. Now that is the Super Bowl of pitching, there won't be anything like that at the MWG Conference.

            So what makes a great pitch? If you were at the November 2010 St. Louis Writers Guild workshop with Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary you would have heard about the various types of pitches. Chris helped everyone master the Elevator Pitch, a short 25 word sentence that describes the book. It is often called a Log Line. At the MWG Conference you’ll have seven minutes but what do you do with them?

Here are a few tips I picked up, I hope they help.
 1 – Do mention The Hook
                                      Is it complete,
                               Word Count,
                               Main Character,
                               Main Plot,
                               One or two subplots, but only if important,                                                      Elevator Pitch (25-35 words)
                               Log Line ([Book] meets [Movie])
                        This is exactly what the agent will be listening for.

2 – Generalities and Clichés will kill a pitch  
            Say what’s different rather than why it’s the same as another book.

3 – Don't use all your time
            You want time to talk about your book, but you also want to give the agent a chance to ask questions. Half for pitching, half for discussion.

4 – Be positive - remember you're trying to sell yourself.

5 – Practice, practice, practice 
            Say it in the mirror, tell a friend, write it down. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Heck even if you’re not ready for publication, practice pitching in front of agent anyway (just make sure you tell them when it will be done)

6 – It is the work that sells not the writer  
            Focus on why the book is good, not yourself. Unless you’re writing non-fiction then it’s all about you and your platform.

7 – Don’t ramble or get bogged down in the details  
            Be specific but be concise.

8 – Don’t giveaway the ending or get tied up with back story
            Make the agent read your book to learn the juicy tidbits, and you only have a few minutes so focus on the story – unless you’re writing non-fiction.  

9 – Don’t expect the agent to take a proposal or query letter
             They have limited suitcase space

10 – Rejection isn’t about you; it’s about the writing or the industry
             Maybe the agent just picked up a similar book, or maybe they don’t represent that genre. The point is that the agent isn’t putting you down. They are just not the right agent for that material. If you are rejected, remember, there is always another agent – so get ready to pitch to them! 

            The goal is to hear those glorious words – send me a partial, I want to read that, but remember, publishing is long road and this is just the first step. Good luck with your pitches!

Do you have any tips for writers agonizing over their pitches? Add to my tips, can I get an 11, 12, and 13… Let us know in the comments.

Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook

To learn more about St. Louis Writers Guild, visit, Saint Louis Writers Guild on Facebook, or @stlwritersguild on
For information on Missouri Writers Guild and its conference, visit or follow them on Twitter at @MoWritersGuild 

1 comment:

  1. I was talking with Kathleen Ortiz on Twitter and asked her what she looks for in pitch - her answer - "Keep it short, to the point, and deliver a really good hook!"