Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Writer's Education: Pitch Rivets with Literary Agent Katharine Sands

New York Literary Agent Katharine Sands has seen it all when it comes to queries. In her well- reviewed book, Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch A Literary Agent's Eye, Sands and a select group of well-seasoned agents guide writers toward creating dazzling pitch letters no agent could possibly refuse. (I've heard from a few now published authors, this was the book that took them from un-agented writer to agented writer with a book deal.)

When I asked Katharine recently how writers can best fortify their chances of getting in her agency's door, she supplied me with plenty of her personal Pitch Rivets - Sands' top tips to make your pitch unforgettable. (But remember, while your pitch may be great, you've got to deliver the goods with the actual work and it better be great.)

Pitch Rivet #1: Remember Your Reader

Your reader [the agent] has not yet read the book. While your premise may be an intriguing one, use this pitch as an opportunity to bring your material to life and to deliver on your promise and on your mission statement. For example, if your work is humorous or satirical and there is no humor or satire in your pitch, I will rule you out as a good wordsmith...and I might be wrong.

Pitch Rivet #2 Show Don't Tell

Pitch by the golden rule of writing. Use the pitch to deliver the flavor of your book to whet an agent's appetite. You may have a cleverly outlined and written book, but the pitch must hook the reader (me) to want to read it.

Pitch Rivet #3 Practice Pitchcraft (TM) Formula




Where do you take me (where is the story universe)?

Who do I meet (and why do I care about their story)?

How do I enter the story at a lively, dramatic, interesting place?

Pitch Rivet #4 Give a Visual Snapshot...Fast!

When you introduce any kind of information in a pitch, for example the character's personal life, you must define it. Remember, you have watched the movie at your keyboard...your readers haven't. I don't know if your hero is thirty or sixty, gay or straight...human or alien or a poodle. If I don't get a visual, the story isn't as engaging as it could be.

Pitch Rivet #5 Identify The Ideal Audience

When it comes to pitching prescriptive [how-to] nonfiction, you want to pose a problem and a solution in your pitch - with the book, YOUR book being the solution. Many writers make the mistake of hammering home points about the problem without marrying it to the book as the solution for its ideal, intended audience. This ideal audience (for example, the sandwich generation of women) should be your lead point...defining a specific audience in the context of your main point (for example, the boomer who cares for their children and parents). Make sure you have statistics illustrating the breadth of your audience...those who need your book.

Agent Rivet: How to Keep the Writer/Agent Relationship Strong

Put Your Own Backstory Aside

Unless the details of your life—past or present—are directly relevant to your book, don’t share them with prospective agents. Why? Because it does not work. It does not impress. It will not get a good result. Remember there is only one story to tell here: the one in which you would be successfully published. Ill tempered agents want to be seduced, charmed, engaged and won-over, not bored with real life concerns. Be on one long first date with their agent, and later with your editor. Of course, when you work with agents in a boutique agency like Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, there is a lot of personal contact. I am going to know if your parent or pet is dying, if your marriage is on the rocks, if the IRS is going to levy your ex...as this affects our work. But I confess - most commission based agents have little patience or sympathy for the time involved and the difficulty of trying to create with life's challenges. Yes, it's difficult to juggle, but there are obstacle courses in every career. As a writer, you have to make the decision to surmount these...to overcome everything to pursue your dreams.

TLC: While some agent relationships turn into life-long friendships, please strive to keep yours professional by not bogging down your agent with loads of personal info, excuses and baggage. As agents make their livelihood from selling your work (which means they have loads of other clients), they need to feel confident selling not just your work but YOU to an editor. Will they be able to sell you with confidence if you have a history of slacking on deadlines/commitments due to personal drama and disorganization? Nope. Which means your chances of being put on the back burner are pretty good.

Writers, if you strive for professionalism - being timely, courteous and concise, you absolutely cannot go wrong.

Batter Up!

Do YOU have winning pitch tips? What got you in the door? Do share! Feel free to leave them below.

Have a fruitful week, writers!


About the Contributor

A literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, Katharine has worked with a varied list of authors who publish a diverse array of books. Highlights include XTC: SongStories; Chasing Zebras: THE Unofficial Guide to House, MD; Make Up, Don't Break Up with Oprah guest Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil; Playwright Robert Patrick's novel, Temple Slave; The Complete Book on International Adoption: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Child; Hands Off My Belly: The Pregnant Woman's Survival Guide to Myths, Mothers, and Moods; Under the Hula Moon; Whipped: A Professional Dominatrix's Secrets for Wrapping Men Around Your Little Finger; The Gay Vacation Guide; CityTripping: a Guide for Foodies, Fashionistas and the Generally Syle-Obsessed; Writers on Directors; Ford model Helen Lee's The Tao of Beauty; Elvis and You: Your Guide to the Pleasures of Being an Elvis Fan; New York: Songs of the City; Taxpertise: Dirty Little Secrets the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know; The SAT Word Slam, Divorce After 50; The Complete Book of Bone Health; The Safe and Sane Guide to Teenage Plastic Surgery, to name a few.

Katharine is the agent provocateur of Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye, a collection of pitching wisdom from leading literary agents. Actively building her client list, she likes books that have a clear benefit for readers' lives in categories of food, travel, lifestyle, home arts, beauty, wisdom, relationships, parenting, and fresh looks, which might be at issues, life challenges or popular culture. when reading fiction she wants to be compelled and propelled by urgent storytelling, and hooked by characters. For memoir and femoir, she likes to be transported to a world rarely or newly observed.

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