Pitch Perfect with Chuck Sambuchino–PNWA Summer Writer’s Conference

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I’m still at the PNWA Summer Writer’s Conference. As I blog this, I’m listening to the infamous Chuck Sambuchino (How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack) talking about pitches. His class offers these tips and pointers about pitching to an agent:

A pitch is anywhere from 3-10 lines long. It should not include the ending; rather, it should be more like the back of a DVD. A pitch should include the genre or category, the novel’s word count, and the title. Mention that it’s complete:

“I just completed a 100,000-word thriller entitled Merlin’s Grandson.”

The agent may now say, “What’s it about?” and you launch into the log line.

With the details of your pitch, mention these things:

  • Start with the main character. Tell something about them. What do they want, for example?
  • What do we need to know about your story that makes it different? What propels the story into motion? What’s the inciting incident? What is the conflict? What goes wrong?
  • An optional peak that you can hit in your pitch, is the character arc.

Avoid saying, “My novel is…” or “My story is….” These kinds of statements tend to lead to a tell rather than a show. Prove you’re a storyteller by showing.

The pitch is sunk by generalities: “The world gets turned upside down” or “One thing leads to another.” Beware of subplots and supporting character details. These are not helpful. If, for example, you must mention the protagonist’s father, don’t mention him by name; call him “the father.” Cut down on confusion by avoiding names of planets in sci-fi novels and that sort of thing.

Paint a picture by using good word choice. Example:

Jodi is a beautiful woman from New York VS. Manhattanite Jodi Metzler turns heads everywhere she goes.

A pitch can start with a connection statement. What connected you to that agent? Did you pitch to them at last year’s conference? Did someone suggest that you hook up with them? But keep this brief.

Nonfiction pitches are going to be dry. That’s just a given. Don’t worry about it. That’s the nature of nonfiction. It almost reads like bullet points.

When nonfiction writers pitch about their platform, you’re answering this question: When you speak (or blog), who listens? You need to explain what avenues you have RIGHT NOW that will get the book sold.

Platform for fiction is helpful, but not mandatory.

Those introductory tips and pointers were followed by a question and answer session. Here’s what the audience asked, and what Mr. Sambuchino had to say:

Q: If a chapter ends at page 28 and they ask for the first 30 pages, what should  you send?

SAMBUCHINO: I would send whatever they ask for.

Mr. Sambuchino brought up a few more points:

The number one reason stuff gets turned down by agents is because it’s not well-edited. Your work is not ready yet. Writers sit in front of their computer screen saying, “If I read my novel one more time, I’m going to lose it!” and then they send it out, hoping the world will decide. What will the world decide? NO THANKS.

Don’t put “of course” in your pitch.

If your MC is a teen, that needs to be stated up front. Otherwise, the agent will assume he/she is an adult.

Q: Is it okay to read your pitch to an agent?

SAMBUCHINO: If you can avoid reading it, you should.

Sambuchino’s advice in a nutshell:

  • Avoid mentioning Oprah
  • Don’t say God or aliens told you to write it
  • Don’t say your family or friends loved it
  • Don’t mention that it’s your first novel or it took you 10 years to write
  • Don’t tell them it’s copyrighted
  • Don’t sit down and tell them I’m looking for an agent (that’s obvious)
  • Avoid pitching a series
  • Stay calm
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Know your genre

Sambuchino spent the rest of the class allowing writers to practice their pitches on him. Then he critiqued their pitches.

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