Pitching: What they want to hear

Song of the day: I Melt With You by Modern English

This is what you’ve been waiting for. The nugget of information that will make pitching to an editor or agent a piece of cake. The magical words of wisdom that will surely chase away the butterflies and all but guarantee you a four book deal.

Okay, maybe not that last part. You’re stomach will still flip-flop and you’ll probably not get signed before your ten minutes is up. But you’ll be armed with knowledge to get you that much closer to fulfilling your publishing dreams.

What are those agents and editors looking for in a pitch anyway?

Here is part three and the final section on pitching to the pros as suggested by Scott Eagan of the Greyhaus Literary Agency.

Is your story in the genre the agent/editor is interested in or represents? Don’t waste their time, and yours, by avoiding this simple step. If you pitch your vampire cowboy zombie slayer to someone who clearly is not interested in paranormals, you will come off as looking unprofessional, disrespectful or just plain lazy for not knowing beforehand. You won’t change their minds no matter how much your story rocks.

Ask yourself if your story fits in their line. This goes back to doing your homework. Find at least three ways it fits in with what the agent/editor. An example might be the steam level. How hot is the relationship between the characters? What type of heroine stars in the story?  Is she the über sexy take-no-prisoners kind of woman or the girl next door? Are their historical novels primarily Regency or steeped in lots of historical details? You should go beyond ‘Oh, they take fiction. I write fiction.’

A note here. Scott gave great advice on figuring out your target.  If you don’t know what publisher best fits you and your writing, go take a look at your bookshelf. See what author(s) you like to read in the same genre you write. Check out who published these books. Chances are many of these favorites will be printed by the same publishers. That’s your target market.

Now for the nitty gritty, your book. This is what they want to hear.

High concept. Whoa Nelly. Settle down. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to know what book or movie you should compare to your story. Keep in mind that you may not get the reaction you hope for if you walk in and blurt out how your novel is a perfect creative blend between Zombieland, Brokeback Mountain and Twilight. What they really want is to know what makes your story UNIQUE. Why is it a great story?

Incidentally, what would you think if I told you that I am working on a pirate tale with Smokey and the Bandit and Appaloosa as my working high concept? Things that make you go hmmm…

Tell them about your unique characters. What makes them different from everyone else’s John, Dick and Harry? Is your heroine not rich, not skinny, or not beautiful? Is your hero not a duke, CIA agent, or werewolf? Even if they are, maybe it’s their relationship that makes them unique. Hey – you got your peanut butter in my chocolate. No. You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! Bottom line, why do these characters stand out?

Unique plot. Again, what makes your story different from the rest?

Tell the agent/editor about the internal or external conflict. The conflict cannot be something that is easily resolved or a simple misunderstanding. The agent/editor reserves the right to smack you upside the head for such a heinous crime.

You know what? They also want some of that awesome storytelling. It’s all in the voice. No throat exercises, please.

It doesn’t end there, folks. During a pitch, the agents/editors are also uncovering bits of info about you.

It’s important for you to know where you are at in your career and where you are headed. Do you know enough about the industry? Do you treat your writing with professional regard and not like some passing bucket list fancy? Are you a team player or stubborn, not willing to take advice.  As an author, are you ready to make the move into revisions, deadlines, new material? The agent/editor does not have a crystal ball but they may be able to spot an author’s potential.

Here is another gem from Scott. There is always a do-over. If the agent/editor declines to see more from you, don’t turn in your badge and gun yet.  A no doesn’t mean a no for life. Just on the particular story you pitched.

Now you are armed and ready. Go forth, my writing friends, go forth and pitch. Best of luck to you all.

See you in Orlando!

13 Responses to Pitching: What they want to hear

  1. kerry622 says:

    Thank you for blogging so much great information, so many of my friends ask me what agents/ editors are looking for since I just signed my first book. My answer is usually “Uhh…?” Now I realized (a bit ego bruising here) I got lucky! Will definitely tell them about your blog! Thanks so much keep up the good work!


    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Kerry!
      There is so much luck involved in this industry. Many times it boils down to being in the right place and the right time, and usually right when the planets align. 🙂
      Thanks so much for sharing MuseTracks with your friends. That means the world!


  2. Great advice, Jenn, what the editor or agent is looking for is that great hook and it seems to me that you and Scott have provided the elements to help identify them.
    Have a great conference everyone!


    • jbrayweber says:

      YES! The hook is very important!! I DO hope others can benefit from this post. It isn’t exact science but there is a foundation.
      Thanks so much, Ann!


  3. Tessy says:

    Have a great time, everyone!!!


  4. Susan Muller says:

    Great column, Jenn. You nailed it. But is the pirate Smoky or the Bandit? Just so long as Viggo Mortensen is in there somewhere, you’ve got me sold.(Ed Harris can come along if he wants to)


    • jbrayweber says:

      Yum! I love me some Viggo with a little side of Ed. LOL! I got you wondering bout the Smoky and Appaloosa pirate story didn’t I?
      Thanks for your support Susan! 😉


  5. Oooh! Appaloosa! Nothing like a good western…next to a pirate story, of course.

    Wonderful post, Jenn. Excellent advice, thanks for sharing. And thanks to Scott also.

    Now back to my Russian adventure. Bitch-slapping…? Are you shure you’re not a congresswoman?


    • jbrayweber says:

      Well, Rounder, when I get further along into the story, you can bet I’ll want your input. Then you can see the pirate/western/trans am connection. LOL! Crazy, I know!
      I, too, thank Scott. I can’t thank him enough for his candid advice.
      As for your Russian adventure, I think you just WANT be to bitch-slap you. And wash your mouth out with soap for even SUGGESTING I was in politics. Yuck. I feel like I need a shower now. HA! 😉


  6. Great advice and I will take it to heart as I do have an editor pitch session in Orlando. I have my pitch ready and am reading it over until I get acquainted with it and feel comfortable. I love my story and never embarrassed to express this opinion. I think enthusiasm can draw whomever you are speaking to into your story.


    • jbrayweber says:

      I think it is ESSENTIAL to be excited about your project. If you are excited, others will be, too. You are already ahead of the game. 🙂
      Good luck on your editor appointment. Got my fingers crossed for you!


  7. Bonnie Doran says:

    Great info on pitching. I appreciate the reminder that a “No” now is not a “No” forever.


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