I offered to join the Pitch Madness team over on the fabulous Brenda Drake’s blog because I wanted to help out fellow writers and also see what it’s like from the other side. Whoa, do agents ever have a tough job.
The first day, there were two hundred entries to be sorted through by several readers. With one more entry window to go! I thought I’d share some observations from my experience as a reader and writer going through the slush pile. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. It is SO subjective. I know, you hear it all the time, but it’s true. It’s true I tell you. I always think of myself in a bookstore, leafing through books and knowing fairly quickly if I’m interested in reading it. Yup, that’s kind of how it is. Everyone has different tastes, and of course agents also have the knowledge of what’s selling and what’s hot.
Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert.
2. A GREAT pitch can change everything. I also think of the slush as a game of “Go Fish” for the readers. They might be looking for some specific things as they go through, but then they pick something out of the pile and think, “Oh, this is gooood.” There were several I saw that were totally outside of my usual genres, but they were so intriguing they hooked me right away.
Photo by Charlie Balch.
3. VOICE is pure gold in the writing world. Another thing you hear all the time. And for good reason. While the pitch may have interested me, a fabulous voice in the sample made me get to the end and say, “I want more!” Sometimes the voice makes you fall right in and you just know it’s going to be special.
Photo by Jan Willem Geertsma.
4. Make sure it’s CLEAN and CLEAR. It’s hard to get everything you want to say in a short pitch. But once you do, make sure it’s spotless. An error takes me out of what I’m reading and it doesn’t pack the same punch when I read it again. It also has to be clear and concise. If it gets confusing, that pulls me out too. The same goes for the first 250 or anything else you submit. (That being said, a small error doesn’t mean it won’t get picked.)
Photo by Sanja Gjenero.
5. What makes it a WINNER? What exactly is it we’re looking for? It has to present the character and the premise in a way that makes us want to read more. Show me your main character’s situation and make my brain start reeling with all the possible complications. Why is it unique? What’s the cool part that will make me say, “Wow, I’ve never seen THAT before”? What makes your story stand out in the crowd? What is the big, fresh part of your story that will make me want to
stalk find you on twitter and follow your career? Take all of that and smoosh it into that tiny little pitch. Not easy, I know.
One other note . . .
Contests aren’t for everyone. While they are a great opportunity, know that the participating agents just might not be the right fit. There’s a reason we research agents so extensively. See #1. So if you get passed over or don’t get the response you want, keep going. My short contest run was quite unsuccessful. One comment literally said “ditto” to the not so helpful comments above it. But, contests are a great way to learn, to get feedback, and to meet some amazing new writing friends.
Whatever your path is, just keep walking until you get where you’re going. And make some new friends along the way.
Photos courtesy of stock.xchng if anyone is looking for a good source!