Thursday, April 16, 2009

Contests, Pitches, and Queries

by Joyce

This past week, I came across two interesting contests.

On Nathan Bransford's blog, he hosted an Agent for a Day contest. Throughout the day, he posted 50 queries. Readers of the blog were invited to pretend they were agents and either reject or request the manuscript using the comment section. In the mix, Nathan included two queries of books that were to be published soon, and one query from a published book of an NYT bestselling author to see how many of the faux agents could pick them out.

I didn't participate, but I did read through many of the queries and comments, and I picked out the NYT bestseller, but only because I read the book. The comments were interesting. Some people took the time to come up with actual rejection letters, and others gave queriers pointers on how to improve their queries. Although it was only a small sample of what agents do for a living, I think it opened a lot of eyes. One thing I learned is that when agents say "it's not for me" that's exactly what they mean. Even though there were many good queries, and many books that sounded interesting, I would have rejected most of them. They just didn't "do it" for me.

If anyone is interested in trying it out, I believe the Agent for a Day contest is open until Saturday. Even if you don't participate, read some of the queries and comments. You'll probably find as I did, that the pitch is what's most important in a query. After I read a few, I skipped over any introductions, bios, etc., to get to the meat of the letter. Something to keep in mind for anyone crafting a query. Put the pitch first and it damn well better be a good one!

On the Query Tracker blog, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe offered to read one-sentence pitches. The winner gets his or her full manuscript read by Joanna. I have a feeling she might be regretting that offer right now as they had over 300 submissions in a four hour time period. And I'll admit--one of the pitches was mine. I couldn't resist boiling down a whole book into one sentence.

These are both good sites for anyone who is going to the Pennwriters Conference (or any conference, for that matter) next month. Even if you don't have a pitch session scheduled, you never know when you might need that one sentence pitch, or even a 30 second pitch you can use while you're chatting with the agent in the bar and waiting for the margaritas to arrive.

How many of you have short pitches ready for those occasions? How short can you get your pitch? Anyone want to give it a shot?


Tory said...

I'm not pitching anything currently, but I do have to say that the "elevator speech" concept is useful for my current job. One of the people I supervise is starting a client treatment group. I was working with her to come up with a one sentence description of what they do in the group, so other therapists will refer their individual clients to her. Let's just say, it was a whole new concept (for her)!

Annette said...

Even though I'm not in the hunt for an agent right now, I've been working on a pitch for my WIP, just so I don't sound like an idiot when someone asks "What are you working on?" I have a one sentence and a three sentence response ready and being practiced.

And I agree, Joyce. When you read that volume of query letters, it's the pitch that's going to sell it.

Joyce Tremel said...

Tory, those short summaries can be useful in many situations. People have a tendency to ramble if you let them. Coming up with a pitch really forces a person to focus on that one key point.

Joyce Tremel said...

And Annette, you never know. Some editor might ask you about it, then say, "Ooh, have your agent send that to me!"

Even published authors should have a short pitch prepared when someone asks them what their book is about.

Anonymous said...

You're so right, Joyce. EVERYBODY needs to have an elevator pitch ready.

BTW, I'll be running a workshop at the Pennwriters conference to help writers work on their elevator pitches.

Nancy Martin

Joyce Tremel said...

I hope to make it to that workshop, Nancy. I always think I have my pitch down until I have to use it. Something unintelligible usually comes out of my mouth at that point.

Joyce Tremel said...

So, did anyone else wade through all those queries? What did you think of the contest?

Jenna said...

I checked out the Nathan Bransford thing and was totally out of my league. I read the first three or four and thought, "Gee, all of these sound interesting..." Then I got to one that wasn't very good and rejected it outright. If the author can't put together a coherent query letter, what are the chances that the book is coherent? And after about six or seven, they all started to blur. It's the same way with houses. Once you've seen about five of them in a day, you can't remember whether the brick fireplace went with the ranch or the bungalow. My respect for agents certainly went up. Then again, my own agent tends to have that effect on me anyway...!