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In the last installment of our trip through pitch land, I listed a few things to consider that make for a good pitch. Here I will list a few things not to do.
1) Thou shalt not consider me an expert. I believe it was the author W. Somerset Maugham who said, “There are three rules for writing a good novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” While I took most of my ideas for a good pitch from Michael Hauge’s book, even he admits there are other ways of constructing a pitch. You can certainly find suggestions by simply searching on the Internet, and some of them are very good. But all of them, in the end, revolve around the principle of “Be brief, be sincere, and be seated.” Or get out of your seat to make way for the next person who is going to pitch.
I know, I know. It is a pain, a real pain to take this 70,000-, 80,000-, 90,000-, or 100,000-word-or-more creation and squeeze the essence out of it. After all, if you could have said it less than 500 words, you would have. Right?
I empathize. I do. After all, I have a novel or two or three, and I went kicking and screaming into this idea of pitching. That’s part of the reason I say don’t consider me an expert. I’m not. And certainly, if you have a better way of doing it, stick with it. Maybe even let me know. In the meantime, I have to go kicking and screaming into this reality, much as I would rather spend time creating another one filled with people much more interesting than I am.
I will say in defense of pitches, I did get to meet some interesting agents, such as Cari Foulk, Jill Marr, and Amy Burckhart. And meeting them was a way to begin to get to know somebody who might wind up being my agent. After all (and this is a side note), I heard several times that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all, and who might be the right agent for you might not be the right agent for me. But that is another subject.
2) Thou shalt not mention more than one character name in your pitch.
And that should probably be your protagonist. You might be able to work in two names. But absolutely no more than that.
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I know, I know, you probably agonized and researched, tried and retried names for your characters until you found the ones that were the best and no others would do. I am not disputing that the naming of characters is not important, and again, another subject for another time. But remember, you only have 5 minutes, and you are not the only person the agent or editor is going to be listening to. The agent or editor is not likely to remember more than one name anyway, and in all honesty, you probably want her or him to remember yours.
If the editor or agent wants to see some or all of your novel, that’s when he or she will get a chance to remember the character’s names, and that is when your skill in naming them can shine. In short, it’s okay to say “Jim Summer’s enemy…” or even say “his antagonist….”
3) Thou shalt not recount every plot and sub-plot, nor every plot point in your pitch. You may be the next Jeffrey Deaver, with the ability to handle a major plot and several strong sub-plots, and have them all have reversals or other surprise twists. But like having too many names, having too many plots and sub-plots in your pitch will only lead you into a thicket of inability. Stick to one plot, the main one, and stick to the two or three main features of that plot. If the agent or editor wants to know more, she or he will ask, and by her or his asking, you know they are at least mildly interested. Maybe more than mildly.
4) Thou shalt not say you are the next Jeffery Deaver or that your book is better than Jeffery Deaver’s latest. Even if either one or both of those statements is true, you gain nothing by it. Belittling somebody else to make yourself look more important was childish when you did it at ten and it hasn’t gotten any better since then. I will admit, I have read several accounts of accomplished writers who started writing after they read something so bad they threw the magazines or books across the rooms and proclaimed they could do better. Then they proceeded to do so, though most will admit they weren’t immediately or instantly better. It’s okay if something like that was your catalyst toward becoming a writer. But if you are truly better than X author, let your editor or agent find that out on his or her own. After all, there is no greater professional joy for an editor or agent than finding somebody he or she believes is the next Jeffery Deaver (or pick an author).
5) Thou shalt not say your novel is a sure best seller. It may be. I certainly hope so, but there are too many variables that go into making a best seller.
Being confident your novel and in yourself are good things. Often, late at night or early in morning, when you are struggling with the blank page, than confidence In your book or yourself may be the thing that pushes you through the retaining wall of doubt into a world that only you can imagine. But good writing is collaboration between you, the author, and the reader, where what you do ignites a passion in those who read your words and want to share in your world, and that includes agents and editors. Leave them a little room to discover your magnificence.
Next up: my pitches.