Last week I took a webinar from my favorite literary agent on how to sell your work. In her mind, this boils down to the pitch, and after what she told us, I believe she’s right.
To give a little more relevance to those of you who aren’t trying to write a book and get published (or who are in the very early stages and haven’t looked into anything so far), I’ll give a brief outline of the process.
MOST new authors (I’m tempted to say above 90%) find their agent by querying. This means you write a query letter to an agent or publishing company, and they respond in one of two ways: we’d like to see more or no thank you. Oh, and I suppose there’s also the third option where they don’t reply at all.
It should be easy at that point, right? You’ve sent in a letter detailing your book, and the agent will give it serious consideration, right? Probably wrong. Unsolicited queries (which is almost all of them) get put into the slush pile – all the good, bad, and atrocious mixed together. Also, the Nelson Agency (a small agency) gets upwards of 40,000 query letters a year. That’s roughly 150 queries a day. They don’t have time to read all those queries in full and still have time left for the rest of their jobs. So agents usually skim down to the pitch – the part of your query that summarizes your book.
You have 12 sentences, at the absolute most, to convince an agent or publisher that they want to request sample pages. 12 sentences in which to make the absolute best impression possible. And these 12 sentences should read like the back cover of your book.
I went into this thinking it couldn’t be too hard. If I can write a whole book, surely I can write 12 sentences describing it.
Boy was I kidding myself. (It occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, I delude myself into thinking things will be easy too often. Perhaps I should put some thought into that.)
I wrote over fifty versions of my pitch, shared 3 versions with 8 different people asking for critiques, and almost sent off 2 different ones before settling on the third.
And here’s what I ended up with:
Adrianna has always been different. She’s friends with the wind and can heal wounds and illnesses with little more than a thought. Now, on her seventeenth birthday, she’s ready to be tested for entry into the Golden Ones, the last of the true magicians.
Though she’s prepared for this day since she first called the wind all those years ago, she can’t help but wonder if joining the Golden Ones is the right choice for her. As one of them she’ll heal the ills of her people, call wind and rain in times of need, and she’ll work to keep her people hidden high in the mountains, safe from the mad King who has been trying to exterminate them for the past twenty years. She may even need to fight the soldiers who have come closer to finding them recently.
The lure of staying safely in her village is strong, but the Golden Ones can offer her one thing no one else can: a place where she truly belongs. Is Adrianna ready to leave her sheltered life for one more dangerous and wonderful than she could ever imagine?
I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Well, I probably could, but there’s a limit to the amount of tweaking I can do before the whole thing reads like word mush. It was time to be done.
Here are the other two I was seriously considering:
1) Growing up without a father was hard. Growing up the only magician in her village was harder. Now seventeen-year-old Adrianna faces her biggest challenge yet: becoming a Golden One.
Joining the esteemed magicians who protect and care for the Broden has always been her destiny, but choosing to become a Golden One means more than being a healer to her people. She could be called upon to end a drought by summoning the rain, harness the power of a waterfall to cross the continent, or fight the soldiers of a mad King who has spent twenty years trying to exterminate her people.
Ready or not, Adrianna is certain of one thing – this is her only chance to truly belong.
2) Sixteen years ago, Adrianna escaped her war-ravaged home in her mother’s arms as they stepped through a portal in a waterfall. Now seventeen, Adrianna is inducted into the Golden Ones, the dying sect of magicians, and brought to Darvinen to begin training.
There she meets Donovan, another newly inducted Golden One. Along with six other magicians they journey to save a village devastated by a landslide. When the village is attacked by soldiers of the mad King who has spent twenty years trying to exterminate their culture, Adrianna and Donovan must flee into the wilderness.
Cut off from their people and unable to open a portal home, they must learn to rely on one another as they make their way across the mountains. Together they’ll discover fantastic magic, fight dangerous beasts, and stretch their own magical gifts to the limit as they struggle against the dangers of the forest and their own inexperience.
But what they’ll find in one another is the greatest treasure of all: the acceptance of a true friend.
I felt the first one is lacking in all the fantasy elements that makes this story stand out. And I thought the second one was too much of a summary of the beginning part of the book. I wanted to find the sweet spot where I created interest, didn’t give away too much, drew attention to the parts of the world that are unique, and give a little insight into Adrianna’s character as well.
All told, I think I accomplished it well.
When I get the critique of my pitch in a month or so, I’ll be sure to share their comments.