“Do your research.” That is the primary advice from Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency, who spoke on “Pitching” at the recent WWW conference in San Antonio. In other words, don’t send sci-fi to an agent or publisher who specializes in mysteries or romance.
“Complete your novel before you pitch it.” (This advice is for fiction, not for non-fiction, where a proposal is often requested before the work is completed.) A complete, polished novel ensures a timely response. If you pitch a book that is only partially written and the agent asks to see the whole manuscript, then you’re in an embarrassing situation of admitting it’s not finished. And if it takes another year to finish, the agent or editor most likely will not even remember it and may not be interested any more.
Brief is best. Boil your pitch down to one paragraph of three to four sentences. Practice your “elevator pitch” or “logline” for when you meet an agent or editor at a conference. This is one sentence on what your book is about, the essence of the story. For example, Farris says the logline of To Kill a Mockingbird is “A Southern lawyer defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.” It’s that simple. You can then follow it up with a three or four-sentence synopsis, if asked.
“Be Professional.” It’s a business meeting, Farris says, so sit or stand up straight and make eye contact. Don’t read your notes. Show confidence, but not arrogance. “Think of it as your work getting dressed up and going to a job interview.”
“Keep the three-act concept in mind.” To put it simply, Farris explains, start with the set-up, the story problem (your character is up a tree). Follow with complications (throw rocks at your character in the tree), and finish with the resolution (get character out of the tree).
Mention how many words your book is. Most agents and publishers now are looking for books under 100,000 words, usually around 80,000.