Friday, March 28, 2008


Powerful fiction pitches: verbal and written

Donald Maass, a famed New York literary agent, led a three hour master class a while back, which I attended, on perfecting your novel's pitch. His major thrust was teaching us to avoid the mistakes that most aspiring authors make when pitching their books to agents and editors. Pressure, nerves, and lack of preparation cause writers to talk about how good their work is, why they wrote the novel, and about themselves.

Agents and editors are only interested in the story and if it will sell…! They want to know the essence of your novel and what makes it original. Answer their question, "Why should I read this book?"

According to Maass, a verbal pitch should take no more than 60 seconds and a written pitch should have only four sentences. Both pitches must contain the title and category, the novel's milieu (time and place), the name of protagonist and what s/he does, and the main problem, conflict, or goal of the protagonist. Maass urged authors to clearly define the protagonist's problem and to inject some "out of the ordinary" into the pitch because these are most often left wanting.

When to send a written query with a four sentence pitch? Maass advises not to send them during Christmas week or immediately after a major writers' conference that the editor/agent has attended.

For more details, try reading some of Maass's own books on the subject, such as The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success. Can$19.11 or Writing the Breakout Novel, Can$12.69.