After judging entries in the fabulous Deana Barnhart‘s Gearing Up to Get an Agent Contest, I came away with some strong ideas on what I think makes a successful pitch. This is not a comprehensive list, just a few things I thought about as I was reading/judging.
Voice: While writing the pitch from your character’s point of view is considered a no-no, I enjoyed the pitches that gave me a sense of the character’s voice. Think word choice and careful descriptive details. Too much voice in the pitch can sound gimmicky and annoying, so write with care.
Stakes: I loved the pitches that included not only the character’s goal, but what might happen if he failed. It didn’t have to be specific, but if it was, all the better. Here’s an example from my own pitch: “…Amalia has one month to restore the powerful twin magic fueled only by their connection. If she fails they will not only lose their powers, but their freedom, and ultimately, their lives.”
Character: The pitches that really stood out gave a strong sense of the character. What is the character like, and how might she change, given the high stakes she faces?
Length: Remember it’s a pitch, not a synopsis. I heard people bandying about the “rule” that a pitch should only cover the first fifty pages. It might be a good guideline, to cover the set up through that first doorway. It often seemed like pitches that tried to cover too much more of the story grew cumbersome and confusing because subplots started getting in the way.
Some things that concerned me: Typos, grammar/spelling errors, and sentence fragments. A pitch, whether it’s going straight to an agent or making stops on blog contests, should be proofread multiple times, preferably by more than one person. While we all fall victim to typos, and I doubt one in a query would kill chances with an agent, I don’t know…I think we should try really really hard to get our pitches as perfect as possible.
Or: You could, you know, skip the querying altogether and enter Miss Snark’s First Victim’s 2012 Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. Authoress just listed the agent line up here! I participated last year. It was a blast, although, yes, there was all kinds of anxiety and nervousness. But I met some great writer friends and got excellent feedback on my log line and first 250 words.