Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 3”)

More notes today! 🙂 These are going to be on pitching and agents.


Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino


  • When pitching to an agent at, say, a writing conference, your pitch should be memorized and you should aim for a 60 to 90 second pitch (preferably closer to 60).
  • DO NOT REVEAL THE ENDING IN YOUR PITCH/QUERY LETTER. If you reveal the ending, the agent won’t have a reason to read your story.
  • Do anything you can to cut down on confusion in your query.
  • Make sure you share the following:
  1. Genre
  2. Title
  3. Word count
  4. Complete or not
  • Logline: Your story in one sentence. Introduce main characters, introduce something interesting or wanted by your main characters, share your inciting incident – what propels your story into motion, what happens if there’s a mistake, complications in your story (what bad stuff happens), and leave off with an unclear wrap up (end where you’re comfortable and don’t give away the ending). Extra credit for including your MC’s character arc.
  • Avoid generalities, phrases like “highs and lows,” “ups and downs,” “life gets turned upside down,” etc. Be specific; there’s a difference between a secret and a generality.
  • Only use names that are absolutely necessary and skip subplots.
  • Bring an emotion to the pitch – make the agent feel something (but not like, “Gosh, somebody get this buffoon out of my face already!! *aaaanger*).
  • Don’t talk about yourself unless necessary (unless, you know, you’re querying a memoir)




Panel: Ask the Agents by Chuck Sambuchino (moderator), Mary Kole, Diana Fox, April Eberhardt, and John Willig


  • Publishing house editors don’t do a lot to edit your work anymore, sometimes, so you have to edit with your agent; the agent’s role is increasing in scope in the publishing industry.
  • You have to remember when querying an agent that although you’re only pitching one novel, if that agent signs you, you’ll ultimately be working with him/her on MANY novels.
  • An agent is like a Sherpa.
  • Make sure that your query letter is perfect. If the writing in the query letter isn’t good, the agent will assume that your book won’t be good either, and they’ll reject you based on that assumption.
  • Don’t get too excited over partial requests. If your writing is at all decent, you’re going to get a bunch of them, and you’re still very likely to get rejected off of those.
  • The biggest reason for a novel to get rejected after a partial is because the story doesn’t have a good hook or gets sloppy after a while.
  • If an agent suggests edits, you should take them – even if you haven’t signed a contract yet, the agent wants to see how well you can work with them.
  • Agents look for high-quality writing and good pacing, and pacing counts double in kid lit because kids aren’t going to keep reading something if it bores them. Make sure your voice rings true.
  • Platform is a built-in audience for your book, but it’s not entirely necessary in fiction.
  • Agents are looking for writers who can be partners in getting a quality book out in the market
  • Self-publishing is okay – you can still get an agent – but you need to really good sales on your self-published book, then. At least a thousand copies, hopefully more.
  • The odds are stacked against debut authors; it’s very difficult to break into the industry.
  • Marketing is especially important for author-illustrators.
  • Generally, narrative nonfiction and memoir are represented by fiction agents rather than nonfiction, because although they’re about real life, they read like fiction.
  • Sometimes it’s good to have an agent even when you’re self-publishing, because even then they can act as your guide.
  • There’s a lot of blending of roles these days between agent and editor.
  • If one agent passes from an agency, the entire agency is a pass.
  • When doing a partial request, always start with the beginning of your book and go from there – don’t be like, “Oh, you want to see fifty pages? Here, let’s go from page 73 to 123!” (Because then you’ll look really stupid.)
  • When establishing your platform with children’s books, make your target audience the parents, not the children, unless you write YA – teenagers are on the internet. Five year olds whose parents read them bedtime stories are not.
  • If you have a nagging feeling about editing something before you send it to an agent, do it. Even if it’s a lot of work.
  • When you are sick to death of your novel and don’t think you can revise it one more time, put it away for two months. Do something else, generate new ideas, and then go back to it – edit it ONE MORE TIME – and then it’ll be ready.
  • When you write multiple genres (like women’s fiction and thrillers, or something), you might need multiple agents to represent all of those, but make sure that all of your agents know about each other and are constantly updated on what’s going on between them. However, if you sign with an agent who represents all of those different genres, they’ll automatically expect to represent all of your projects in those genres.
  • While you can’t copyright an idea, you can trademark a logline, chapter header, hook, etc. Check out: www.legalzoom.com
  • Agents do general marketing, but if you’re blogging – market that. That’s your marketing.
  • In YA, there are different levels of edginess, and there are agents and editors for all of those different levels. The key is finding the agent and editor who like the level that you’re writing at.
  • Don’t follow the market. Be yourself. Don’t be edgy for the sake of being edgy.
  • The biggest reason for parting with an agent is a lack of enthusiasm for a project.
  • Remember that there’s a difference between an agent screwing your career and not being able to sell your book. Sometimes the market’s just not right for your project and, despite the agent’s best efforts, nobody’s buying.

Be on a look out for even more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, coming this weekend!

Oh, and guess who just found out last night that she won stuff from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards?? YEEEEY!! 😀 I got silver keys for my short story “Touch” and memoir “I Am,” and an honorable mention for my senior writing portfolio (which contained lots of different types of pieces).


8 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 3”)

    • From what I’ve heard at conferences and such, you save the big reveal for the plot synopsis. At the same time, though, there’s really no right or wrong way to do a query letter, and I know for a fact that some agents prefer that you have the ending in there. It all really depends on who and what you’re querying.


      • But also note (after looking through this post some more), a lot of the stuff here is pitch specific and doesn’t apply to query letters–like mentioning that it’s complete or not. When you’re pitching, the agent doesn’t always expect it to be complete, so you have to mention that. When you’re querying, the agent DOES expect it to be complete, so it would be redundant to bring that up.



    *such a loser*

    Thanks for the notes. 🙂 I love your blog, JSYK. (Then again, I’m obligated to, ha ha.)

    I apologize for the lame-ified-ness of this comment. But CONGRATULOTIONS on your awards and stuff.


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