By Sally Apokedak
Polish your pitch: get ready for the conference!
So, what do you need in your pitch? Three things are vital:
- an interesting, relatable character
- a desire
- a conflict
You don’t need to include the character’s name. You can add it if you want (particularly if it’s a funny name), but write at least the first draft without the character’s name. Force yourself to go for a description.
- a poor boy
- an Olympic runner
- a policewoman
Then see if you can give his problem in this description.
- a poor orphan
- an Olympic runner whose religious devotion comes first in his life
- a policewoman who hesitated—didn’t take the shot when she had it—and let a gang member put a bullet in her partner’s head
With these descriptions, you hint at what the character wants.
- The orphan wants a home where he will be loved.
- The Olympic runner wants to win for the glory of God.
- The policewoman wants forgiveness.
And knowing what the character wants we can easily see what might stand in her way.
- The orphan is adopted, but his new home is a sweatshop in London.
- The Olympic runner has races on Sunday and he can’t compete.
- The policewoman gets blackmail letters from a witness who saw the whole thing.
This is all you need for the pitch. You don’t have to tell how the story ends. You just need to put an interesting character in a hard place.
Some genres lend themselves to this kind of pitch more easily than others. But every story needs these elements to some degree. Even the quiet books. Even the literary books. Pitches like this make me want to read on because I can see that the author understands what story is all about.
Make it Compelling
If your character is a bit quirky and has a lot of heart, or if his predicament is comical or fresh, that will help a lot. And rising stakes add a bundle.
A poor orphan living on a space station thinks he’s going to get the home he’s longed for when he’s adopted, but his dreams turn into a black hole of misery when his new “father,” the captain of a garbage scow, throws him into the engine room to toil with a handful of other slave boys. To make matters worse, he discovers that in a few days he and the others are to be thrown out as meat to appease the Flesh Eaters in the Eastern Reach, so the garbage scow and its horrible captain can pass unmolested.
This isn’t an excellent pitch. But it is more compelling than the kid who lands in the sweatshop in London. The rising stakes help.
Don’t you think?
So, there you have it—give me a character who wants something he can’t have, and then add some rising stakes, and that should make agents move on to check out the first page of your manuscript.
~Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She has been studying, reviewing, and marketing children’s books, as well as giving writing instruction for 15years. Sally represents award-winning authors, including Joyce Magnin, Hannah C. Hall, and Mark S. Waxman. At the 2017 Summer Conference, Sally will teach “Children’s/YA Critique Group,” a premium morning coaching class ($100 extra) that includes preconference reviews. She will also teach the “Refine Your Pitch” Nite Owl on Wednesday night. Find out more at www.sally-apokedak.com.