I had a busy weekend, including a museum sleepover with my Girl Scout troop, which is good because it kept me away from the internet. I was dying to follow the tweets and blog posts from the SCBWI New York conference; I was trying to keep up with the Amazon/Macmillan stand off. But I was completely entranced by the Caren Johnson Literary Agency's online pitch session. Basically, agents Caren Estesen and Elana Roth held a pitchfest on their agency's web site. Anyone could submit a pitch to their online forum. Elana Roth is the YA/MG agent and you can read all the pitches with her responses in this forum thread.
So many pitches--Elana's thread is seven pages long. Seeing them all in one place like this is a great example of what an agent sees on a regular basis. Elana's responses are polite, thoughtful, and realistic. If you're getting ready to query agents, take a look. I didn't pitch myself as I had queried this agency the regular way recently, but here's what I learned:
1. Agent responses are subjective. Yes, I know, you may have heard that before. But it's affirming to see it in action. Sometimes an agent just doesn't cotton to a particular genre or subject.
2. Wow, it's surprising which subjects came up in multiple pitches. I had no idea Neanderthal books were common. I guess by sheer volume, any random subject might come up in more than one query. So just naming interesting story elements doesn't work in a pitch.
3. A hook is not a story. A main character is not a story. A setting is not a story. Even the most fascinating setup is not a story. None of those things by themselves will sell a book.
4. Your story pitch should inherently convey which age group will want to read your story. Read a bunch of these pitches and you'll see what I mean. If I can't tell if it's a middle grade or adult book, I don't know, it seems too vague and undefined to be interesting.
5. Use concrete, specific nouns in your pitches. In pitch world, lots of people discover things too late, uncover secrets, make fatal mistakes, and want things that come at a heavy price. After dozens of pitches, anything stripped of concrete nouns makes the eyes glaze over. Every other kid in pitch world is a vague troublemaker at school--the kid specifically suspected of cafeteria theft is the most interesting.
6. If I were an agent, I'd be in trouble. I'd want to request enough pages to give me 100 hours a week of work. I suppose I'd learn to be very, very selective in order to survive. "Nothing personal, your pitch sounds great, but I have to eat and sleep sometimes."
Check out the pitches and play agent for the day. I'll bet you learn something too.
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages