Friday, October 22, 2010

When opportunity knocks, be ready with your one-sentence pitch

Remember our Awesome Launch, the agent-judged one line pitch contest? You all sent in your best, most intriguing one-sentence pitches, and literary agent Mandy Hubbard was very generous with her feedback. Man, that was fun! 

Well, we now have an awesome success story to go along with it!

I am so thrilled today to introduce our awesome guest blogger, Nancy Herman. She's written a historical novel about a young girl with a very unique struggle. It's also the kind of book that's really hard to sum up in one sentence. But she did it. Here's her success story, and the advice born out of her experience.

Nancy Herman at Chimney Rock
Read more on her blog, where she chronicles her journey
walking in the footprints of the Donner party.

When opportunity knocks, be ready with your one-sentence pitch

“Give me the TV Guide version of your book,” the many-braided woman said. She was looking at me.

“What?” I was overwhelmed. Not only did I not have a clue what a “TV Guide version” was, I was looking across the table at Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, the book that had encouraged me through the first (and so far, only) chapter of my historical novel, and last minute substitute leader at this Squaw Valley writers’ workshop.  

“It’s a one-sentence pitch,” she explained.

How could I describe such a dramatic story in one sentence? Impossible.

“Um. It’s about a girl in the Donner Party,” I offered.

I knew my pitch had fallen flat as heads bent, papers rattled, and workshop members got to work on my pages. 

That was the first time I realized the importance of developing a compelling one-sentence pitch (also called an elevator pitch or a logline). I spent several more years researching and writing (and rewriting) Letters to Mary, but when meeting agents and editors at conferences, I never came up with a short description more specific than, “A young girl comes of age during the tragic crossing of the Donner Party.”

It was only a couple of months ago that I studied agents’ blogs such as  How to Write a One Sentence Pitch, gritted my teeth, and dug deep into my story to uncover its true essence. After more time than I’m willing to admit, I finally came up with –

“When 13-year-old Virginia Reed's arrogant father makes poor decisions that leave the Donner Party trapped in winter snows, she must find the courage to defy him in order to save the rest of her family.”

--so a few weeks later, when alert critique group member Angelica R. Jackson emailed me about Operation Awesome’s very first Mystery Agent Contest, I was immediately able to post my one-sentence pitch with the other first 49 entries.

My pitch wasn’t the winner, but it did lead to a request for a full query with a five-page sample from Mystery Agent Mandy Hubbard from D4EO (who, it turns out, is pretty awesome herself). One thing led to another quickly, and I’m THRILLED to announce that Mandy is now officially my literary agent! From now on we’ll be working together to get Letters to Mary in the hands of middle-grade readers.

I’m glad to hear that the Operation Awesome team has decided to make this contest an ongoing opportunity for writers to pitch their work. It worked for me, but only because I finally had that very important one-sentence pitch polished and ready for the next opportunity.

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Nancy! We will definitely be keeping an eye out for your future book news!

You can wander through Virginia's footsteps across the American plains at Nancy's unique blog

For more of what Mandy liked, check out the other pitches of note.

And don't wait too long to get your one-line pitches pitch-perfect. As Nancy said, when opportunity knocks...


Stina said...

Congrats, Nancy! :D

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Great information and encouragement. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's SUPER COOL!!!!

Rachel Harris said...

Congratulations!! Love Mandy Hubbard. What a blessing to work with such a gifted author/agent. I wish you all the best on your publishing journey!

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Congrats, Nancy!

lisa and laura said...

AMAZING success story for all involved! Congrats to all of you ladies!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Yay, the official official announcement, so I can stop sitting on the news and blog about it too! (Yes, Nancy's the critique partner I mentioned in my comment to yesterday's post about milestones)

All of us in the critique group are so happy for her. Her fantastic book has made it over that first arduous mountain range of finding an agent, and hopefully it's just a short smooth jaunt to the promised land of publication.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Congratulations, Nancy! And valuable advice - always be prepared! I also appreciate knowing that although your one-sentence pitch didn't win, it still led to a request for pages and, ultimately, a contract. It really pays to get yourself out there.

Michelle McLean said...

wonderful news!!! That one line pitch can be a bear (and I'm totally cracking up right now because I made a little typo...turning the "p" in pitch into a "b"...which actually works well too, but I thought I'd better fix it before posting) :D

Annnnyhow, huge congrats Nancy!!!!!

Amparo Ortiz said...

This made my MONTH.

Super happy for you, Nancy!! Congrats!!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Yeah, I think it's obvious why Mandy was so impressed with her work! Uber Thanks to Nancy and Mandy for letting us feature them at OA. We always love a happy ending--er, beginning. Whatever. It's happy! We're happy. :D

Kell Andrews said...

I was so happy to hear this story.

I wonder: how do the following rank, in order of difficulty:

Writing a one-line pitch
Writing a query
Writing a synopsis
Writing a novel

Of course, writing a novel is really the one that counts, but you have to nail at least one (and possibly all) of the others for it to matter...

Rachael Harrie said...

Oho, can't wait for a (possible) upcoming pitch contest announcement. Thanks to Amparo, my pitch is ship-shape and ready for action :)


Unknown said...

OHmygoodness! That's so exciting! :D
I definitely need to work on my one line pitch. Right now it's pretty lame. And boring. Yup.

Kittie Howard said...

Congratulations, Nancy! And thanks for a super post! My hub says they use one sentence pitches in the business world, called Elevator Pitches. One sentence to tell what you do and bring in business. Oy!

Denise Covey said...

That's hyper-exciting. Who would have thought a one-sentence pitch could be so powerful! One of the plans for starting NaNo is to write a very long one-sentence premise so I guess it's along the same lines. Awesome post. Congratulations to Nancy..:)

Nancy Herman said...

Thanks Katrina, for the opportunity this ongoing contest gives us writers. And thanks to everyone else for such inspiring comments to my post. Kelly, in my opinion, you have the order of difficulty correct!