"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Secret Agent Man

Back in July, I posted a rather hasty entry about a writer's conference I would be attending in San Francisco. Since then, I've purposely put off writing about that experience so that I could finally say what I'm trying to say now.

So lemme 'splain.

The emphasis of the Algonkian Write to Market Conference is the pitch. Conference director or leader or headmaster or whatever he is, Michael Neff, says that the pitch tail wags the novel dog. You can read it in his own words by clicking that link. But the idea is that if you can't verbalize a decent pitch for your story, then chances are your story needs work. This idea was illuminating to me, since I showed up to this conference with a story that included little external antagonism and tiny buds of dramatic turns.

How fast would John Keating
tear this from the pages of his text book?
I've studied--and taught--literature for most of my adult life, so understanding development of a story arc and dramatic tension is nothing new to me. What was new, as illustrated to me at this conference, was how much of that classic spectacle I had neglected to write into my novel. I know there's a central conflict in my story. I know there are complications and character clashes and, I daresay, even some decent language throughout. But I also know that my Young Adult novel isn't about drugs or abuse or gangs or vampires, and that makes for a rather quiet story. At least in terms of getting published in today's market.

So I worked on my pitch. And by creating the pitch that would (maybe, hopefully) sell my novel, I had to come to terms with a severe amount of rewriting. This is the novel I originally wrote as my Master's thesis, the novel I've reworked and revised and added to and subtracted from for years, the novel I made a goal to sell this year, in 2011. I liked where it was. I thought it was in pretty good shape. But it needs work.

That's what I've been doing for the past few weeks. Revising the story to fit what is implied in the pitch. Because on the last say of the conference, I had the opportunity to pitch several different agents who are looking specifically for Young Adult fiction sans the paranormal. And three agents asked me to send them partial manuscripts.

Did you read that correctly? I said three agents asked for partial manuscripts. I was dreadfully excited about it at the time. That excitement has pretty much turned to anxiety at this point, though, because of the reality of sending my work to real, actual agents. But that's where I am today. I've rewritten enough to be able to send these agents the pages they requested. I'm still not done with the rewrites; in fact, it's the ending that requires the most extensive changes and I still need to tackle that. Still, it's coming along. (You can read the first little bit yourself at my author website www.brentwescott.com. Or click here.)

The agents now have what they requested. And I play the waiting game. (After the first email was sent, before I could get another one off, a reply popped into my inbox. I freaked out thinking I got the world's fastest rejection. It was just an automated response to my query telling me the agent received my submission. Phew.)

Here's the pitch that got me this far. Feel free to tell me you'd buy it if you could. Or pass this along to the nearest agent you know. Either way, it's cool.

My name is Brent Wescott.

The title of my book is Trendy Poseurs Go Home.

The genre is Young Adult fiction.

You might compare it with the sarcastic narrator of Frank Portman’s King Dork and the indie characters of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.
When 18-year-old Drew Tanner’s father ceremoniously hands over the used luggage of his dead brother so he can pack up for college and then announces that Drew will be majoring in business just like his brother did, Drew’s individuality is threatened and he feels his own life squelched.

In a week, he is scheduled to leave Denver for college in California, just like his deceased brother, parents, and grandparents before him. However, Drew is not his brother, no matter how hard his family insists on reinventing him in his brother’s image. Struggling to find his own voice, he has lived his life filled with punk friends, indie music, and the unconventional sport of soccer.
The rest of the week finds him coping with the competing influences of a father who wants him to replace his brother, a best friend who might just live in his parents’ basement forever, a girl who reveals her true feelings for him, and the death of a grandfather, the only family member who seemed to understand him. As his college days near, and Drew fears the loss of his individuality, he begins to work for a way to break from his family tradition and remain in Denver living his chosen lifestyle. But what’s the best way for Drew to make his own choices and not be a poseur himself?  


  1. I'm a sucker for contemporary - there are so many amazing stories that happen in the here and now, and yeah- creating tension without dragons or mythical beings after your MC's head, is definitely a different kind of writing.
    I'm at the point where my agent is pitching my novel to publishers, and I thought it would be easier - turns out? not so much. No.

    WAY cool on your pitch success :D

  2. I liked your pitch. It's full of confidence. However, I read paranormal and horror but there are times I do step out of the box.

  3. Congrats on your pitch successes!!! I read the beginning of your novel and it grabbed me. I love the voice of the kid, and I'm a fan of YA fiction. Do today's kids know who the Smiths are? Just asking? BTW, I found a typo in your next to last paragraph. "fiends" instead of "friends" Don't know if you care, but typos drive me crazy in my own writing. Best of luck!

  4. AHHHHHH BRENT THIS IS SO EXCITING! Keep us posted when you hear some results from the waiting game!

  5. Hmmm.... I like the pitch. Even though it's not really my cup of cheese in a literary sense, I'll read it and pass it along to a couple of people who I think might enjoy it. Sometimes the best stories are about life as it really happens, not fantasy. Heck, I already know you are a good writer.

  6. That is so exciting! Your query was good. I got a good sense of my MC and all the conflict. I hope this goes well for you! Keep us posted.

  7. It sounds like something I would buy Brent. Congrats and I hope you get the best agent possible :)

  8. I don't know any agents but if I did, I'd definitely sent them this pitch.

    Congratulations on your manuscript requests!!

  9. Brent! I think it is awesome that you pitched! I think that is such a scary experience, I had to keep reminding myself that they are people too, not monsters waiting to kill our stories. Or maybe they are! I can't wait to hear what they say! I am in awe of you and your successes right now!! May I learn from the feet of a master?? lol =0)

  10. It's an eye-opening read, both the pitch and the post. So much stress goes into the writing and focus being on the ebb and flow of the story arc, just to stand before the wall of pitch and BS your way into an agents hand. Good luck sir, with all of your writing adventures.

  11. Heres hoping your pitch turns into a proposal. Good job.

  12. Congratulations! That's so exciting and nerve-racking at the same time! If these agents end up passing, and you'd like a second opinion/critique on your pitch, I'd be happy to take a look. I happen to be pretty good at query letters.

  13. I would buy that book. To be honest, though, I didn't like the pitch at first. The adjectives were laid on pretty think. During my second read through it I realized that as an agent I would need to know how you would develop the characters and story, and all the descriptive phrases are necessary to convey the tone in a short amount of time.

    So, yes, I think that was a good pitch. And it seemed to get you some attention, which is pretty spiffy.

  14. @ Jolene: I love fantasy and SF, but I've always thought that the mundane doesn't have to be a bad word. Unfortunately, these days publishers (and perhaps readers devouring anything paranormal no matter how derivative) don't seem to agree.

    @ Shelly: I need more confidence. It's taken me twenty years just to get this far.

    @ Lola: Saw the typo. It's been fixed in the manuscript, but I keep forgetting to update the text on the website.

    You ask an interesting question about the Smiths. I know plenty of teenagers who would know them, and plenty who wouldn't. The story includes references intended to keep the 1989 setting real, and my feeling is that it's not really important if readers know a specific reference if they can understand the context. But I do wonder if this will keep readers (or agents or publishers) away.

  15. @ Nicki: Thanks. And I got a reply from one agent already, but it was only because they couldn't open the Word file I emailed. They wanted the text just pasted in the email. I take that as a good sign. At least they were interested enough to want to actually read the text, right?

    @ rev: Thanks for the compliment on my writing. That goes a long way.

    @ ER: Thanks for the encouragement.

    @ Michael: Yeah, yeah, we all know how you feel about agents. :)

    @ MJ: Remember me to the first agent you meet.

  16. @ Debbie: Your first lesson from the Master is to get out of the paranormal romance biz. No one wants to read that schmaltz. (wink wink)

    @ Scott: Stress is right. And I don't know when this kind of stress ends. Maybe after my book is a best-seller?

    @ Cathy: Thanks for the kind words.

    @ Julie: I might very well take you up on that. Appreciate it.

  17. Okay, Doug. I counted about 20 adjectives (I think I lost count in there somewhere.) Is that really too many adjectives for three paragraphs? Or are you just laying it on pretty "think"? (Couldn't resist. I love typos. Wooooo!)

    Seriously, thanks for giving it a chance. It isn't easy distilling 65,000 words into 200.

  18. Don't give too much credence to my writing critique. My experience is limited to a year working as a reporter for a small-town newspaper and a silly blog illustrated with stick figures. But I thick (sic) it was Mark Twain who wrote, "When you catch an adjective, kill it." Stephen King advocated the same thing in "On Writing."

    Styles and circumstances differ, however, and for this purpose it seemed to work out nicely. Also, for the record, I feel no compulsion to follow this or any other "rule" in my own writing, and I feel foolish giving writing advice to an English teacher.