Notes from Agent DongWon Song’s Talk at Willamette Writers Portland’s Monthly Meeting, January 03, 2017, by member Amy Foster Myer.
Willamette Writers launched 2017 with an excellent presentation and Q&A session in Portland with local agent DongWon Song, who agents for Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. DongWon also participates in the publishing graduate program at PSU and is a frequent speaker/agent at the Willamette Writers’ Conference in August. More about him can be found here, including his literary interests and submission guidelines.
A + B = Awesome
DongWon provided an excellent formula for giving our listeners the context they need so they can hear what our story is actually about:
A + B = Awesome.
The A and B in this calculation are comp titles (comparative titles). When we pitch our books, we should have a sense of what other books out there resemble our own. The benefits to doing this are that agents and publishers have a frame of reference and their brains don’t have to parse out every bit of information, but can focus on what makes our book unique to those titles.
When we pitch our books, we should have a sense of what other books out there resemble our own
Now, the other benefit to providing comp titles, is you also give publishers a sense of the market viability of your project. If you can show that two or three similar books sold 50,000 copies, then you have a pretty solid argument for why your book is going to sell 50,000 copies.
The A + B = Awesome portion of your pitch needs to come right up front, along with some context for the genre – “I’ve written a YA novel [genre] in which Battle Royale meets The Giver” [comp titles]. Once you’ve set the context, you then build out how your particular book is unique, and you can do so in one of four ways (or a combination of them):
- Plot hook – what about this plot is particularly interesting
- Idea – what is the high concept (most common to memoir) – “What if….”
- Setting – what about this setting is unique or intriguing – “In a world where….”
- Character – who is this character and why will readers engage with him/her (this is the most common type of pitch)
This portion of your pitch should be about 2-3 sentences, with the whole pitch taking around 10 seconds. On a query letter, you have more room to do this, with many agents often asking for 1 page that includes the pitch, synopsis, marketing, and author bio – i.e. what about you makes you the right person to write this novel.
If you’re delivering this pitch in person, say at the Willamette Writers’ Conference next August, then you deliver your 10 second pitch and wait to see if you hear the oh-so-longed-for “Interesting, tell me more.” If you get a pass, DongWon suggested using that time to chat and just generally be a friendly person – relationship building that may result in a yes on a future project. After all, agents and publishers are more than vending machines; they are people too
Thank you, Amy, for this detailed meeting recap.
Photo Credit: Gail Pasternack