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Funny You Should Ask: Pitch, Revise, and Resubmit

In this Funny You Should Ask column from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest, literary agent Barbara Poelle tackles questions about online pitching events and how to interpret revise and resubmit requests from agents.

Dear FYSA,

I’ve pitched during online events like #PitMad, but I don’t get bites. Is there something I can do to make my pitch stand out?



Dear #PitBad,

Have you considered a confetti popper? I have been pondering carrying one around in my pocket for spontaneous use in moments that I feel need a little more zazzle, like: arguments with Husband, crowded subways, aaaaand eulogies.

But I keep reconsidering this move because maybe there are other ways to stand out that don’t induce so much yelling and vacuuming. In your case, I feel the same—there isn’t any zazzle needed, as long as you have found a succinct and concise way to express what your novel is about.

You want your written pitch to be an enticing look at the premise, not the plot. The premise is a short and punchy overview of the protagonist, their goals, and the opposing force against their goals, while a plot is made up of the crucial elemental beats within the premise that make up the story. Like, OK, your premise is your novel’s online dating profile. You’re picking the best picture—that candid from your sister’s wedding where you look like you are just about to laugh, eyes shining, adorable green clutch in hand, impossibly alluring, we must find out why you were about to laugh. Your plot? That is what you talk about at dinner after you nervously drain two glasses of wine before the apps arrive—when you tell them that your sister married your ex but you understood because he saved her when that flood unleashed the genetically enhanced alligator and that the green bags gifted to all the bridesmaids were, in fact, made from that gator. You give them the shine in the pitch, then later you can hit them with the escalating macro tensions of the plot.

Funny You Should Ask book | Barbara Poelle

Get more advice about finding an agent and the book publishing industry with Barbara's book based on the column. | IndieBound | Amazon

Additionally, make sure you are reading the other pitches of your colleagues to discover which of them speaks to you, and then dissect why they did so. You may find a common hook that you can apply to your own pitch.

In the end, you can do all of these things and still not get the (gator) bites hoped for, and that can have to do with the subjective outside forces you just can’t predict. Things like: a saturated subgenre, a premise that feels too familiar, stakes that are “too quiet” against what is currently working on the shelves, etc., etc. So, just keep refining your pitch and working toward your goals. I’ll be here with my confetti popper when you land that great deal!

Funny You Should Ask | Barbara Poelle

Dear FYSA,

I got a revise and resubmit request from an agent I was really excited about, but some of the things they recommended I do for my revisions seem to be taking my story in a direction that I’m not sure I want it to go in. I’m anxious about doing all the work of a revision only to get a rejection when I’m not really feeling the revision in the first place. But turning my back on this agent feels like a missed opportunity. Is there a middle ground here?

Thanks for your advice!

Revision Doubts

Dear No Doubt,

Once there was this guy I was really, really into. He was a professional musician, could play pretty much anything that looked guitar-y (that is a technical term), and, oh gosh, how I wanted him to notice me! But he seemed to like ladies who knew stuff about music. OK, no problem. I got my grandma’s guitar out of storage and one day while he was sitting outside in the sun, I wandered over casually and made sure he noticed I was carrying a guitar. When he commented on it, I said, “Yeah, it hasn’t been sounding right, can’t figure it out.” And so of course he reached out and offered to tune it. We got to talking, and three years later, I married him.

Friends? I cannot, repeat, cannot play the guitar. But hey, it got me in the door, and I have many other facets. I quickly played to those strengths to land my opportunity. Why not try the same thing here?

Revisions are needed for underlying issues that have more than one solution. I always say to my authors that I am 99 percent right about what needs work in a manuscript but maybe about 40 percent right about how to fix it—that is their job. So, if the agent is requesting specific revisions, find out why. Are the stakes for the protagonist not as strong as the opposing goals of the antagonist? Is there a lack of accessibility for the main character? Does the B-story line lag? Ask for broader terms about what isn’t working, and then come up with potential solutions that do feel aligned with the direction you want to go with the novel. Then resubmit work that addresses those concerns but plays to your strengths. This way, even if you do get a rejection, you know that what you have is a stronger novel to shop that is still the story you want to tell. Or better yet, your dream agent will realize the guitar thing wasn’t the right path to head down after all. 

Ask Funny You Should Ask! Submit your questions on the writing life, publishing, or anything in between to with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line. Select questions (which may be edited for space or clarity) will be answered in future columns, and may appear on and in other WD publications.

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