In preparation for the Antioch Writers Workshop recently, I brushed off the manuscript for review with a group of peers and a facilitator. Ann Weisgarber encouraged me to name it as historical fiction. I'd never given myself license to call it that, even though I did extensive research about the 1950s, which is the time period of the story. Historical fiction felt right and spurred the further thought to identify all of the themes that may appear in the 310 pages.
I used a list of themes to determine which ones resonated with me and the project. Then I used a series of stars to assign to each one that applied to my manuscript. For example: Love and sacrifice got 5 stars. Will to survive also received 5 stars. Four star themes were disillusionment and dreams, female roles and motherhood. Faith versus doubt and death's inevitability both received 3 stars.
From these identified themes I developed a 112-word pitch to present to any agent, but particularly to the agent who visited the workshop. I practiced the pitch on friends and signed up for my 8 minute session.
It wasn't perfect in my mind. I screwed up the wording a few times, but the agent smiled and was genuinely engaged in my effort to be succinct about the completed project. She expressed interest, asked me to send a package and I walked out of the session feeling a confidence I'd not experienced before that moment.
The exercise of creating a pitch that is pretty spot-on has indicated to me that I'm ready to let it go into the world. It isn't just mine anymore. Same holds true for my daughter. She's into the world too.