I mentioned a couple of days ago that I recently attended a writing seminar about crafting a pitch: creating a concise explanation of your book for use at writing conventions either during special events or just trying to entice an agent or editor to take a look at your work. At the time I didn’t discuss the seminar, just the effect it had on me, but I did want to take the time to share what I learned, in case -like me- you had not been really exposed to the concept of a ‘pitch’ before.18
I’m quite familiar with the concept of a query letter as I’ve recently been researching it in anticipation of starting the query process early next year (or whenever I get my revised draft finished). I’m still a long ways from that point, but I wanted to learn as much as I could beforehand in order to truly hit the ground running when that time comes. However, this post is about the ‘pitch’ and how to make the most out of your three minutes of attention, not a query letter, so I’ll digress no longer.
So, first thing: I’d like to thank all of the panelists for their insight, encouragement and critiques. It was a learning experience in the most amazing way. Even if I may not be in a position to pitch my book, I still learned an amazing amount of information that will guide more more surely through my query process. I was quite lucky in that I stood alone as an author of steampunk, so I received a somewhat more directed critique than perhaps others: romance and YA seemed to be very popular amongst the gathered writers. Most importantly, I’d like to thank the seminar organizer and author, Kim Ventrella. I was lucky as she is an acquaintance of my wife, so I was able to speak directly with her.
Now, on to the meat of this post (and honestly what anyone reading this is likely most interested in):
Crafting a winning Pitch. So, the first thing you have to do is craft a pitch. One of the speakers suggested using a bracket system. Create a list of all of the most important facts and events in your book and then group them together and then distill that down to a single sentence that explains the entire story of your book, even if in relatively general terms. You’re not writing your book jacket yet; don’t be vague and mysterious. You need the editor or agent to know what the entire storyline of your book is and you only have a few moments to explain it. This is your ad campaign; sell yourself and your work wisely.
Agents and Editors are looking for four key things in a pitch:
- a relatable hero
- a believable motivation
- a conflict
- a passion for the story
Be able to discuss your story. Explain the most relevant plot points. Give them the names of your characters. Explain to them why your story is unique, what is special about it. If you are selling a very commercial genre, how will your book stand out amongst a sea of others that are superficially just like it?
Be prepared. The most important bit of advice they gave us was to research your agents and know your genre. Know what they regularly look for. Know who they’re representing, if possible. Know what requirements they have for submissions. Know what kind of submissions they are currently accepting. Know the genre you are writing in. What has been done? What seems popular? Read in your genre; as much as you can. Try to determine what is selling well and therefore what will be the most attractive to an agent or editor. This is not to say that you cannot write what you desire, just know what sort of book works with a reader and what requirements you must meet to sell your book.
Interact like your book depends on it. Give them your inspiration. If you’re nervous, they’ll doubt the value of your work. Know the limit of your pitch session. If its three minutes, make sure you can sell your idea in that time limit. If its longer, make sure you have enough to discuss to eliminate any silence in the pitch. If you have an infectious attitude, they might catch the ‘book-bug’. Only pitch them a genre that is relative to the genre of writing they represent. Use common sense and keep it appropriate; If you’re at a convention and the activity is pitches, DO NOT slap a manuscript in front of them, unless you want it to end up in the bin and to have presented a horrible first impression to that agent.
Be prepared to answer questions: how does the book end? Is this a standalone novel or is it part of a series? Do you have any other projects? If so, what? Have you worked with a professional editor or a critique group? Have you submitted this before? What was the response? Do you have any authors you find inspiration in?
In general, their suggestions can apply to an author in any stage of their writing. Perhaps they are ready to publish and this will help them find an editor or agent for their work. Maybe you’re just starting the novel and these guidelines can help you focus your ideas to a more cohesive and commercial novel. Perhaps you’re already in the process of writing -like myself- and these suggestions can help you formulate a better editing process, refining your work and eliciting only the best in your writing.
Regardless, I was deeply inspired and urge any writer to seek out a review or discussion group and put your work to this test: what would an agent or editor say if you pitched your book to them today?