Several writers have approached me this week for editing services. They want to be ready to pitch their book in the next few months at a conference. When is a work “pitchable?”
Writing Tip for Today: To pitch a book effectively at a conference, be aware of these things:
- Finish the Manuscript. For first-timers, a finished and polished manuscript is essential. Don’t expect to be the one of thousands whose idea and/or three chapters is so spectacular the agent will overlook the fact that it isn’t finished. Think of your pitch as a promise: I’m going to wow you with my book and have the whole thing waiting for you if you bite. A great pitch with a half-finished manuscript is a big turn-off for agents and editors unless you’re multi-published already.
- Get Some Readers. Enlist readers to go through your book both before and after it’s been edited. Try not to ask your spouse or your mother–they’re hopelessly biased. The first reading, ask for comments about the story. Where is it sizzling and where does it flag? Where is it riveting and where is it confusing or uninteresting? Most of the time well-meaning readers will copy edit no matter what you ask for, but try to get them to think in terms of story. The final reading can be for copy edits (typos etc).
- Hire a Professional? More and more agents and editors suggest you hire a professional editor to help you make your book stand out from the crowd. At the very least join a critique group. Freelance editors are available for everything from comprehensive structure fixes to line editors who are great at catching misspelled words. To my knowledge, there isn’t a specific license required to say you’re an editor. It’s up to the writer to get recommendations and vet the editor. Beware a literary agent who also happens to run an editing service. Although some agents might help you with certain parts of your book, agents should make their money from book sales, not from editing. If you’re not sure whether an agency is legit, visit the preditors&editors listing or Absolute Write forums.
- Learn Your Pitch. If you plan to pitch a book at a writing conference, make the most of that 15 minutes. Books on pitching or actual pitching practice is available at most large conferences. Study them, learn from the old-timers and practice. I hate the idea of having to memorize a pitch, but it’s probably the best way to stay on target. Don’t waste your time telling the agent about your childhood.
- Be Realistic. Agents are people. They don’t like to tell someone “no” any more than you do. So even though their eyes glaze over during your memorized pitch, they’ll likely ask you to send at least a sample to them when the conference is over. A request to look at the chapters is better than a rejection based on a query, but the request isn’t a shoo in, either. Be glad, but don’t pop open the champagne just yet.
- Be Persistent. If this year’s pitches don’t do the trick, don’t throw your manuscript in the fire just yet. Many novelists and nonfiction book authors will testify that publishing takes practice, patience and above all, perseverance. Keep writing!