3 Ways to Pitch Your Novel (but not in the trash)

It’s writing conference season! Across the country, legions of writers will fork over extra cash to gain a 15 minute pitch session with an agent or editor. Picture yourself as a literary agent: You’ve probably flown from far away and have jet lag. Writers slide their manuscripts to you under the bathroom stall. You can’t go anywhere without being accosted by a writer who claims to have your next bestseller. And now you have to sit through way too many 15 minute pitches? A writer who presents a professional and accurate pitch will seem like a breath of fresh air.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are three tips for more successful pitches:

Write, Edit and Refine a REALLY Good Book.

It’s been said a million times, but it bears repeating: If you want your pitches to go well, first write a REALLY good book. Edit it many times–maybe even pay someone to edit. Know what your book is about in one sentence. Know your competition. Sounds basic, but many agents wish half their pitch session writers took the advice. If you’re halfway done with a first draft, finish your manuscript. If you want to meet with agents before it’s done, say you’re there only to meet and greet right up front. A first or second draft is liable to need a lot of work, so why get a rejection before you are ready to show a completed product? Bide your time and pitch when your book is ready.

Practice Makes Perfect. 

Pitch Practice at Willamette Writers 2011

First, write a pitch about 100 words in length. Include a “log line,” a sentence that sums up the essence of your book. Don’t worry that you compare it to other famous works–there are really no book ideas that don’t draw upon what’s come before. Practice and refine your pitch in front of the mirror, your critique group or writing buddies, all before you set foot at a conference. Most writers conferences hold “pitch practice” sessions, where other writers listen to and give feedback on your pitch. Use these closed door sessions to perfect your pitch. You can also pick up valuable dos and don’ts at these practices: to memorize or not, to use notes or not, how to avoid looking ridiculous by dressing up as a pioneer. Practice rooms can also help you refine your “log line,” the sentence that sums up and gives an instant picture of your book. Remember, though, YOU know your book better than anyone, so try your best to figure out your book’s theme and hook. A good way to approach this is to study movie or TV show log lines (kind of like TV guide listings). Maybe your book is a “mashup:” Cinderella meets Star Wars.

We’re All Human.

Don’t forget that agents/editors are people too. They have bad days. They hate rejecting writers and may say they want to see the manuscript–only to send you a standard rejection a month later. If you get requests, temper your joy with the reality that the agent/editor is making a judgment based on what you tell them and not necessarily on the actual work. A book which sounds like a blockbuster during a pitch may not be written as well as the pitch claimed. And sometimes agents kick themselves for passing on a winner. I think that while you should come as prepared as you can be, being yourself during a pitch is paramount. I doubt most agents want a robotic recitation. Neither do they wish for vague descriptions (It’s about a lot of things.). Research the agents you think are the best fit, pitch your best and then keep your fingers crossed. With any luck your really good book will rise to the surface.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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