It’s writing conference season, and many writers I know will
put egos on the line to pitch their books. But is your novel “done” enough to
warrant this leap of faith?
Writing Tip for Today: Although writers are often anxious to
get their writing into an editor or agent’s hands, we sometimes jump the gun.
Here are some ideas for pitching your writing:
Pitches Aren’t Magic
Pitches—we all dread them as much as queries. Books, pitch coaches, pitch practices and advice abound for grabbing the agent/editor’s attention. What’s the reality? In my nearly three decades of pro writing, I’ve known only a few who walked away from a pitch session with a deal in the making.
More commonly, my students will contact me after their pitch
sessions with glowing reports that the agent requested a full or partial
manuscript. The writers are on cloud nine until they discover that even agents
and editors are human—they hate turning writers away empty-handed.
While a good pitch is better than a cold query, writers shouldn’t assume that it’s a golden ticket. It can be, but it’s rare. For most it’s just that: a pitch. Some writers try to memorize their pitches, cramming as much into them as they can. But a pitch is more performance than proof you have a salable property. My best advice? Know your story, but just be yourself. Consider your pitch sessions as educational. I’ve had great revelations about my story’s structure after a pitch—that I thought I knew my story, but either the structure was flawed or I couldn’t verbalize it well enough.
Command Your Material
When I say, “know your story,” I mean be sure your summary can pass the SO WHAT test. One student writer, when asked what his novel was about, replied, “Well it’s about a lot of things.” I think you have the best chance if your lead character is unique, well-developed and desperately wants or needs something.
You may have polished your prose to the point where it
dazzles, but unless your story contains a character who really wants or need
something that matters, has a worthy adversary who helps provide rising action
and resolves the story in a satisfying way, your pitch will probably not pique
interest. All the pretty writing in the world can’t save a non-story.
Pitching Too Soon
I’ve worked on a story for years, tweaking it endlessly,
until I’m so sick of it that I’m certain the novel must be done. Even my
critique group thinks so. Then, I have gone to a writing conference and paid
extra to sit before a 1) tired 2) bored 3) sick or 4) all of these agent or
editor for eight minutes. Eight! And what did I get? A business card and “send
your proposal to me” invitation that leads to a rejection later on.
What’s the lesson? Aside from the fact that my novel may be
flawed in ways I don’t see, imagine being one of these tired/bored/sick/
editors or agents. They are listening to writers every eight minutes. The novel
you thought was so brilliant and finished may be: 1) out of trend presently 2)
the sixth time she’s heard the same plot today 3) completely out of her genre
(the author didn’t check to see her interests), among other reasons.
Agents/Editors are people. They’ve likely flown to the conference, maybe have
jetlag, a hangover or some other reason to not enthuse over your project.
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you pitch an unfinished novel, you’ll get a polite no. If you pitch a novel that still needs work or is structurally unsound, you’ll also get a no—maybe after the conference. Be sure your work is as professional as possible. Before you pitch, hire a good editor if you can, and try not to take personally any rejection. Know your story and be yourself.