Pitching a Book? Only those who prepare shall prevail

Posted by: Bridgett.

I checked the time again. Eight minutes until my first pitch appointment at the 2013 Realm Makers writers’ conference. My first pitch ever.

Time to go. I set down my pen, tuned out the workshop presenter’s voice as he expounded on another fascination aspect of writing speculative fiction, and gathered my proposal materials. This was it. My friends and fellow writers, Rebecca and Drew, gave me encouraging glances as I pushed back my chair and tried to remember how to breathe.

I shuffled from the workshop toward my apointment (with the conference’s keynote speaker, no less), the echoing click of my footsteps a fitting accompanyment to my thoughts.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of book death, I shall fear no rejection…

Up ahead stood another doomed soul–er, conference attendee. Good, I wouldn’t have to wait outside the dreaded Pitch Room alone. I attempted to flash her a smile, but the corners of my mouth were as shaky as my insides.

My heart was pounding so hard it must be giving the people in the next room an awesome background beat. Maybe they’d all start moving to the rhythm, and the publisher I was meeting wouldn’t care if I forgot all those words I’d so carefully crafted into a one-paragraph summary of my 700 page novel.

To my unutterable relief, the publisher let me off easy. He just took my one-sheet, and I didn’t have to say a word for a few minutes.

It’s nearly a year later, ⅔ of the sequel is written, and my stomach still ties itself in knots when I hear THAT question: “So, what’s your book about?”

The remedy? Prepare thyself.

RealmMakerslogoAs fellow Scribe, Rebecca, and I gear up for another trip to Realm Makers (a conference for Christian creators of sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, paranormal, and other weird stories), it is time to once again perfect our novel pitches.

What is a book pitch?

Like any other sales pitch, it is a brief teaser crafted to entice someone into hearing/reading more, with the ultimate goal of making a sale. In this case, that “someone” is a literary agent or an acquisitions editor from a publishing house. Verbal pitches are typically presented at writers’ conferences or other industry events, either during a 15-minute appointment or an impromptu meeting (such as in the elevator or at dinner.)

Pitch preparedness: What are agents and editors looking for?

Agent and publisher Steve Laube’s blog features several articles on the subject, Including “That Conference Appointment,” in which he writes:

In the appointment I’m looking at the person as much as the pitch and the writing. It is the connection made with their personality and their passion and their overall presentation of themselves.

A pitch is about more than the words we say to the editor or agent, though. We must arm ourselves with the tools of the trade, so we can, as the industry saying goes, “give ’em what they want.” This list can be different for each editor/agent, but usually consists of some combination of the following:

  • One-sheet
  • Synopsis (1 page, 2 pages, or more)
  • Sample chapters/pages (The first pages of your manuscript: may include first 5 pages or up to the first 3 chapters).
  • One-sentence hook (sometimes called a log line or elevator pitch.) This reveals the main characters and conflict of your story, while providing a clue to its genre and setting.
  • Practiced, verbal back-cover-style teaser for your book (about a paragraph).

The key is to research the editor/agent beforehand, so you are aware of his/her preferences.

Here are a few things I learned after my first conference:

  • Agents & editors are just real people, not ogres waiting to gobble you up if you’re too nervous or don’t sound perfect.
  • They want to sign you! They want you and your story to blow them away as much as you do.
  • It only takes a few paragraphs for most of them to determine whether your writing is good or appeals to them. I brought all three opening chapters of my novel (2 copies), but neither editor to whom I pitched read past the first 3 pages. (Note: they both asked for the full manuscript, so this wasn’t a bad thing.)

Now, it’s time to stop writing and take my own advice. Prepare!

I’m fairly confident I won’t be as nervous this time around. After all, I’ve done this before…Right? Who am I kidding! Prayers welcome. 🙂

How do you handle jitters before a pitch, presentation, or interview?

Related articles on pitching:

That Conference Appointment by Steve Laube

Pitching in Those One-to-one Appointments by Rachelle Gardner

Talking to Agents at Conferences by Kate Schafer Testerman

About the author:

Bridgett's promo2Bridgett Powers has defied the limitations of impaired vision and overcome a 21-year battle against chronic pain, all of which taught her a profound truth. God shines brightest through cracked lanterns.

Now, she shares that truth through her fantasy novels, picture book, and short stories. A member of ACFW and MyBookTherapy, she also serves as co-leader and writing coach for her writer’s group, operates a proofreading and editing service, and teaches writing workshops.

About Bridgett

fantasy novelist ~ picture book and short story author ~ freelance editor ~ writing coach

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