books · Business · On Writing

Pitching Fiction (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

Between you and your dreams of a traditionally published novel stands a powerful stranger. Agent or editor, they guard the gate between creative aspiration and success in the marketplace. More than anything, they yearn for great stories, long to launch the story that you wrote. However, their hearts have been broken before, their wisdom, expertise and resources devoted to stories that failed to thrive. Arms folded, they await your strong, market-oriented pitch to convince them to swing the gate open for you.

Writer conferences offer opportunities for writers and agents or editors to meet in person. While the formats and structures vary, a writer is smart to be ready at all times, at all venues, to pitch the story. While the following apply to professional and craft conferences, you can use these guidelines to talk to anyone about your story, even that jaded-attitude stranger at your friend’s cocktail party.

Before the Pitch

Identify and align with your genre. The marketplace is organized by genre (such as mystery, romance, literary fiction) — even a masterful, genre-busting mash-up needs a home within a single genre home. Meet the requirements for the genre for elements such as word count and you’ll have demonstrated your understanding of the market.

Specify the ideal reader/audience for the story. Who wants to read your story — and why? Do you offer a specific perspective or unique appeal to readers that will support marketing, publicity, other aspects of bringing the story to the audience?

Provide comparable/competitive stories. Name three to five recently published novels that your story compares with favorably — make sure that the novels are well-regarded and trending positively (sales in the thousands of copies). Be familiar with and read within the genre, particularly the novels you cite.

Research the Agents, Agencies, Editors, and Publishers. Investigate the attendees, identify who is a good fit for your work, rank order the people that you want to pitch. Know them and their firms thoroughly, who they represent, what they are looking for, and where your work fits with their goals. Note any recent news, accomplishments, promotions, and awards and mention them when you meet. Prepare for every person who might be a good fit; you might meet them later in the bar, a coffee shop, elsewhere and have the chance to talk with them then (if they’re open to it, of course).

Ready Your Pitch

Elevator Pitch (one sentence, twenty-five words or less, that provides a basic understanding of the protagonist and challenge).

Paragraph (three to four sentences, more detail about the protagonist, the challenge, the key plot points).

One-Pager (when your listener wants more detail about the protagonist, the antagonist, the challenges, themes).

Single Line Comparative Set the tone and frame for your story using well-known examples such as “My story is like (what is your novel like: HungerGames meets Animal House; Frankenstein meets Love Story).

Interesting Anecdote Be prepared to relate an anecdote that further explains, brings to life, and develops the theme and atmosphere for your novel. A short personal experience works.

Know Your Story From Every Angle Be prepared to describe the major plot, subplots, themes, major characters, setting, and every aspect of your story. Share the ending if asked — most will want it.

On Scene

Plan Your Efforts. If possible, get the layout of the room. Figure out where your top prospect is and then all the others. Make sure that you meet with the top targets, even if you have to wait in line, but adjust as needed.

Be Ready. Drink water, check your teeth in the mirror, and get ready to talk about your incredible story.

Work Your Plan. Make sure that you have rehearsed your pitch and can deliver it in a conversational way. Talking demonstrates mastery, personality, and confidence. Practice until you’re comfortable — you can trade pitches with the other writers you meet.

Work within the parameters, be prompt and respectful. If you have five minutes in total, plan for an initial introduction, making your pitch (about a minute or so), listening to feedback (at least a minute or more), and answering questions. Leave time for follow-up — and record what you are asked to provide, be it submitting a partial or an entire manuscript or a particular format, timetable, or manner. If the conversation is over, shake hands and leave. Don’t linger if you’ve received positive interest and don’t talk beyond the limit (it’s rude, unprofessional, and unfair to everyone else).

Be sensitive to the person that you are speaking with; this is a conversation. Don’t blither about being nervous, complain, panic; it’s a waste of precious time. Be personable, genuine, respectful. Your pitch represents you as a writing professional as well as the incredible story you have to share.

Stay Positive. Your story isn’t for everyone; not every agent and editor may like it. Don’t take it personally. Chalk it up to experience and go on to your next prospect. Mishaps occur, things go awry, stay calm and level headed no matter what happens. Keep going strong until you have covered your targets.

After the Pitching is Done

Complete Your Notes. Review business cards, requests, and other materials. Jot reminders of stories, connections, and other personal qualities to use in follow-up notes and future conversation.

Follow Up. Provide exactly what the agent or editor requested. You don’t have to send it immediately (unless that’s what you agreed to do); make sure that your submission is your best effort, edited and formatted as expected and as you’ve promised to deliver.

Congratulate Yourself. Pitching your story is one of the hardest things that you will ever do. Rest, celebrate, rejuvenate, and get to work. Pitching is an essential part of traditional publishing — once you’ve done it once, you’ll be ready for all the variations yet to come with sales teams, bookstores, reviewers and critics, librarians, readers, and everyone else.

Wishing you all the very best in pitching your story and in launching your publishing career. Be persistent, be courageous, be single-minded in sharing your story with the world.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

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18 thoughts on “Pitching Fiction (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

  1. Wow. It really is a jungle out there, isn’t it? I really liked the advice [and warning]. Especially the various range of pitches. And you covered a lot of grounds in such a specific step-by-step manner.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lupa! Hard-won, up close and in person expertise! Truth be told, I had a ball. It’s much more fluid, creative than I imagined — and the agents and editors were generous, open, eager to connect and hear a new story. Further truth be told, this piece is so close to my heart that my brain almost exploded.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha. Well, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. I envy you! I would love to join in on pitch war or any author conference, really. This is my one lament living on the other side of the world from where the literary action is. I bet it is such an adrenaline rush. I crave for such interactions with my peers 😢

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      2. The first time that I went to a writer group meeting, I was flabbergasted by people who talked the way that I did, observed, eavesdropped, read, and commented on the world. It is an incredible thing to be in the company of writers. I give thanks every day for the connected world that we live in, where strangers such as ourselves can connect, reassure one another that we are not alone, that our stories matter, and that we must keep on writing.

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  2. Hi Louise! Thanks for commenting on my post. I noticed I messed up and forgot to include #AuthorToolboxBlogHop in my title, and so I really appreciate that you found any old post to comment on. 🙂 This is a really interesting topic. I’m curious as to where you received advice to pitch three to five comparative books. The advice I’ve read is to keep it for sure below three, and try not to go above two. It’s interesting though, because even agents, editors, etc, tend to differ in the advice they give, so I can totally see a speaker at a conference prepping authors by saying three to five comps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Raimey — I so look forward to your posts — so will find my way to old and new alike! Regarding the number of comps, that was counsel that I received from a writing coach in figuring out what you were writing, declaring a genre and heading in. This was also advice that showed up time and again in crafting book proposals for nonfiction (a service that I offered writers a few years ago). It came in the development phase for the projects, to identify a meaningful, profitable market niche. When I pitched in person, I used only a few, landing on the one that resonated most for the listener. For example, one agent had represented a book that I loved that falls in my genre, so I focused on that, but rattled off the names of a few others to establish my familiarity with the particular part of genre that I want to enter. Because I do tend to go occasionally blithering blank under pressure, it helps me to know for sure that I have a variety of novels to cite, since I have occasionally met with a blank face over a title that I thought everyone knew. (Can you tell that I was in marketing?)

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  3. Hi! I don’t know why but I find the elevator pitch so difficult! This is a good idea to always have this prepared. Aside from a conference, you never know who you might meet and when. It’s best to be prepared. Although pitching in person scares me to death! 🙂
    Leslie
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for such a detailed post! I am currently querying and I think everything you included here is right on point! It’s a lot of work, but so worth it in the end! 😀

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  5. I love this, it’s such a great ‘in a nutshell’ for speaking with agents and editors 🙂 I definitely need to practice my pitch for all the query fun I’ve got coming in the next few months!

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  6. Great post. Many people forget the value of pitching even when no contract is offered. When you pitch at a conference, each meeting is a chance to receive input and refine what you have, so even the pitches that don’t land an agent or editor can be valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! Have been gifted with exceptional insights, plot twists, and suggestions for characters as well as suggestions for the pitch itself and how to position and express my story.

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  7. Such a stressful time, but we all have to do it. One thing I found helpful was to proactive my pitch at home out loud – over and over again. I do it over a period of two weeks so I can practice a bit each day. This helps me be smooth when the time comes and I’m seriously nervous. I’ve never been able to cram, so I need the weeks ahead to be ready.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Practice definitely helps when the nerves take over, the mouth grows dry, and the palms go clammy….And it also comes in handy at other times when others ask me what I’m working on — there’s an answer right there!

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