Are you ready to pitch your story?
With the ACFW Conference just a month away, many authors are polishing their pitches, proposals and pitch sheets. But…are they truly ready to pitch? The fact is, you only get one shot to pitch your story to a particular editor/agent.
Here’s a quick litmus test to see if you’re ready to pitch your novel:
1. Is your novel finished? First time novelists should have their novel completed before they pitch for two reasons.
- It tells the editor/agent that YES, you can finish a novel. And then, when you pitch an entire series of 3 novels, they have the confidence you can fnished #2 and #3.
- It helps you understand the true external pitch of your story (and the internal storyquestion). Sometimes it takes the finished novel to take a good look at your story and understand the sellabe elements.
- It allows you to send the novel off immediately to an editor/agent should they ask to see more (yay!)
2. Have you done your research to know with which publishing house your novel is a good fit? Houses like to publish books similiar (but not the same) to novels they’ve had success with before. Don’t try to sell your dystopian suspense to a house that only publishes Amish romances. Know what other books they have published that are similar to yours, and know how yours are different, also. But you need to have some answer as to why your book would be a good fit in that publishing house. An agent might even ask you where you see this book being published. Do your homework and give them an informed answer.
3. Do you know what is at STAKE in your story? Why does your story, your character’s external and internal journey matter? Understanding this is essential for crafting the PITCH, the PREMISE and the Story Question.
4. have an external PITCH for your story? This takes a bit of creativity, but you should have something you can easily rattle off in an elevator, in the food line, or when you sit down at the table. In one quick sentence…what is your story ABOUT?
5. Do you know the PREMISE of your story? This is a bit longer, and the follow up to your novel. It gives the bigger picture, stirs the interest of the editor/agent and gives them a better picture of the marketing angle to your story.
6. What is the reader takeaway? This can often be found in the Story Question – the internal journey of your character. We’re not crafting message-driven novels, but we do want to ask big questions that work well for reader groups. If you don’t know the Story Question of your novel, you’ll want to dig deep and ask: What is the answer your character is seeking? What do they learn at the end? Or, what is the controversial topic in the story? (controversy sells novels!)
7. Do you have a PITCH SHEET? This is a one-page overview of your story. It contains your bio, your pitch, your premise, your storyquestion and contact information. And, it should look professional – you might even want to hook up with someone like Matt Jones with http://joneshousecreative.com/ to help you craft it.
Now…how do you pitch successfully? Here’s a sample scenario:
Then, if you are in a pitching appointment, go in, shake their hand, introduce yourself, smile and hand them your one sheet.
They’ll probably look at it and say “how are you today?” or something to break the ice. Go ahead and make friends briefly, and then segue into your pitch.
“I’m great, Mr. Anderson. I enjoyed your class, Writing the Bestseller. Intriguing. I’ve written a contemporary romance that I hope fits your best-seller category….A story about a talk show host to the lovelorn who has never had a date. Why? Because she is waiting for the perfect man. But when he moves in next door, will she recognize him? It’s set in small town Minnesota and is a story about being trapped by our fears and perfect love setting us free.”
“Interesting. Why hasn’t she had a date?”
“Good question – She’s agoraphobic – trapped in her house after she survived a tragic car accident that killed her mother. She’s tried to escape through her a national talk show – broadcast from her home. But no one knows her true identity, including the new football coach who’s moved in next door – someone who drives her crazy. See, he’s got his own scars and secrets after being wounded in Iraq, and he’s hiding something too. When he starts calling the show, in need of help to befriend the neighbor, they begin to fall for each other online without realizing they are neighbors. But will their love last when they discover the truth? And what will their secrets cost them?”
“Interesting. Why would this make a sellable story?”
“Think You’ve Got Mail, set in small town America with a little of Friday Night Lights thrown in. It’s something I could see trade size at Tyndale or Waterbrook Multnomah.”
Now, here’s where they’ll pause. They might ask you more questions. They might ask how long you’ve been writing. Or if this is a stand-alone or part of three part series. They might ask you where you got your idea. They might offer ideas to tweak it. They might ask to have you send them a proposal.
Sometimes they might even say…”How can I help you with this?” Obviously, we WISH they’d say, “Hey I love this,” and pull out a contract right there. Not gonna happen. It’s wise to arm yourself with some sort of feedback question for that situation.
Be armed with an answer, something that allows them to give you real, usable feedback: “How can I make the story more compelling?” “How could I tweak this to make it more sellable?”
The key is to use this time to talk about your story. There is nothing worse for an agent/editor than to have an author pitch their story, then sit back and smile, and make the agent/editor fill in the blank space. You have fifteen minutes to communicate your vision for this book – use it!
And here’s a hint – don’t memorize your premise word by word. It feels canned. Let the story come out on its own, with enthusiasm. You know your story – just tell it.
If they ask for a sample proposal, then thank them, take their card and follow up in a week with the proposal package. For sure, regardless of their feedback, send them a thank you note for their time (email will be fine).
I talked to a couple agent buddies of mine about pitching recently. Here’s what they said:
Steve Laube (and you should read his blog on pitching!) said: “On the one hand is the person who tries to tell their entire novel with excruciating detail. That is either a case of nerves or a case of failing to practice ahead of time.
On the other hand is the person who is so precise that they sit down, smile, and hit me with their 25 word blurb. Then they close their mouth and expectantly wait for my reaction. As if that is considered a conversation! That “interview” lasted for all of two minutes at that point…. and the silence is rather awkward.
The key is a strong balance between being over eager and talkative and the sterile precision of a practiced speaker. Remember, this is a conversation. I am not only listening to your pitch, I’m also listening to you. I am meeting you.”
Chip MacGregor had a great thought: “The one thing I wish they’d do is to have an experienced editor look it over BEFORE they pitch me. The majority of projects I see at conferences aren’t ready to show yet, and a good editor (even an edit by an experienced writer friend) would help most projects immensely.”
So…come prepared, polished, professional…and then woo them with your story.
Go! Write something BRILLIANT!
PS – can I offer a suggestion? My Book Therapy is offering their Pitch and Promotion seminar ONLINE and OFFLINE this year. ONLINE this weekend – Saturday, August 23rd, 9-NOON. Attend the webinar, get personal help and walk away with the tools you need to prepare your pitch, proposal and PITCH sheet.
Then, join us at ACFW Thursday, September 25th, 2-2:24 pm to PRACTICE your pitch and get the last-minute encouragement you need from your coach. It’s time for you to get published…and stay published. Check out the seminar HERE!