There’s something about the concept of sitting down across from an agent, editor, or publisher that seems absolutely terrifying. Considering that most of the articles I’ve read about pitching a novel in person only add to that sense of dread and horror (“I was so nervous I wanted to throw up!” or “I forgot everything I wanted to say!”), it should come as no surprise that most people would rather do anything else.
Is it really that bad?
Here’s the short answer: no.
Here’s the longer answer: not if you’re prepared for the experience.
By all means, wear the extra-strength deodorant and make sure you’ve brushed your teeth and look presentable. These are the little things well within our control that can help us to take the edge off the experience. Remember, this is a professional interaction that can make your day wonderful if you go into it with that elusive positive mental attitude. But don’t listen to people who tell you you’ll be so nervous, your eyeballs will sweat! or you will freeze up! Don’t worry, it happens to everyone!
No, it doesn’t.
Pitching a novel in person is nothing more or less than querying in person, but with fewer words to describe your book. It might help to think of it as Twitter pitching face to face, but without the 280-character limit.
This article will not teach you how to write a pitch, although I am sharing one of my own pitches as an example. There are a great many resources out there on how to craft pitches; several of these are listed at the bottom of this post. What we will do is break down what you need in order to pitch and talk about how to structure your pitch. Once we’re done, you’ll have everything you need to pull off an in-person pitch without breaking a sweat—I hope!
What You Need
This might seem to be overstating the obvious, but you do need a manuscript to pitch. Otherwise, you’re sitting down for an informational session that will likely be of no benefit to either party. Does your manuscript have to be finished and polished? No, but if it isn’t, you should let the person you’re pitching know when you anticipate finishing.
I went to RWA last year thinking I would have a completed manuscript. As it turns out, I finished my first draft later than I thought, and editing wasn’t complete yet. I simply let the people I was pitching know that the manuscript was about to go into edits and would be finished shortly.
You’ll need a description of what lies at your manuscript’s core, something you can summarize in just a few sentences. Really, three sentences or less. That means you don’t include every character and every subplot. Since we’re talking romance, focus on your couple or duo.
If a query letter is a simplified version of your synopsis, your hook is a simplified version of your query.
You want to fit characterization and conflict into those three sentences in a way that leaves the listener asking for more. If the person you’re pitching starts to ask questions about your book, you know you’ve done it right.
An Understanding of Where Your Novel Fits
Be sure you know the category (YA? NA? Adult?) genre (contemporary, historical, SFR, suspense, inspirational, etc.), and heat level of your novel. This will help the person you’re pitching immediately categorize where you might fit for them, and which other books compare to yours. It doesn’t hurt to have a few comp titles in your back pocket, in case you’re asked for those.
Info About the Person You’re Pitching
Be sure to do your homework before you pitch. I’m not talking stalker-level knowledge, just professional (you certainly don’t want to scare anyone). It’s good to know what other authors that agent represents, who else that line publishes, and most importantly, what the person you’re pitching acquires.
In a setup like the speed pitch sessions at RWA, you may be pitching to people who may not seem to acquire or represent exactly what you write, but you can still focus your pitch to perk up their interest. If it’s not right for them, they might refer you to someone else.
An example: last year I pitched to an editor acquiring for Simon & Schuster’s (sadly now-defunct) Crimson Rose imprint. In my research ahead of time, I noticed that their website stated they prefer not to take manuscripts written in first person. At my pitch session, I was able to ask for clarification on that rule, which helped me decide whether or not it would be worth my time to send them my manuscript.
Hot Tip: Often, agent, editor, and publisher websites have information you might want to clarify in a face-to-face pitch. Come prepared with your own questions!
Your Sense of Humor
This might be the most important thing you can carry with you. Everyone who pitches is at least a little bit nervous. Memorized your pitch, and then flub it? Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. It’ll help everyone relax and have a much better experience. By the way, you can read your pitch. It doesn’t have to be memorized.
The main point of a pitch session is to get the information across in the way that works best for you.
If you impress the listener with your thespian skills, so much the better. Bring your pitch with you in written form in case words start to fail you, but don’t be hard on yourself! Showing that you can adapt to the situation tells more about you as a writer than someone who has a smooth yet robotic delivery.
I know, this is like asking the moon to drop down from the sky and cover you with glitter. I don’t mean you ought to go into your pitch appointment being brash or obnoxious, just confident. If you remember these things, you will have the self-confidence you need to sail through your pitching like the badass you truly are:
- You wrote a book. That’s a hell of an accomplishment.
- Agents, editors, and publishers are people. They’re listening to pitches because they want to like what they hear. They want to like you and your story.
- Be sure to get the agent’s/editor’s/publisher’s contact information. If you get a business card, be sure the email address on it is the one you’ll be sending to.
- When you get a request, verify it. Do they want the whole manuscript? A partial? In what format? Is there anything special you need to add to the subject line of your email to remind them this was by request at this specific pitch session?
See? That wasn’t so bad. Now that you’re all prepared, brimming over with breezy self-confidence (which you should be, because you wrote a book! You’re pitching it!), let’s touch briefly on how best to structure the time allotted for your pitch.
Structuring Your Pitch
This is the easy part! There’s a formula to pitching that will make the entire process a lot less stressful.
1. Introduce yourself and your book.
“Hi, I’m Gwynne. It’s so nice to meet you. I’m here today to pitch you my 90,000-word adult contemporary romance.”
See? Easy. Now the person you’re pitching knows exactly who you are and what to expect. You can refine it further if you want: “Hi, I’m Gwynne. It’s so nice to meet you. I’m here today to pitch you my 90,000-word contemporary rock & roll romance.” You probably don’t want to get too detailed with the refinements, but since your pitch is designed to show off your niche, put in the information you need.
2. Give your three-sentence pitch.
Here’s the one I used last year: “While on tour, an ambitious raw upstart of a singer finds herself being schooled in How To Be a Rock Star by the charismatic frontman for the headliners. She’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. When his heart isn’t the only thing she steals from him, a whole lot more than her career is thrown into jeopardy.”
That’s all there is to it. Yes, the pitch took hours to refine to that level and it’s still clunky as anything, but if writing hooky pitches was easy we’d all be in advertising instead of novel writing. What I hoped was that people I pitched would ask “what else did she steal?” It worked.
3. Let the person you’re pitching follow up/ask questions.
Because you’re prepared, you’ve got comp titles and can talk more about your story. And once they’re done, you can ask questions of your own.
4. Share contact information.
Hand out your business card; get one in return. As mentioned above, verify the email and exactly what’s being requested and write it on the back of their business card. If you’re not finished with your novel, try to negotiate a time frame so that expectations can be set all around.
5.Thank the person you’ve pitched.
This step is easy to overlook, but if you thank the person whose ear you’ve been bending, you will not only make a great impression, you’ll also probably score good karma points as well.
That’s it. You’re all done! You’ve just done a successful in-person pitch. Now you can relax, kick back, take a deep breath…and move along to the next pitch session.
Resources for Pitching a Novel
Here are a few helpful resources on pitching. There are many more out there, so if these don’t resonate with you, keep searching.
- How to Pitch a Literary Agent in 5 Easy Steps from author Tomi Adeyemi
- 7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference from Writer’s Digest
- How to Pitch Agents at a Writers Conference from Jane Friedman
- How to Pitch an Agent in Person from literary agent Carly Watters