A great pitch can sell a novel. It makes your writing stand out before the publisher has read the first word, getting them excited about your novel. When novel writers talk about pitching, it usually means a verbal, one-on-one with a publisher or agent where your novel may then be requested, read and considered for publication. These opportunities are often part of conferences or festivals, like SA Writers Centre’s Adelaide Pitch Conference or the Salisbury Writers Festival.
There are countless advantages to pitching. You get to sell your novel directly to a publisher or agent who will remember your face when they receive that (usually) email afterwards. You know who’s reading your novel and that it’s being read, rather than sitting at the bottom of a slush pile. You can engage in a discussion about your novel, where the publisher extracts the information they’re particularly interested in.
Most pitch sessions are about five minutes long. Some writers prefer to talk off the cuff about their writing, while others give the bare minimum of details before engaging in an organic discussion about the novel. President of New York Writers Workshop, Tim Tomlinson, who hosts several pitch conferences annually, advises that writers plan out a pitch of 90 seconds to two minutes that they either memorise or read during their session, leaving time for questions and answers at the end. This way, you know you’ll say everything you needed to say. You’re also more likely to be articulate and clear about your message. Besides, this material will then make up your cover letter to publishers or agents.
So what should your pitch include? A pitch tells the publisher why they should read the story, whereas a synopsis answers the question of ‘what is the story?’ It should include the title, length and genre of your novel; a short description of what happens; your target audience; where it fits in the market (i.e. books similar to yours, or authors similar to you – also known as “comp titles”); and your bio.
Here are some things to think about before you write your pitch:
- Is your book finished? (You shouldn’t pitch an unfinished book, because the publisher or agent may want to see it in a timely manner.)
- Who is the publisher/agent you’re pitching to? Do they have similar books to yours? Have you read them? Why do you think it would be a good fit for that publisher/agent?
- Who is your audience?
- What’s unique about your book?
- Where does it fit on the shelves?
- Which titles/authors does your work resemble?
- How might you assist with selling the book?
- What is your tagline?
- How can you quickly and simply describe your book/what happens?
- Why did you choose the setting?
- What gave you the idea?
- Which authors inspire you / who are your favourite authors?
- Have you been published before or won any writing awards?
- Why should they read it?
- What’s the central conflict?
- How would telling your pitch to 25 million people change what you say?
Once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, it’s time to start writing your pitch. Not all this information will make it into your final draft, but being clear about these things will help you to write a better pitch. You may also be asked some of these questions in your pitch.
Tips for writing your pitch:
- Lead with a hook; this could be a quirky idea or a question.
- Identify the protagonist and the setting through the exposition, which links it all together.
- Include just enough to sell your book, and then stop before you give the publisher a reason not to buy it.
- The title is important.
- The language should be lively, engaging and sophisticated. It may connect to the tone of the book, but don’t write your pitch in the style of the book.
- Mention your authority: what qualifies you to write this book?
- Be specific (e.g. define your book by one genre, not 2 or more)
- Use plenty of adjectives
You may not be able to read the publisher/agent in a pitch session, or you might receive immediate feedback. Remember that they’re all human and approachable. Don’t interrupt them or assume you know where a question is leading. Be polite and professional. Think of your pitch like a job application. It is also your chance to ask questions, if you have any.
If you get the chance, certainly consider signing up to pitch your manuscript. They usually garner a high number of requests. At SA Writers Centre’s Adelaide Pitch Conference, 62% of pitches resulted in a request. Even if you aren’t successful, you have the experience, you’ve met a publisher or agent, and you’ve spent time honing a pitch that you can then use with other publishers/agents.
Sarah Gates pitched at the 2015 Adelaide Pitch Conference and Romance Writers of Australia conference. Her contemporary romance novel was requested by all seven publishers: Hachette, Harlequin, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Random Romance, Simon & Schuster, and Tule Publishing. Sarah’s novel, Love Elimination, comes out in July 2016.
NB: SA Writers Centre will host another pitch conference late 2016. Keep your eye on our website and enews for details.