Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Be Published You Must Learn To Pitch

Thankfully this kind of pitching does not involve any coordination!
(I looked for a picture of me with a ball. The closest thing I could find was blowing bubbles.)

If you want to get your book on a shelf without self-publishing you need a publisher.
If you want a publisher you need an editor.
If you want an editor you need an agent.
If you want an agent you need to learn how to pitch.  Sort of. 

Basically the pitch is your novel narrowed down to the juicy bits and delivered in under a minute.  If an agent thinks it sounds even vaguely promising they will ask you to send them some variety of sample pages. They might request the first three chapters, 50 pages, a synopsis and 25 page, or the whole shebang-it's really their personal preference.

If your material is requested, you are one step up the "pile-archy" from those sending in their work unsolicited.  That stuff goes in the slush pile, which is big and ugly and lowest in priority.  Not that the solicited pile is all that exclusive-there are plenty of possibles all nestled in there together.

So, if an agent likes your book, likes you, and (most importantly) thinks your book will sell enough to make it worth the effort, then you enter into a partnership.  This could involve agent suggested/required edits.  When your agent thinks your book is up to snuff, then she will will try and sell it to an editor on your behalf in exchange for a cut. And it's far from over at that point, but at least you are now traveling on the right road. 

"Look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!"

Can you sell a book directly to the publisher?  Yes, in theory.  But the odds are even longer AND your agent knows the industry and knows the people in the industry so her odds are better than yours alone.

For me this is the next goal.  Land an agent.

At the PNWA conference there are agents on the lookout for authors and authors on the lookout for agents. The agents are all listed in the big glossy program guide like mail order brides. All attendees wear color coded tags with their name and genre (of our writing not ourselves although you could make the argument) on a lanyard around the neck.  There is a lot time spent of surreptitiously and blatantly staring at chests. It's basically an awkward dating pool without the sexual tension. No one here can play coy-we all want the same thing.

When you're ready to mingle, there are organized pitching sessions where you register to meet face to face with a single agent or a speed session where you get two minutes with four agents.  And there is also the dreaded elevator pitch where you corner the poor thing in the hallway and let 'er rip.

This year I did one appointment and one elevator - both agent's requested pages.  This is a very good thing, but not really that surprising. With many shy, beige clad authors blushing about the place, I am of a different feather.  Can I engagingly sell myself in a memorized piece of less than one minute? Yes! The whole actor thing comes in mighty handy in the pitch situation, but will the writing stand up to sales talk?
Pitchin and bitchin both come naturally to me, but now it's all about the next step.  Sending in those pages and waiting....


fuzzymango said...

Hi there! Fantasy Campaign Group 3 right here. Oh, and Fred the Raptor says 'hi"...:-)

This was a fun and informative post! I've read a lot about pitching, but most of it has been from an agent's perspective, so it's interesting to see it from the other side--I laughed out loud at the awkward dating pool analogy. :-p You truly are lucky to be able to count yourself as a differently-feathered bird, because I have to confess that (to me) the idea of pitching a novel is pretty damn scary. I have some theatre background as well, but I always hated auditions because I was so uncomfortable with that sort of focused scrutiny.

Then again, seeing as I have yet to attend a writing conference, there's not much point in worrying about it. Anyhow, break a leg with those pages you sent in! :-)

Kate Swenson said...

I really recommend a conference, a positive atmosphere, inspiring, informational, and confidence building. (And I am sure Fred would be welcomed.) The first time I pitched I was sweating like a butcher - like most things it just got easier! Best of luck!!