In October 2017, a new novel concept popped into my head. I completed my first draft during Nanowrimo, then five drafts and three months later, I packed my bags, put my two little cuties in my CRV, and drove ten hours to LTUE in Utah to pitch my completed novel.
Sometimes moms have to chase their dreams. (Shoutout to my amazing husband!)
My previous pitch sessions with publishers and agents taught me a lot, so during this round I felt like a tween wearing high heels for a second time. Hopefully, my ankles were a little stronger for this round. I pitched my novel to two publishers while I was there and received two partial requests. One month later, I signed my first book contract with Immortal Works!
Pitching to their chief editor, Holli Anderson, was such a good experience. I immediately loved every single person I met from their company. That's the amazing thing about pitching; both parties get to put a face to the name. I knew from talking and meeting with them that I felt comfortable working with these people. Not all of my pitches have gone that way.
I have been writing for seven years now and I have a spreadsheet of query rejection letters that would make your eye twitch. On this journey, I've found some great resources and also some really bad advice. So, hopefully, I can help sort through a few things that I wish I had known about getting ready to pitch.
1. Realize this will be a learning process.
After Theodore Geisel received his twenty-seventh publishing rejection he thought about burning his manuscript and giving up. He later became known as Dr. Seuss and currently sells 11,000 books a day. (You can read how he finally sold his first book here.) The point is, don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t think that rejection letters mean your ideas aren't good enough. You are buckling up for a long haul here, and while it's not for the faint of heart, you can do this! You can place your manuscript in the right pair of hands. You can handle rejection letters. You can be successful at whatever you choose to do. So decide now to keep learning, to push through rejections, and to celebrate the victories.
2. Finish your book.
Unless you’re writing non-fiction and have a book proposal (a whole different ball game), you need to have your manuscript in as good a shape as you can make it. If there’s still something you know needs to change, don’t pitch it until it’s done. Send it through a critique group to catch things you can’t see anymore. I'm not talking about fine syntax and punctuation; small errors won’t drive away editors. But the building blocks of your story, the characters, the things that need time and brainpower to work through... Get them done first. You can do it.
The backbone to your pitch is a query. Read about queries. Read how other people write them. Read agent and editor submission guidelines. I started with an e-book called From the Query to the Call by Elana Johnson. It's a great resource, and I highly recommend it. Queryshark is also a helpful to see what other people are writing and how they are being critiqued.
After I drafted my first query—I sent it to all the wrong people. You'll only be successful if you put your novel in the correct hands. Just because an agent accepts science fiction doesn't mean they will represent your steam-punk romance. Find books comparable to yours and find out who represents them. Those are your people.
Sending a query might seem easier than delivering a pitch. At least you can edit those words. Practice is the key to getting ready. Practice on your family, writers group, or even better- strangers! The girls in my writing group, Writing Through Brambles, have always been an amazing support. One year, they came up with the ingenious idea to make t-shirts for a conference we were all attending that said "Ask me about (insert current novel name here)". All weekend, I had strangers stopping me to ask me about my book. I started with my logline, then if they were interested I'd launch into the rest of my pitch. It helped me get over my jitters before I actually went in to pitch it to publishers.
Warning: some of the bad advice I saw online was to "always sign up for pitch sessions, even if they don't represent your kind of work. You can always use the practice." Agents/Editors are not the people you practice on. Not only is it a waste of your money, but it's a waste of their time. Treat them professionally.
6. Prepare for questions.
Know your book inside and out before you go into a pitch session. Publishers and agents can ask you anything. Here are a few examples of questions I had during a few of my pitches.
Example #1: After I gave my log line, the editor asked detailed questions about my story arc, character motivations, the height of the conflict, and costs. By the end of the session, they knew my story so well they picked out a plot hole and gave revision recommendations.
Example #2: The editor liked my idea, then asked if I had any other work. Luckily, I was prepared to pitch a second novel, because that’s the one they were most interested in.
Example #3: The editor and I had a great chat, then things started wrapping up early. They asked if I had any final questions or statements. I took that time to give them my bio and marketing abilities. I wouldn't have thought to include those things if I hadn't prepared to answer them.
This is your moment. Have fun with it! Pitching shows the agent/editor you are interested specifically in them. It puts a face to your name on your query. It's your time to show your passion for your story. You've got this!
Imagine the query slush pile as a line at the DMV. You'll eventually get your turn, but waiting is part of the process. Pitching is scheduling an appointment to get you to the front of the line (I wish I would have learned about that DMV function sooner). Remember that editors and agents are human. I pitched to someone who was having a bad day once. The pitch didn't go so well. That's okay. I got really nervous during a pitch and didn't come across very professional. I survived. We are all human. Just keep trying and you'll find those magical moments where you and the editor/agent click and have a genuine moment to connect. Those are the people you are looking for.
8. Plan your post-pitch-cool-down.
Pitching is exciting and it's likely you'll have plenty of adrenaline going when you're done. Everyone I know has a different reaction. Some shiver. Some talk faster than normal. Me—I feel like sprinting around the block post pitch (I always wear my Brooks running shoes to conferences). My writing buddy, Bree Moore, had a great suggestion to plan how to come off of that adrenaline. Maybe plug into your i-pod and listen to some meditative music... or something more hardcore if you need to rock out.
If it goes good or bad, celebrate your accomplishment. I was lucky to immediately have these wonderful ladies around me to celebrate with. They are the best support I could possibly ask for. I am so excited for you and your journey and would love to see your comments with pitch successes and ways you prep. Best of luck to all of you!