So you’ve finished. The book you’ve slaved over and slept with for months or years is complete. Congratulations! Writing THE END is as pure a joy as you’re ever likely to feel.
Now it’s time to sell that puppy.
In the old days, authors used to submit to editors directly. Today, most houses won’t even accept unsolicited submissions. To get read at a major house, you need an agent.
Here’s the good news: agents want books. Desperately. After all, people become agents because they love good books. All you have to do is show them that yours is a good book.
And one of the best ways to do that is with a pitch session.
Happily, there are a couple of easy tricks to pitching your book. If you follow them, odds are agents will want to look at your work. It really is that simple.
First impressions matter. Dress appropriately — business casual is a good guide — and greet them with a smile and a handshake. It’s easy to be nervous, but remember, these folks want what you’re trying to sell. So take a deep breath, wipe your palms off, and let them see that you believe in yourself.
You paid for your book with sweat and tears. Don’t skimp on your pitch. Write it in advance, and make sure it tells the central conflict in the book without getting bogged down into every detail. Give them a good, hooky presentation and they’ll be interested. Here’s the pitch I used for THE BLADE ITSELF (warning–spoilers):
Danny Carter used to be the man with the plan, a cool-headed criminal who always made the smart play. But these days he doesn’t think about his past. He’s built a normal life, with a job, a long-term girlfriend, and a condo as far as possible from the blue-collar streets where he grew up.
But when his former partner Evan is released from prison, Danny’s carefully constructed world begins to crumble. Evan is now a hardened killer with dreams of a big score. He wants to ransom the son of Danny’s millionaire boss — and he needs Danny’s help.
Doing the job could cost Danny his career, his relationship, and his freedom.
Refusing could cost him his life.
It’s a character-driven thriller about 90,000 words long, kind of in the style of Dennis Lehane or George Pelecanos.
Can I send you the first 50 pages?
Notice how simple the above is? I trimmed out subplots and side characters, boiling the plot down to its essence. Get people excited about the idea.
I also didn’t expect the agent to remember a lot of names. After all, they’re hearing this, not reading it, and they may hear a hundred more over the course of a conference. Use the name of your main character and label others by their role.
Also, and this is crucial, the pitch must establish the stakes. What is at risk? We read novels to see how characters perform in situations we’ve never had to face. There has to be risk, and you need to lay it out clearly.
Know Your Story, Know Your Pitch
While there’s no rule against bringing notes or a printed sheet into a pitch, it doesn’t inspire confidence.
At the same time, don’t memorize your pitch word for word, or you’ll seem mechanical. Instead, read it over and over until you have the gist of it down cold. That way you’ll be fresh and engaging. Don’t worry if you don’t say every single word you wrote.
Respect Their Time
For an agent, attending a pitch session can be grueling. They’re locked in a tiny room in the basement of a hotel, listening to strangers rattle on about stories they don’t know. Sure, they’re panning for gold. But there’s a lot of mud to sift through.
That means that one of the best things you can do is be brief. Pitch session are often ten minutes long; be able to finish yours in one. Don’t worry that you won’t hit every detail. There’s plenty of time for the agent to ask questions. And with brevity, you demonstrate that you understand the rules of storytelling well enough to clearly explain your own.
Besides, an author who leaves an agent time to go to the bathroom and get a cup of coffee is an author who can count on that agent’s goodwill.
If you’ve followed the rules, chances are the agent will ask you to send a partial (usually the first 50 pages or so) or a full, meaning the whole manuscript. Congratulations!
When you send the manuscript, include a brief cover letter reminding them where you met and summarizing your story. Be sure to mark the envelope or email REQUESTED MATERIALS in big black letters. Agents get hundreds of blind submissions a week, and you don’t want to be lumped in with them.
After all, you were pitch perfect.