Come this Thursday I’ll be leading a workshop at the New York Pitch Conference. This is where I sold my first book (The Fiction Class), met my agent, and met the editor who bought Maggie Dove in its first incarnation. So it’s a happy place for me. But it’s also a really intense place. People come from all over the world to pitch their novels to editors from the big traditional publishing houses. There’s a lot at stake.
My job is to stay calm. (In the picture below, I’m the short one in the middle. 🙂 )
I’m also there to help the participants write their pitches, which usually involves me saying many times, “You can cut that.” Which brings me to some pitching advice.
1. Keep in short. I have read a 150-word pitch for War and Peace. It can be done. The idea is not to cram every last fact down the editor’s throat, but rather to entice her with your book so that she will ask to read it. Then you can start cramming down facts.
2. Make sure you include setting in your pitch. So many people buy books because of where they’re set. (Read Sharon’s Miss Demeanor post from yesterday.) I want to know if a book takes place in Wyoming or Long Island or ancient Egypt. Even if it’s not that important to the story (and it should be), make sure to include it.
3. Give me a sense of your writing style. Don’t tell me you’re funny. Write something funny. I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve written really dry pitches and then said to the editor, this is hysterically funny. No.
4. Don’t view your pitch as a plot synopsis. I don’t want a recitation of things that happened. I want a sense of the story. I want to be intrigued. Curious. What’s the most interesting thing going on in the novel? Give me a sense of that.
5. Pitches can be useful as a diagnostic tool. If you realize that the most interesting thing in your novel is on page 267, then maybe you want to put in more interesting things earlier.
6. Have fun! People always say this and I feel dubious about it, but really it’s true. A novel is a labor of passion. You’ve worked hard on yours. You love it and it’s fabulous and now there are editors who are going to sit there and hear you talk about it. That should be a little fun.
Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She teaches novel-writing at Gotham Writers and is on the staff of the New York Pitch Conference. www.susanjbreen.com