Our Summer Vacation: Pitching Your Book

OUR WRITING ROADMAPI’ve been doing posts all summer with some tips for writing your novel. Each of the steps I’ve talked about–plotting, finding voice, editing–are part of the writing process. They can take months. Sometimes work gets stuck in one of those steps, and is abandoned for a period of time. Never think that you are wasting time on any part of this process. Writing is a craft, and takes practice.

Once your book is “done”, you need to get ready to pitch it. Note, I put done in quotes, because it is such a relative term. I’ve read stories I’ve had published, and wanted to change things. I’m rereading a manuscript I wrote a long time ago, and pitched several times. It is good, but I can make it better now. It is a fine line between a work being “good enough” or “not quite there”. Make sure you don’t publish prematurely.

Assuming you are ready to go to the next step, you need to make decisions about your path of publication. Do you want to go the traditional route, and find an agent who then pitches to an editor?Are you going to self publish? Are you going to pitch directly to a small press? There’s a lot to this decision, and I can talk about that more in a later post.

Today, I want to talk to you about the pitch itself. Imagine this, you’re in a elevator and an agent gets on with you. You chat, they find out you’re a writer, and they say “tell me about your book”.

Do you:

a) stammer and start telling them the story in details and you barely get past the first chapter when the elevator door opens and the agent runs away.

b) tell them your pitch as a conversation opener, and then have time to answer a few questions before the door opens.

The answer is, of course, b. But you’d be surprised how challenging getting that pitch down can be. Here are some of the things I try and keep in mind:

  • Make it a hundred words or less. It should take you two or three minutes tops.
  • Make it conversational. Don’t rush, try not to fumble with words.
  • Don’t tell the story. Talk about the theme–why are you telling this story? What is the hook? Why should they care?
  • Who are you pitching to? What can you change so it hits what interests them?

Those are some of the things to think about. So much easier said than done. But practice your pitch. Know it back and forth. You’ll use it at conferences, at meetings, in queries, in marketing materials. It’s never too early to think about your pitch. Who knows, it may help you focus your story while you are writing it.

My pitch for Clock and Dagger, the second book in my Clock Shop Mystery series is that Ruth Clagan is settling into Orchard, MA, and about to hold four parties in as many days when the past creeps up and threatens her new life. She has to find a murderer, and protect her family before the New Year rings in.

nhwn books clock daggerClock and Dagger was published yesterday, August 2. If you go over to the Wicked Cozy Authors and comment on the blog talking about the debut (at the link) you may be entered to win a copy of the book.

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The second book in the series, Clock and Dagger, was published on August 2. She is over the moon!

Pitching to a magazine in your niche

Because this blog is all about sharing information on being a writer, I’m going to walk you through how I just recently snagged 3 paying articles in a national magazine.

1I had noticed on a facebook post that a magazine about chickens had just gotten a new editor.  He had written a refreshingly honest first editorial where he openly admitted that, while he was an accomplished editor, he still had lots to learn about chickens.

I read the editorial and then I immediately composed a letter of introduction. I started it off with a sincere warm letter of congratulations on his new position.  The chicken community is actually a fairly tight-knit group of people, we know of the writers, the experts, and we will go out of our way to help anyone who needs assistance.

I gave the editor a short list of my chicken credentials (I hold workshops, have a backyard flock) followed by a short list of my writing credentials (chicken blog, blogger for Grit and Chicken Communities, and regional journalist.) I also provided links to some of my online articles.  

I then pitched 6 article ideas, here are two of the pitches –

  •  Shaming chickens – we all have them. Although we’d like to think that our chickens are angels on earth, at times, they can be very naughty (like when my hen pecked off the “H” key from my husband’s new laptop keyboard.)
  • House chickens – because of medical needs and bad timing with the seasons, we ended up having a chicken live in our house for 6 months. It’s not as crazy as you might think, chickens do make good pets (except for that poop thing and even then, people have come up with solutions for that.)

 Lastly, I offered to provide all the photos for any of my stories.

In essence what I had done was:

·         Said hello and made a connection
·         Introduced myself
·         Established myself as an expert in the field (why I mattered)
·         Established myself as a competent writer
·         Pitched article package ideas
·         Finished up with saying that I’d love to work with him

That afternoon, the editor sent email requesting 3 stories roughly 1000 – 1200 words each with photos.

So what are the take-aways from this?

Be known for a niche. This particular niche happens to be chickens. I’m also known as a disability rights, parenting, and thrift writer. I tailored this pitch to a very specific niche and only used the credentials that supported my experience in this particular area.

Pitch, pitch, pitch. A few weeks back, I answered a question  from a reader of this blog where I described the process for a formal pitch. In a formal pitch, you have to include estimated word count, photos, an outline of the article, and a list of the references and resources you’ll be tapping for the article. In this case, however, I had already established myself as a competent writer, what I wanted to do was to let him know that I could come up with quick, quirky, and interesting article ideas.  So I used the multiple “headline” version of a pitch where I throw out an idea (possible headline) and then describe it in a sentence or two. I was trusting him to let me take it from there if he wanted me to pursue an idea.

Be ballsy. Seriously, I am so busy that I didn’t have time to think “oh gee, but if I send him this email, he might think I’m being overly-confident or needy.” I sent the email with absolutely no expectations. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some hope, but I knew that this was nothing more than a shot in the evening dusk which quite surprisingly turned out to be a direct hit.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)