Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pitching Your Book

Written by Carolyn Hughey

This month I’d like to focus on pitching to an agent or editor.

For those of you who have never done this before, sitting across from one of the industry professionals can be a little a daunting at first, but I hope by the time you finish reading this, you’ll feel better.

So, relax, take a deep breath, and if push comes to shove, you can read your pitch right off a card--you know, the 3 X 5 index card you wrote it on.

I remember my first pitch. I’d written it down on cards, practiced until I was blue in the face, then two hours before post time, I attended a workshop designed to polish your pitch. Bad mistake—very bad. Not because the workshop didn’t provide good information—I was so nervous, I couldn’t absorb what she was saying. I suddenly began to doubt myself, convinced my pitch was going to make me the laughing stock at conference. I walked outside and sat on a bench trying to come up with something else. Fortunately for me, a friend walked by and within ten minutes, she gave me a pitch. She’s so good at that stuff. But so are you. You just don’t know it yet.

So, here’s what I’m suggesting. Think High Concept. What is High Concept, you say? Well, it’s pitching your novel to a publisher in one sentence. If the concept alone is different enough, you're going to have a much better shot.
Now, think about your story in elements. What one thing about your story gives your audience a visual—a universal icon? What’s the unique twist? What’s the irony of the story?

Sometimes when I’m having difficulty with the High Concept idea, I play the “what if” game. By way of example here’s one from my WIP entitled The Missing.

What if a teddy bear belonging to a boy who’s been missing for ten years, suddenly appears on his parents doorstep?
I’ll break this down into elements so you get the idea:
Universal Icon: Teddy Bear
Unique Twist: the missing child ten years later
Irony: the bear came back, but not the child.

Weren’t you able to visualize that sad little worn-out teddy bear? You just know this is going to be a gut-wrenching story, don’t you? Okay, so now it’s your turn.

Another nifty tool you can use to develop your pitch is located on Cathy Carmichael’s website at: All you have to do is fill in the blanks and it generates a pitch for you.

Lastly, remember this: no matter how you feel inside, unless you’re turning green, no one but you knows how you feel. I promise, you’re going to be awesome! Now, get out there and sell that story. And remember, these agents and editors you’re pitching to? They’re going to be working for you—you’re just going to interview them to see if they’re a fit.

See? Now doesn’t that make you feel better?

Posted for Carolyn Hughey by LaVerne St. George.


Carol Hutchens said...

Wonderful information, Carolyn. Thanks for the tips. And thanks to LaVerne, too.

I.J. Parnham said...

Interesting, thanks. I have to admit this is an alien world as I've never met an editor or ever felt an urge to contact an agent.

But even if I've avoided this trial I still end up writing query letters and the principles sound the same of trying to sell your story. I try to sum up what the central point of my story is in one sentence, and ideally phrased as a what if question. It never fails to amaze me how hard that is. I wrote it, I should know what it's about... and yet I don't!

Zelda Benjamin said...

Thanks for the info. I put Cathy's link on my facebook wall.

Beate Boeker said...

Thank you, Carolyn! That was very interesting . . . I'll think about my "High Concept" on my flight to Washington, and I hope I'll get a satisfactory result in those six hours