Novel Pitching Made Easy

*taps glass*

I have an announcement.  A discovery, actually.  An epiphany that will make pitching your novel easy peasy.

Dear Daughter has been away at speech camp.  Yeah, they actually have such a thing, and it’s more rigorous than one can imagine.  Just last night, she had a four-hour-long, one-on-one coaching session from 7 to 11 pm.  That’s coming off a 7am start and a jam-packed day of speech prep.  Day five.

After a midnight text exchange–with her bouncing intro ideas off me–and another text session beginning at five thirty this morning, we finally pinned down her introduction.

And guess what?  It’s an awful lot like pitching your novel.  In theory, anyway.

The pitch (aka, DD’s speech intro) has the sole purpose of intriguing our potential agents/editors/readers.  We have, like, twelve seconds to nab their attention.  Gnats live longer than the attention spans of those we are pitching to.

A dry summary of our book is not gonna do it.  Five words in and our potentials will be wondering who’s going to text them next, or what they’re going to eat for lunch, or why we’re wasting their air space with useless words. 

The pitch has to grab them from word one, pull them into the story and make them want to read.  The last thing we want them to think is, “So what?  Why should I care?”

 And that’s exactly what DD’s speech coaches said yesterday with every intro she brought to them.  “So what?  Why should I keep listening to you?”

Ouch.

But for me, it really hit home, and I learned a thing or two that could help you when writing your pitch–whether it’s for a pitch conference or the beginning hook of your query letter.

Here’s what I think I know about the elusive pitch.

  • A pitch has to stand out from the crowd.  At a speech tourney, the judges hear dozens of speeches throughout the day.  In the writing world, agents and editors receive dozens–if not hundreds–of queries a day.  If they all started exactly the same…well, I don’t need to expound on that.
  • A pitch has to make a personal connection, whether through content, voice or unique phrasing.  At a speech tourney, it’s easy to let your mind wander to the clock, the glass of water in front of you or what the speechie is wearing.  In the writing world, it’s even easier to hit the delete key and move on to the next query that doesn’t hold your attention.
  • A pitch has to flow.  Every word must roll together, like a wave drawing a swimmer away from the shore.  It must be fluid and lyrical, and above all else,  crystal clear.  The minute you leave a speech judge or an editor scratching his head, wondering what in the heck you just said, you’ve lost your forward momentum.

…and the things that might help when writing one.

  • Find a unique bent.  First, sum up your novel in a few words.  (DD’s speech novel: it’s about a girl who gets addicted to drugs, is depressed and struggles to find herself.)  This theme is tired.  Hibernate for the winter exhausted.  So, your next step is to absolutely pin down what makes your novel different. (The loss of morality and the ease in which we can lose our moral compass.  How easy it is to blur the lines until they are so wide we no longer see what is wrong.)
  • Make a connection.  Consider your audience.  Why are you pitching them?  What makes each agent a good fit for your book?  Why will your future readers want to read your novel?  Once you uncover the nature of your audience, you can begin to make your pitch relevant.  In the case of DD’s speech: we have all blurred our moral lines.  Even I swiped a cute little butter dish from a restaurant once because we forgot a water dish for our puppy.  Not a proud moment, but relevant in context of DD’s speech.  If I were an agent, editor or judge at a tourney, my attention would be grabbed by a pitch that brought to light my own guilt.  Suddenly, I have an interest in hearing about the downward spiral from a simple misstep to a life of addiction and pain.
  • Make your words sing.  For speeches and pitch conferences, we literally speak out loud to our audience.  Our words must be fluid and  fresh.  They must entice us with their rhythm and leave little doubt in our mind about the message we are presenting.  In queries, we must show potential readers that we are capable of creating solid prose on paper with no words wasted.  Our written voice must be as compelling as our spoken one.

Consider these two versions of DD’s intro.

We all make mistakes, and when we do, the consequences can be devestating.  Crossing a moral line can lead to drug use and alcohol addiction.  This is what happened to (insert author’s name) in (insert title here). 

versus

Have you ever felt your morals slip?  Taken one step to the left of the line when you should have gone right?  It starts innocently enough.  A kiss that lasts too long—who was that guy anyway?  One drink too many or a quick toke on a MaryJane—after all, pot’s not a gateway drug.  Or how about that super cool glass at the restaurant?  Yeah, you know the one.  It’s in your cupboard now. 

Have you ever felt your morals slip?  If you have, watch out for the downward spiral.  It happens.  Drugs, alcohol, theft and one bed too many.  Before you know it, you’re addicted, (insert title here that actually flows with the sentence), a memoir by (insert authorn).

See what a difference word choice makes?

Have you ever pitched your novel live?  If so, share your tips for success.  Query writers: have you ever taken your audience into consideration when writing your query?  I mean really paid attention to who they are and what they like so you can connect with them better?

Curious minds want to know.

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9 responses to “Novel Pitching Made Easy

  1. Great post, as usual. The one time I’ve pitched live, I didn’t start off by pitching. I had a 20 minute window with an author (long story) to discuss anything I wanted including my query. I wanted to discuss other things and that seemed to relax him. We had a wonderful, nice long conversation and had a few minutes left, so I asked him if I could read him the query just for grins. He said sure and his comment was, “Actually, there’s nothing wrong with your query. Usually there’s something to fix. Send me the entire ms and I’ll send it to my contacts.” Since his contact includes a wife who’s an agent, I sent it, of course. LOL But I think the key to that session was, 1. I did something unexpected and asked an unusual question. This left us both relaxed. 2. I was professional the whole time. 3. I had a good pitch ready to go when he said “yes.”

    • What an awesome story. And what great contacts!

      We should always be ready for the unexpected, which means knowing exactly what our novels are about. More so than we think we need to know. Great reminder, Victorua.

  2. Excellent post, Cate!

  3. Great advice! It really is about flow and word choice and voice, isn’t it? If it doesn’t lure the reader in, we are toast! Hope DD has a great time at the camp!

  4. Excellent advice, Cat! Great how our kids teach us at times.

  5. Pingback: Blog Treasures 8-6 « Gene Lempp's Blog

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