Tips on Pitching Your Story
by Susan May Warren
Are you attending the Oregon Christians Writers’ Conference this summer? (If not, you should be!)
A writers’ conference is a great place to pitch your story. But it can be daunting to sit across the table from an editor or agent and sell them on your story. Here are a few tips:
You’re not really competing.
Huh? I know the world might say otherwise, but, for believers, if you truly believe that God has your life in His hands then you step forward with faith and He’ll move the mountains. He arranges every appointment, every moment in the elevator or hallway, every “accidental” editor meeting—all of it. So, don’t panic. He’s got this.
Do your homework.
First, when you pitch, you should have already done your homework to know which agent or editor to pitch to. Every house/agency takes different manuscripts, and you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Know what other books they have published that are similar to yours and know how yours is different. Have some answers as to why it would be a good fit in that publishing house. An agent might even ask you where you see this book being published. Be prepared so you can give an informed answer.
Remember that a great writing voice is personality on the page, so your personality as you meet people and pitch to editors and agents gives them a clue as to how you write. If you are in a pitching appointment, shake hands, introduce yourself, smile, and offer your one-sheet.
They’ll probablyook at it and say, “How are you today?” or something to break the ice. Go ahead and make friends, briefly, and then segue into your pitch.
“I’m great, Mr. Anderson. I enjoyed your class, ‘Writing the Bestseller.’ Intriguing. I’ve written a contemporary romance that hope fits your best-seller category . . . A story about a talk show host to the lovelorn who has never had a date. Why? Because she is waiting for the perfect man. But when he moves in next door, will she recognize him? It’s set in small-town Minnesota and is a story about being trapped by our fears and how perfect love can set us free.”
“Interesting. Why hasn’t she had a date?”
“Good question. She’s agoraphobic. When her mother was killed in an auto accident and died in her arms, fear took control of her life and trapped her in a tiny radius around her home. But she has a national talk show and no one knows it, including the new football coach who moved in next door—someone who drives her crazy. See, he’s got his own scars and secrets after being wounded in Iraq, and he’s hiding something too. When he starts calling the show, in need of help to befriend the neighbor, they begin to fall for each other online, without realizing they are neighbors. But will their love last when they discover the truth? And what will their secrets cost them?”
“Why would this make a sellable story?”
“Think You’ve Got Mail, set in small-town America with a little Friday Night Lights thrown in. It’s something I could see trade-size at Tyndale or Waterbrook Multnomah.”
Now, here’s where he’ll pause. He might ask you more questions. He might ask how long you’ve been writing. Or if this is a stand-alone or part of series. He might ask where you got your idea. He might offer ideas to improve it. He might ask to have you send a proposal.
Obviously, we wish editors would say, “Hey, I love this” and pull out a contract right there. Not gonna happen. It’s wise to arm yourself with some sort of feedback question for that situation.
Be armed with an answer, something that allows them to give you real, usable feedback: “How can I make the story more compelling?” or “How could I tweak this to make it more sellable?”
The key is to use this time to talk about your story.
There is nothing worse than to have an author pitch their story, then sit back and smile, and make the agent/editor fill in the blank space. You have 15 minutes to communicate your vision for this book—use it!
The difference between the 15-minute appointment and the elevator pitch is the amount of time you have to sell your story.
In an elevator, or in line to eat, or even at dinner, you have one sentence. If they like it, then go ahead and offer your premise. If they ask for your card before you get off the elevator, then you’ve done your job.
The 15-minute appointment is designed to let you sell your story, your way. Yes, use your pitch, use your premise. And here’s a hint: Don’t memorize your premise word by word. That feels canned. Let the story come out on its own, with enthusiasm. You know your story—just tell it. And let your passion for it do the rest.
Is your story ready to be pitched? Not sure? Join me for my “All Glammed Up” Nite Owl at the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference where we take one last look at our proposals to make sure they’re ready for the big world!
See you there!
Susan May Warren is the best-selling, multi-award-winning novelist of more than 45 books. With over one million books in print, her novels have been translated into French, Dutch, Polish, German, Swedish, Ukrainian, and Italian, and are on the bookshelves around the world, as far away as South Africa, Australia, and Russia. She’s been featured in Christian Women Today magazine and has appeared on The Harvest Show and other national television shows. She also runs a craft and coaching community for more than 1,500 novelists, teaching them how to get published—and continue to be published. Check it out at: www.mybooktherapy.com and www.susanmaywarren.com.