17 July 2011

How to pitch a romance novel

I know it's after RWA Nationals and many of romance writers have this step behind them, but since I couldn't go to NY this year and I'm going to our local RWNZ conference next month, I've decided to give pitching a go.

I have never pitched in person before, but I'm no longer a pitching virgin - at the end of an e-course on pitching I did last month we had an opportunity to pitch to an agent. My pitch didn't get me any requests, but I got very valuable feedback.

From what I have learnt from different sources, although a pitch should always contain the essence of your book, what is that essence varies according to the genre. This is a summary of how to pitch a romance novel.

1. Finish the b***y book. Finish and polish. And polish more.
It has to be ready for submission at the time of query/pitch.

2. Find an agent/editor. Search Writers and Artists  Yearbook, Writers' Handbook etc, browse the Internet (check Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents website), check your favourite authors, writing communities; go to a library or a bookshop; possibilities are endless. You need to end up with a list of agents (editors) who accept books in your genre, preferably with some similar (not necessarily exactly the same) novels published or accepted recently.
If you can compare your writing/your novel to one of the authors/books represented by the agent you're approaching, mention it in your pitch/query. If the agent was recommended to you by your writing friend - mention it.

3. Write your pitch. The length of your pitch depends on the circumstances (see great post by Nathan Bransford), but the one I'm after is so called 'elevator pitch'.
Christine Withhohn at Pitch University suggests that you ask yourself what your book really is about (the hook), while keeping your audience in mind (genre). Write it down in 1-3 sentences. Check if every piece of information is necessary (i.e. the story wouldn't be the same if this element was changed or deleted).
Tidy it up, e.g.
1st sentence - enticing incident, story premise
2nd sentence  - internal conflict of your main character (characters)
3rd sentence - end with a hook; don't tell how the book ends- the pitch is a teaser, designed to whet the agent/editor's appetite for more.

Don't abuse semicolons, don't try to cram too much info into your pitch.
Don't forget to include the genre and word count in your pitch and whether or not the novel is finished (it better be finished - see p 1).

4. Polish. Polish. Polish.

5. Practice - in the shower, with a friend, ask your critique partner or someone form your writing group for feedback.

6. Get ready for the day. Perfect your style.

photo by Ambro

7. Follow through. If you're lucky and the agent is interested in your book, they usually ask for a partial (usually synopsis with the first 3 chapters, or the first 50 pages) or a full manuscript. Usually it should be send within 2-3 business days after the pitch was requested. So there is enough time to check the agent website to tweak details like font type and size, margins etc, but NO TIME for finishing the book (see p. 1).

Include a brief letter, reminding the agent where and when you've met; how you enjoyed the meeting; it's a good idea to include your original pitch to refresh the Agent's memory.
Include a short paragraph with some details about you - your previous publishing successes, professional affiliation (e.g. RWA, RWNZ), any other credits (e.g. writing contests won).
Thank the Agent for their time.

8. Wait.

In the meantime, you can practice pitching and pitch online to a variety of agents and editors - there is a number of websites where you can do it, e.g. Savvy Authors and Pitch University

Have you got any tips for pitching virgins and second timers? Share them!

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