Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to Pitch Your Book

I've been a terrible little blogger. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Of course, in my defense, I've also had a lot of work to do and such. So, I'm sorry it's taken me this long to update. But anyway ...

As you may or not know, I made it through the pitch round of ABNA. Hooray! This happened like ... a month ago. In fact, in two days the quarterfinals will be announced. So ... we'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I would like to write a post about why pitching your novel is so important.

This subject was mostly brought to my attention by the ABNA forums. There was one thread in particular discussing whether or not pitches were important. Several entrants kept arguing that pitches are unfair, since they're a marketing tool and don't actually demonstrate your writing ability. So basically, in this point of view, pitches only show how good you are at marketing and not how good of a writer you are.

In my humble opinion, this is untrue. Being able to write a good pitch does indeed convey your writing skills. Yes, it also involves your marketing abilities, but that's also a part of being a good writer. As I wrote in my responses in the ABNA forum:

Being able to pitch your book is an important skill. It compels you to really figure out where the heart of your story is. ... 
... You can't just like to write novels. If you want to be skilled at any kind of writing, you need to learn many different techniques. Creative writing, analytical writing, persuasive writing ... It's all important to know how to do. Writing novels may be your specialty, but that doesn't mean you should ignore all other types of writing. And yes, being able to write a pitch is very different from writing a novel, but it's equally important. It's about getting to the point--establishing main character, setting, stakes, etc. And being able to choose your words carefully is a skill that carries over into any type of writing. 
... If you write a horrible pitch, you most likely can't write a good novel either. Agents/publishers/etc. want to see that you know how to use the rules of grammar, that you know how to make a point, that you make proper word choices, etc. If you can't do this, it's a sign that your manuscript might not be well-written, either. After that, it comes down to a matter of taste; the story may or may not appeal to the agent/publisher, but that's beyond your control. It may not be particularly fair, but that's the way it works.

And, I stand by that opinion. I believe writers should learn to write in any form––whether it be creative, analytical, or persuasive. As for writing pitches––it's not just about marketing, either. It conveys certain writing abilities such as pacing, transitions, style, word choice, etc. that are going to carry over into your novel. If these things are lacking in your pitch, they're probably lacking in your manuscript. No, I don't think querying to agents is a flawless process; as with all writing, it's very subjective. But I still think pitching is still an extremely important skill to have.

You need to be able to convey what your story is about in a concise matter. Setting. Characters. Plot. Stakes. Market. Bam.

Here are the things you should include in your pitch:

1. When/where is this taking place––especially if it's a different world, time period, etc.?

2. Who is the main character? You must make it clear who the main character is. Be careful of dropping too many names, or the agent will get confused as to who's important and who isn't. Only include the names of characters who are vitally important to the plot.

3. And what is the plot? What must the main character do? What is his/her objective?

4. WHAT ARE THE STAKES? I can't express how important this is. Basically the question here is, why on earth should the reader care whether or not the protagonist achieves his/her objective? Ask yourself, what bad thing will happen if the main character doesn't succeed?

I'll use my story Walking Shadow as an example ... So, Cassandra has to make a journey through the Underworld in order to get her curse removed. Okay, cool. So why does it matter? Well, if she doesn't succeed, the curse will drive her insane until she kills herself, which is what has happened to a long line of her female ancestors. You see what I'm talking about? You can't just describe the plot ... you have to make it clear what the consequences of failure are.

5. Now, the market. Make sure it's clear who you're marketing to. Kids? Teenagers? Adults? You can compare your book to other books, but ... just be careful about doing that. Try not to compare your book to books that are too big/popular. For example, you don't want to write something like, "I think my book will be as big as Harry Potter!" That's not the point. If you're going to do this, try to use only one book or two as an example––but make sure you also include why you're book is different from these books you're using as comparisons. You don't want to seem like you're just copying someone else.

6. And make sure this is all concise. This is probably the hardest part. I read on agent Nathan Bransford's blog recently that most good pitches are about within the 200-500 word range. More than that, it's probably too long. And less than that, it's probably too short.

So really, learn how to pitch your book. It's essential. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.