Don’t Throw a Slow Curve at the Pitch Session for Your Novel

No literary agent could have resisted Koufax’s fastball

 

I had a fun experience last night. If by “fun” you mean something before which I ground my teeth for a few hours. My great local bookstore held a Pitchpalooza, where the publishing-expert “Book Doctors” listened to the pitches of would-be authors about their works.

Because I’m going to a bigger version of this event in a couple of weeks, where I’ll present my just-completed novel, I thought this would be good practice. So I practiced worrying about it, and predictably, came up with a flat book-report style of pitch, rather than something with some kick. After hearing the critiques of the book doctors after just a few of the initial presentations, I realized that my meat-and-potatoes pitch had no spice. Here’s the first paragraph of what I worked with:

My novel is the story of three San Franciscans who are thrown together by the earthquake of 1989, and that incident dramatically changes their lives. One is a proofreader at a leasing company, another is his prim, workaholic female boss, and another a homeless man who begs outside their office. The proofreader is a sarcastic but good guy who is secretly working on a novel. His boss is a former editor at a boutique publishing house in Boston who has a hidden alcohol problem, and the homeless man is a Vietnam vet whose wife and children left him because of his alcoholism. He has since straightened up.

No.

This is what I wrote in three minutes this morning (after my evening of self-grousing); I’ll tinker with it yet, but it at least has movement the other lacked:

Wisecracking, horny Hayden is the disgruntled proofreading coordinator at a large San Francisco leasing company. His big secret is that he’s writing a novel that he hopes will change his fortunes. His prim, workaholic boss, a former editor at a publishing house, has a secret too: she’s a hidden alcoholic. The homeless guy who begs outside their office, once a hopeless drunk himself, wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care about these office intrigues. That is, until the 1989 earthquake throws all their fates together—in life-altering ways.

Warming Up Before Pitching (Pitching Resources)

Before I went to the Pitchpalooza, I read a lot of good information online about pitching. Here is some of the best:

This one from ScriptMag is on screenwriting, but the essentials apply to all kinds of writing.

The Guide to Literary Agents blog has lots of good info on pitching. Here’s literary agent Miriam Kriss on the perfect pitch.

Here is the site’s editor, Chuck Sambuchino, breaking down a successful pitch for a middle-grade/YA book, and again for a women’s fiction work.

And former literary agent Nathan Bransford (whose site is a rich repository of publishing industry info) has a good piece on pitching, with many commenters replying with pitches of their own.

Finally, on Meet the Author, you can go through a broad list of successful authors giving 60- or 90-second overviews of what their work is about. Some of these folks wander—often amusingly—about in the garden patch of their pitch, but they can do that—they already landed the contract.

Note: just to show you what a muttonhead I can be, I’d read all this great advice and still came up with a pitch that lolled in a chair sleeping. My revision still needs work, but I know now that you pitch with a fastball, and not a hanging curve.

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Throw a Slow Curve at the Pitch Session for Your Novel

  1. Jai, thanks. From listening to at least 25 pitches last night, and hearing them all critiqued by the Book Doctors, I really got the sense it’s a performance. You have to wow them.

    Thus, the fact that my novel is in the grey area between literary fiction and mainstream fiction, with attention paid as much to language as to plot, it does seem a pitcher has to give an American Idol-like performance, nuance be damned. But if that’s how it is…

  2. I’m slow to pick up on these things, Joel. But now I realize that when anyone opens one of my books, they should hear some grating version of “I can’t get no satisfaction” or some other 45-year-old rock tune, and then my voice saying, “Step right up! See the bearded lady, the world’s strongest man, the novelist in tears…” and on, like those obnoxious audio greeting cards.

    That ought to be effective.

  3. I so need to custom package some of my books. Hand bound, photos taped in helter skelter, and yeah, the mini-greeting card recorded thing for sound effects and obnoxiousness.

  4. Actually, I really could see you packaging a CD of your stuff with a book. You could match the mood of some chapters with tunes of spice, suspense or nonsense.

  5. That’s what I’d love to do. My first book had “recommended listening” for each chapter, but nobody ever commented on it. (As I recall, the first page of each chapter was titled ‘Location, Listening, and Libation’ with recommendations for each.)

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