Part of the How They Do It Series
Pitching a novel can be a terrifying experience, but if you prepare before you pitch, you not only settle the nerves, but increase your chances of success. Please help me welcome Vivian Conroy to the podium today, to share her thoughts on pitching a novel series.
Hooked on mystery since she read her first Agatha Christie at thirteen, Vivian Conroy writes the Lady Alkmene Callender 1920s' mysteries for an imprint of HarperCollins. Book 1, A PROPOSAL TO DIE FOR -- described by reviewers as 'a cross between Downton Abbey and Miss Marple' and 'an exciting, humorous and fabulously witty voyage'-- was released on September 19 and is available through Amazon, BN.com, Kobo, Ibooks, and Google Play.
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Take it away Vivian...
When the editor called me to offer me a 3-book deal for my Lady Alkmene Callender 1920s' mystery series, she told me that after reading a sentence or two she already knew this book was something she'd want to buy. I had submitted to a special call by the publisher for books opening with a proposal. That was it. Open with a proposal and the rest is up to you.
All I knew for sure was that I needed to send a pitch letter, a first chapter and a synopsis.
Writers will often find themselves in that same position. You are submitting to a contest, including pages with a query to an agent, or sending in requested work after a conference pitch. You need a pitch letter, a sample of your manuscript and a synopsis. Established authors sell on proposal which is also a pitch, sample and synopsis. Each element in this package serves specific purposes in convincing the editor or agent that you understand your genre and your craft. By focusing on those functions as you prepare the material, you increase your chances of selling the proposed book or even book series.
1. The Pitch Letter
The special call I responded to asked for books starting with a proposal so I knew the concept of proposal had to play an important part in the submission. So first thing to do is ask yourself: what is the publisher looking for within this line or imprint or, in case of an agent, how does my book fit what the agent represents or has asked for in a wishlist? A romance publisher will like to see romantic hooks or tropes like secret baby, marriage of convenience or amnesia. A mystery publisher will like to see key mystery elements such as an evocative setting, characters the reader will relate to and root for, plus series potential.
In all cases your title is extremely important to convey that first impression of concept. It has to fit what works in your genre. For cozy mystery titles are often a pun, a sort of funny reference to the murderous situation. A Proposal To Die For did just that for me.
In the pitch letter you also show you understand your genre by your short pitch. For me that was: 'a fun mystery with series potential, in the vein of Christie, Sayers and Wentworth, about a titled heroine with an unladylike interest in fast-acting poisons and unnatural death, who meets her match in a determined reporter.'
It shows off the main characters, the setting and sets the tone I also use in the book.
Your pitch letter can also state how you see your book fitting in the publisher's offer or the agent's list, to show you have researched the publisher or agent and believe your work is a good match for them.
2. Sample of the Manuscript
The chapter or sample pages have to show off voice and writing skills. Here you introduce the editor or agent to your world and characters. Avoid the pitfall of giving a ton of backstory. Instead start with action and trust that reader will be curious about the rest and follow along. My opening started with a line of dialogue (the proposal asked for) that Lady Alkmene overhears. Immediately her curiosity is piqued and she moves in to hear more. I didn't explain at all that we are at a party, who Lady Alkmene is, or why she is there. I thrust the reader into the action: a few whispered words, curiosity on Alkmene's part and off we go onto a path that will lead to murder and her acquaintance with her sleuthing partner Jake Dubois.
Although we don't get to know a whole lot about Alkmene in the opening scene (we do learn her father is traveling, but not whereto or why), we do see those character traits that will aid her in sleuthing: curiosity, fascination with human psychology and a need for adventure, a deep desire to exchange the everyday for something mysterious and spectacular. All other things can be added in later.
Each editor and agent has a different preference so some read the synopsis before sample pages, others after. Either way, the synopsis has to show you have enough plot for a whole book and you stay true to genre. In a cozy mystery you can't have a serial killer leaving dead bodies everywhere or the protagonists fleeing in a stolen helicopter. So check your synopsis for the key elements a publisher or agent wants to see for your genre and for any items that might not be a good fit or might cause doubt (for instance don't spend a lot of time on characters that only appear once or twice to avoid the idea they are too dominant).
Although a synopsis is generally regarded as descriptive, you can infuse voice by word choice. Again this has to be appropriate for your genre.
And if you get the opportunity, like me, to explain it's a series and pitch sequels, convey the overall series feel and spend a sentence or two, three on the sequels. Just to give a taste of what you want to do. In my case I focused on:
a. the various settings (book 1 is in London, book 2 on a country manor, book 3 on an excavation site in Cornwall)If your pitch package is successful, you will be asked for more material or - if you are established - you can even sell on this proposal alone. Conveying your book's concept and scope in an engaging manner is a skill you will be able to use throughout your career. So hone it!
b. basic plot (for book 2: to clear a cat burglar of murder charge, Lady Alkmene must infiltrate a household where everybody has a secret)
c. atmosphere/flavor. The latter depends mainly on word choice again: make it appropriate for your genre and voice.
About A Proposal to Die For
Book 2, DIAMONDS OF DEATH, about stolen stones and family secrets, released on October 17, while book 3, DEADLY TREASURES, released on November 21.
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