Tuesday, November 13, 2018

8 Secrets to Pitching Your Novel Like a Pro

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton  

Part of the How They Do It Series (Contributing Author)

When you get the opportunity to pitch your novel face-to-face to an editor or literary agent, you need to know exactly what to do – and what mistakes to avoid.

Even if you've written the world's greatest novel, no one will know it unless you can get an someone to read it. But persuading a busy industry professional to risk their valuable time on your unpublished manuscript is no picnic.

But you can do it right. Prepare yourself for novel pitching success by avoiding these deal-breaking blunders.

Mistake #1: Trying to Tell the Whole Story

The moment you sit down to pitch, you may experience the almost irrepressible urge to tell your entire amazing story from beginning to end in intricate detail.

Don't do it. This is the worst mistake you can possibly make.

I repeat: The. Worst.

You will be rushed to get it all out before you run out of time. The person on the other side of the table, who has been subjected to pitches like this all day long, will only half-listen.

This will end in awkward silence, glazed eyes, and: "Thanks, but not for us. Next!"

So how do you avoid falling into this trap?

Talk about the main plot, and only the main plot. Nothing else.

Think about it: if you really could explain your entire novel in just a few minutes, you wouldn’t have much of a story, would you?

No. So instead, focus on the basics:
  • Who is the main character?
  • What super-important thing is he or she trying to do?
  • What stands in the way?
  • How does it end?
Don't try to tell the entire story. Just the highlights.

Mistake #2: Not Having a Log Line

"Log line" is a Hollywood term that means a one-sentence summary of your story.

(It comes from way back in the day, when TV stations would literally write down a description of everything they aired in a log book. There, now you know.)

A log line sounds something like this: "It's a funny urban fantasy novel about a crystal sorceress who must stop a prophecy before legions of undead rise to consume the souls of everyone on Earth, and it's called A Kiss Before Doomsday."

Make one for your book:

“It's a [genre] about a [character] who must [reach a goal], but faces [obstacle], and it's called [Title].”

Customize as needed. And yes, you need to keep it to a single sentence.

Mistake #3: Opening with the Log Line

Great, now you have a log line! Congratulations. But don't start your pitch with it.

Why? It’s just too much information crammed into too short of a space.

If you've done your job well, and created a fascinating log line, then it will stick in the mind of the person you're pitching to. They won't pay attention to the rest of your pitch. And even if they do, you've removed the element of surprise.

On the other hand, if it's a mediocre log line, they'll immediately write off your book idea. You'll be dead in the water.

Either way, you don't want to lead with the log line.

Instead, put it last, after you’ve finished your pitch. Use it to give your pitch a memorable ending, and leave this person with a strong impression of your story.

Mistake #4: Opening with the Title

Notice how the title is the last part of your log line, not the first part?

It's because the title can be distracting. A good title will raise questions in the other person's mind. A bad title will turn them off before you've even had a chance to speak.

So don't start with the title. Save it for last.

Mistake #5: Naming the Characters

Here's what not to do:

"My book is about Dru Jasper and Greyson Carter, who along with Rane and Opal and Hellbringer . . ." See? I've already lost you.

Don't name your characters. Because honestly, at this point in the pitch process, their names don't matter.

Just refer to them by an adjective and a noun:

A neurotic detective. A wisecracking mom. A kleptomaniac circus clown. Whatever.

The person sitting opposite you has probably heard so many character names already that they’re starting to forget their own. So don’t add to the confusion. Leave out the names, and focus on the story.

Mistake #6: Hyping Yourself

Tooting your own horn doesn't make you look more confident. It just makes the person opposite you more cynical.

"You going to love this!" No, I'm not.

"This is way better than ___." Yeah, I highly doubt it.

"This is going to be a bestseller." Oh, really? Tell me another one, Nostradamus.

Forget the hype. Just focus on giving a great pitch. Let the story speak for itself.

Mistake #7: Pitching Too Long

Here’s a good rule of thumb: write and rewrite your pitch until it’s good and solid. Trim it down. Make it tight.

Then cut it in half.

The truth is, you don't have as much time as you think. People talk at an average of about 120 words per minute. That means if you trim your pitch down to just 250 words, it's still going to take you more than two minutes to get through it.

So keep it as short as humanly possible. Give the other person plenty of time to ask questions and have a real human conversation with you. That's time well spent.

Mistake #8: Not Rehearsing Your Pitch

Long before you head to the conference, practice your pitch. Then practice it again. And practice it some more.

Practice it in front of the mirror. Practice it in your car. Record it, and play it back to yourself. Keep practicing.

The one thing you should never, ever do is go in there and read off of a piece of paper. It will come off stilted and boring. Instead of listening, the other person will have to resist the urge to reach across the table and rip that paper out of your hands, because they can read it much faster than you can say it.

Learn your pitch by heart. Learn it until it comes out sounding completely natural and conversational. Then the pitch becomes a conversation between you, the author, and someone who wants to buy your story.

Avoid These Mistakes, and You'll Pitch Your Novel Like a Pro

Even if you've never pitched at a conference before, you can ace the pitch just by following these simple steps. Remember: the person sitting across from you is honestly just as eager to find a great novel as you are to provide it. Don't think of this as a battle. Think of it as a partnership. Pitch well, and this could be the start of a beautiful publishing relationship.

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of more than a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories. His work has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He lives in Colorado with his wife and too many old cars. Try his stories for free at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads 

About No Sleep till Doomsday (Dru Jasper, Book 3)

An inexperienced sorceress must retrieve a priceless artifact from the enchantress who stole it, break the curse on her half-demon boyfriend, and stop her friends from turning on each other before the enchantress calls down doomsday.

When a wicked enchantress steals a cursed doomsday amulet, crystal sorceress Dru Jasper has only twenty-four hours to get it back before the world will come to a fiery end. With this supernatural amulet in hand, the enchantress intends to break the sixth seal of the apocalypse scroll--making the seas boil, the stars fall from the sky, and the earth itself split apart. Overall, bad news.

Dru must hit the road to get the amulet back. But she suspects her half-demon boyfriend, Greyson, and his demon-possessed muscle car, Hellbringer, are hiding a dark secret. Can she trust them to help her stop doomsday? Worse, tracking down the enchantress runs Dru smack up against a pack of killer shape-shifters, the grim mystery of a radioactive ghost town, and a dangerous speed demon even more powerful than Hellbringer.

As the clock runs out, Dru is locked in a high-speed chase with the enchantress, fighting a fierce, magical duel she can never win alone. Can Dru and her sorcerer friends unravel Hellbringer's secrets, outwit the shape-shifters, and retrieve the stolen amulet before the dawn of doomsday?

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound | Kobo


  1. Excellent advice all around. I'd like to add one more tip, from Toastmasters International:

    By all means practice the pitch, until you have it memorized and comfortable and you know the best ways to show your excitement about each part. But then, practice the *first line* even more, until you can say it in your sleep. You want to make it simply impossible that you'll hesitate at that first moment, and guarantee that you'll get that brilliant log line out at its best and start building the momentum you need for the rest of the pitch.

    1. Yes! To help rehearse my pitch, I will often read it aloud into my voice recorder, and then play it back and parrot the pitch until it feels natural. That's great advice from Toastmasters!

  2. This is so insightful! Especially the tip to refrain from naming your character in the pitch. Thanks, Laurence!

  3. Thanks, Jarm! Hope that helps with your next pitch! : )