How to Pitch Your Novel: Some Advice from an Idiot

In an earlier post I discussed how going to a Writing Conference can benefit you and mentioned the “elevator speech” or “pitch” as an essential item to have prepared. Today I’m going to elaborate on that nebulous object a bit more, in the hopes that you internet wayfarers out there will be better prepared than I was.

To recap, a novel pitch is a two-three minute summary of your current work in progress or completed manuscript (it’s best if it’s actually done, just FYI). It should be:

  • Concise and clear
  • Attention-grabbing
  • Evocative of a more in-depth conversation about the novel

Basically, you want to hit the highlights and selling points of the book and plant some intriguing images or questions in the agent’s mind that make them want to ask you questions. Some of the questions you (hopefully) will get asked include:

  • What genre is your novel?
  • Where do you see it shelved in a bookstore?
  • Who is the intended audience or market?
  • What writer or book would you compare it to for audience appeal?
  • What makes your book stand apart from others that have covered the same ground?

I cannot stress enough that you NEED to have already settled on answers for these questions. Agents are looking at YOU as much as your ideas; it’s basically a job interview. You need to appear confidence—even if you are far from it. You need to know your novel inside and out and understand how to talk about it. It’s difficult for an agent to represent a wishy-washy author, and unfortunately their impression of you can be a factor in whether or not they agree to represent your work.

Of course, the opposite can happen; I met with an agent once who was impressed with me, and my manuscript, but didn’t see marketability for his agency. He encouraged me to develop new manuscripts and ideas, which was uplifting. Take a defeat such as that like a victory and use it to remind yourself that you are on the right track. Nine times out of ten, novels only become published because they happen to land upon the right agent or publisher at the right time.

Are you still reading? Would you like some examples to help you format? When I pitched The Company of Souls to several agents, the following is the pitch I used, as well as the answers I gave to the questions above. Remember, your goal is to keep it brief, simple, and compelling (hopefully I’ve done so!):

    • The Company of Souls is an urban fantasy of about 85,000 words. It focuses on Aidan, who wakes up in his own grave as nothing more than a skeleton. A man called Peter Grey finds him and takes him to a theatre staffed entirely by deceased people, where he can spend his afterlife in boundless creativity as the company’s scene-painter.   But when Aidan learns that it is actually the theatre director who ordered his death, he has to decide if he can work alongside Peter—his murderer—to help not only himself, but also the other company members to break free.
  • What genre is your novel?
    • Urban Fantasy.
  • Where do you see it shelved in a bookstore?
    • In the fantasy section, maybe somewhere near Neil Gaiman and other authors whose work plays with the border between dark and urban fantasy.
  • Who is the audience?
    • Concerning age, young adults and above. Concerning interests, anyone who prefers their fantasy with elements both modern and dark, and lots of dead people.
  • Which writer or book would you compare it to for audience appeal?
    • I would compare it to A Fine and Private Place, by Peter S. Beagle. Those who enjoy his novel would also enjoy the emotional consequences of The Company of Souls, as its characters deal with the issues that stem from being dead, alive, and all things in between.
  • What makes your book stand apart from others that have covered the same ground?
    • I have yet to read a novel with a skeleton as the protagonist, let alone one who is forced to work alongside his own murderer.


© Ray Green 2016


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