How to pitch a book

When attending writers conferences, many people get extremely nervous about meeting with editors and agents. I know I certainly have. It’s understandable. The key to remaining calm when you pitch a book is realizing, first, that agents and editors are just regular folks doing their jobs, and second, that you will get many, many rejections before you get an acceptance. When you start understanding “no” as just another tick on your list of things to do, it gets much easier to move on.

For a unique story of perseverance in the face of repeated rejection, read the story behind Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

Mariano Rivera pitch
You do not have to pitch as well as Mariano Rivera to get a request for pages.
Photo courtesy of the New York Yankees.

When you go into a pitch session, keep in mind that it’s not like a job interview. In a job interview, you are hired or not based on your qualifications. A pitch session is a meeting between two business professionals who need to decide whether they can work together on a project. The book is the project, and the agent may or may not be the right person to work with you on it. But it’s primarily the project, the manuscript, that the agent is evaluating. Your personal qualifications are secondary.

But here’s the really important part. You also need to evaluate the agent’s qualifications. Are they familiar with your genre? How much experience do they have? Are they someone you feel comfortable with?

Now, I could go on for a long time about how to pitch, but Rachelle Gardner, who is an agent, has already written an excellent post on the subject, complete with fill-in-the-blank guidelines for you. So go read that.

I think the secret to making a great pitch is to start with a bit of context or background, then tell me about your book. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, considering your time restraints. But take a moment to introduce yourself and your project before pitching.—Rachelle Gardner

The only thing I can add to what Rachelle has written is to remind you to see the pitch session as a conversation, not as a monologue. Give a bit of information, wait for a follow-up question, answer it, and give a little more.

And remember that you’re allowed to ask questions, too. For example, if you get to “no” rather quickly—I’ve had it happen—be armed with questions like “whom do you recommend I talk to about a manuscript like this?” or “what do you think my next step should be?”

A pitch session isn’t a one-time, make-or-break moment in your career. It’s the first step in building a relationship with a fellow publishing professional who, even if they don’t partner with you on one project, may become a valued colleague or friend in the future.


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