Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pitching Your Idea - Part 2

How Would Your Idea Fit

Tell the publisher or editor how your idea fits their needs. If you’ve done your homework you’ll know what they want. If the guidelines say: “Fiction: May include, but is not limited to, realistic stories, fantasy, adventure-set in past, present, or future. Humor is highly desirable,” would you send something written in the romance genre? No.

Publishers look for a “fit” and writers need to do the same. If your manuscript is a futuristic adventure story, it would meet the need of the above publisher. Focus on points of interest. In this case I’d make sure to highlight the adventure and futuristic aspects of the story. If a thread of humor ran through the text, I’d mention it. Fashion your query to sell them what they want and increase the chance for consideration. Custom fit details to address specifics the publisher desires.

Compare your work to an existing novel (or novels) that most closely resembles your story. Explain why your idea is fresh and why you think it will appeal to the same readership.

Your Story’s Purpose/Angle

Even works of fiction have a purpose. In a single sentence state your intention for writing the piece you’re submitting. What are you trying say about life? Incorporate it in your pitch.

For example: My intention is to take the reader on an imaginative journey; a spiritual quest that does not tell them what to think but stimulates one to question why they believe what they hold to be true.

Why Should The Publisher Print It

Something within the guidelines made you think they’d be interested. Zero in on key issues that make it a right fit.

Whether you submit a short story or novel, tell the editor what’s at stake. If your protagonist doesn't attain his goal, why does it matter? What are the consequences? Why would the reader care? Lead the publisher to think. Emotionally engage their interest.

Tie in market trends and current issues. Who is the target audience? What kind of people will purchase and read your novel? Be as specific as possible.

One trick that works for me is to imagine the manager of a bookstore asking, "Why should I place an order for your book?” What would you say? What is it about your novel that causes it to stand out in the sea of fiction?"


Sometimes it’s harder to put together something about ourselves that it is to write a novel. Learn to craft your autobiographical information to suit the publication. If you’re writing for a pet magazine, include information about being a pet owner. Part of who we are will be found in threads of the story we’ve written. Use this “expertise” or personal experience to your benefit.

New or unpublished writers struggle with this aspect of pitching an idea. Don’t draw attention to your lack of qualifications. If you’ve never been published don’t mention it. Highlight experiences or achievements that tie your life as a writer to your story. Even something as simple as love for the genre, when worded properly, works as a qualification.

Do You Have Images To Support Your Story

Don’t forget to mention photographs or illustrations if applicable. In some cases, offering visuals to compliment your writing makes the piece more appealing. Don’t send originals, but rather copies in case the submission gets lost or damaged.

Be Professional

Even when sending an e-mail, keep correspondence professional. It’s a good idea to confirm the current editor’s name (along with correct spelling). Stay focused but creative when presenting your information. Be sure to target areas of interest mentioned in the guidelines and provide the editor with more than one reason to say yes. Give the publisher an idea of the size and completion date for your manuscript, tell them a bit about yourself and finish with an enthusiastic close.

The shorter your query letter, the better the chance it will be read. You have one shot to get the attention of the editor. Don’t use fancy, hard-to-read fonts, or crowd text onto a page with nonexistent margins. Instead, choose your words carefully. Use a 12-point font. Your pitch makes the editor hungry to see more so be sure to include your contact information.

Pitching Your Idea - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad

The other day I had an opportunity to chat with an author I didn’t know. Within a short amount of time, he sent me a link to his website and asked me to read his three self-published novels. I glanced at his site and asked the genre of his books along with a few pertinent questions. Rather than specifics, he offered a vague idea of the concept behind his stories.

I explained that time constraints would not allow me to read his work anytime in the near future and suggested he query reviewers.

“What’s a query?” he asked.

His question shed light on the reason his website offered so little information. He didn’t know how to pitch his books.

A Trail of Breadcrumbs

In the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” the children leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way home. As writers, that’s the mindset we need. We sprinkle specially crafted breadcrumbs for others to find in hopes that each morsel generates interest and ultimately stimulates an appetite for the “whole meal.”

Consider the author I met the other night:

  • He caught my attention by introducing himself (breadcrumb #1).
  • Mentioned his books (breadcrumb #2),
  • Led me to his website (breadcrumb #3).

While we chatted, I visited his site. He’d piqued my curiosity. His website had a professional appearance and appeal, but it didn’t give me a clue as to the content of his books. I’d lost the trail. His nebulous answers turned the trail cold. Momentum diminished and the opportunity to hook me slipped through his fingers.

Know Your Market

It’s important to know your market and customize your pitch. I gather fresh market information from a variety of newsletters. Books like The Writer’s Market offer thousands of markets and pertinent information as to what individual publishers look for in submissions. Search out publications that seek what you offer.

For novel-length projects the majority of publishing houses will not consider unagented manuscripts. If you don’t have an agent and submit anyway, you’ll sentence your manuscript to the slush pile where it will die of neglect with thousands of unread submissions. Don’t waste your postage.

In some cases, you can get around this requirement by attending a writer’s conference. Many conferences offer opportunities to meet with agents face-to-face. If you pitch your idea successfully, they’ll ask to see more and provide direct contact information.

Another item to watch for in the guidelines is whether or not the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts. If the guidelines tell you to query first, put together a professional query letter selling your idea and asking permission to submit.

Have you found more than one possible market? If so, do they accept simultaneous submissions? If you want to send your manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time, this is called a simultaneous submission. Check the guidelines. Many publishers do consider them while others don’t. Know your market.

Pitching Your Idea - Part 2