I’m getting ready to pitch my next novel at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference next week. The novel is about one of the first saints with whom I cultivated a relationship: St. Catherine of Alexandria.
It has been a loooooong time since I’ve pitched at a conference. I used to pitch annually, but I never got anything more than a nibble from those, so take this with a grain of salt. Each pitch is a learning experience. Some were lessons in humility more than anything else. Anyway, I’m going through the manuscript to give it some more polish. I’m also reading through various blogs and such to refresh my dusty memory. Since there’s no better way to learn (or re-learn) something than to teach it to others, I’m putting my little “pitching checklist” out here for the world to see.
- First, make sure your manuscript is complete. Don’t go pitching something you haven’t finished. Why not? If the editor really loves your idea, he/she may ask for the full MS. If you don’t have one of those, you’re wasting the editor’s time, you’re giving yourself a bad reputation for wasting others’ time, and you’re stealing a pitch slot from another writer who may have something completed. In short, it’s just bad manners. If you want the experience of talking with editors but you don’t have a pitch-ready manuscript, by all means, go to writing conferences anyway. Volunteer to time pitch sessions, bring speakers drinks and other comfort items, and otherwise just put your face out there as a professional, caring person. However, don’t pitch until you’re at least a little bit ready. (BTW, I finished the first draft of Catherine, Princess of Alexandria during National Novel Writing Month 2012.)
- You’ll need what I’m calling your “concept sentence.” This is your book in a one-sentence nutshell. Since mine is a YA historical novel, I had to make that clear in mine. “A noble pagan girl with everything to lose defies her family and an empire to be with the One she loves.” This is the sentence that lets the editor across from you decide whether or not he/she wants to hear more. If he/she does…
- Then you’ll need your “elevator speech.” This is a three-sentence summary of your novel, like you’d share with an editor whom you’d cornered in an elevator. Your elevator speech shows that you have a finished work that’s worth asking to see. You’ll show there’s a beginning (hook), middle (conflict) and end (resolution). “Spoilers for your story to someone who hasn’t read it yet?” In this case, yes; remember, you’re showing that your book is drafted, not a work-in-progress. Aikaterina, the governor’s daughter, has three loves in her life: luxury, logic, and her own good looks. When she refuses to marry anyone who is less “fair and wise” than she, her parents exile her to the desert to learn obedience. Her logic turns on her when she meets The One who not only softens her cold heart but pits her against her comfortable upbringing, her superstitious pagan family… and even the emperor himself. [I’m not happy with that one yet; still working on it.]
- Identify your audience. Who would want to read this book? More specifically, who would benefit from reading this book. Mine is painfully easy: Girls, ages 12-18, as they are learning how to be the women God made them to be while dodging pressures to be “normal” and “comfortable.” There’s humor. There’s drama. There’s a smart, sassy girl making fun of boy after boy. It makes a perfect confirmation gift. It’s great for the girl who just came back from a Steubenville conference or World Youth Day, wanting to live for Jesus but who just can’t imagine having the courage to do so in a world so hostile to her love.
- Be ready to talk about yourself and what makes you the person to write this story. See my bio for my writing credentials, but on a personal note, even when I was an atheist and then an agnostic, I still had a devotion to my confirmation saint, Catherine of Alexandria. I’m convinced she’s been instrumental in Jesus using me to help the man I love most, my husband, find Truth.
- Expect the unexpected. This editor may ask for more or less than this. Know your project. Know the publisher. Most of all, know what I always told my PREP kids getting ready for their First Penance: there is only one mistake you can make that is so bad that nobody can help you out of it, and that mistake is being disrespectful.
- You’ll also need your big girl panties. There’s every chance that your work isn’t as polished yet as the publisher needs it to be. There’s also every chance that, in spite of researching the publisher, your MS is just a bad fit for them, or they just signed on someone with a project too similar to yours. There are a million reasons the publisher may turn you down. As long as you have been respectful and professional, none of those reasons are personal. You’re allowed to cry in the bathroom, but you’re not allowed to put yourself down or give up. Sorry. You’re just not. You’re human. So are the editors. Accept and move on.
So, as I said before, caveat emptor, but I hope you find reading these points as helpful as I did writing them!