My first experience with pitching, if compared to a balloon, was deflated almost before I had begun. I was a newbie author and had written a book, and was well into the second when I sat to chat with my first agent. To say that my nerves were jumping is an understatement. The agent was kind, didn’t pop my balloon with a jab, but merely loosened the knot so the air could come out gradually over the next few days. You see, I had already self-published the first book, which was her first question, the second question was “what else do you have?”
While I didn’t leave that day with a business card, directives to send a submission, or even any warm fuzzies over the process of publishing, I came away from it learning a very valuable lesson… Always have something in your back pocket. For me, it would take a few years to achieve that, because you see, she didn’t want book 2, 3 or 10 of a series that was already self-published (unless I starting selling a bazillion copies like The Martian or 50 Shades, which is entirely different), she wanted the new “shiny” thing, and honestly, who wouldn’t? Thing is, I didn’t have any thing else. I was focused on bringing all four of the books I planned to life, all within the same world, and the process was slow at one book a year. Although to be fair I did (still do) have a full-time job, and at the time was finishing my degree.
So I made my plan, and I waited, and I worked on something to slip into my back pocket. While it has taken me some time, I do feel that my planning allowed me to grow into the process along the way. I finally feel I am ready. So, I would like to share my mindset over the past few years, and the steps I took to prepare myself for the next step in my journey… Publishing. In my mind three things needed to happen. 1. Build a Social Media Presence, 2. Draft Non-Series Manuscript, 3. Develop A Pitch.
Build a Social Media Presence
I remember the precise moment I chose to start this journey. I was sitting in a Creative Writing class in Fall 2013, and had just shared a piece I had written that my classmates loved. I went home that night and pulled out manuscript I had written several years before and started to see potential in the pages. After committing to writing my first book, which would end up as part of the Power of Four series, I knew that in order for this to not be a “hobby”, I needed to officially put myself out there. In 2015, Business Communications came into my life.
My Business Communications teacher was amazing, and since using the social media tools was part of her curriculum, it forced me out of my comfort zone and got me using platforms other than Facebook. Some of the tools and benefits I found were as follows:
- Facebook Page – The Facebook Page was pre-Facebook Group and provided a platform for folks offering products and services a place from which to sell their wares. This was also the one place you could purchase advertisements, which at the time was just starting to gain traction. Now it is part and parcel of doing business with them, and understanding the process is beneficial no matter what side of the fence you are on with the way they do business. The amount of data they have on folks is frightening, but I also see the benefit for those trying to get their message in front of the right people. In a way, it gives better customer service to those who aren’t interested in your message. I find that the posts that get the most traction are those where you give folks a “call to action.” Asking for shares, likes or even comments goes a long way.
- Twitter – This was never something I had even considered engaging with, and has quickly become my favorite platform. If you are a writer, it is a wonderful place to meet other creatives, and I have found it is a great place to find support, have questions answered and even have a laugh when you need one. The platform is set up so you can follow folks, and you are allowed up to 280 characters in a “tweet” to get your point across. Hashtags (#) are used to categorize your tweet, and some that I used when first getting started were: #amwriting, #indieauthor , #amwritingfantasyromance, #writing, and #amediting. There are also a few “games” out there that give you prompts that you can respond to, a couple that come to mind are #WIPJoy and #AuthorConfession. For those who have blogs, you can share your non-sales posts on #MondayBlogs.
- Instagram – At first I was hesitant to give Instagram a try, since I am an author and imagine that I can only share my book covers so many times before folks grow tired of seeing them. I didn’t share much on it at first, but this platform allows you to follow not only people but also hashtags. so I did my homework. I spend some time searching on the platform for categories I felt I might like to see in my feed, then followed those. Within a few weeks, my feed had some awesome pictures from Bookstagrammers who post beautifully displayed books in a host of settings. What this platform also allows is for you to start a hashtag of your own, where pictures from others with that same tag will show up. You can check out #dahenneman or #thepoweroffourseries to see what I am talking about.
As my confidence level grew with these platforms, I was able to find other tools that helped me with my posts. There are social media organizers, such as Buffer, which help to manage your posts, and products like Book Funnel, which help to distribute your ebooks. I also put a business profile on Linked In and started a website on Word Press. Using all of these tools on a weekly basis allowed me to determine what I am most comfortable with and where I get the most response from my followers. I spent an entire year engaging on all of these medias, and have found benefits to each one. And yes, there is a social part to social media! I have met and made connections with a lot of folks that I now consider friends.
Draft Non-Series Manuscript (AKA Participating in NaNoWriMo)
I keep a notebook of ideas that I am constantly adding to. As the notes grow, so do my ideas for each story. I had just finished drafting my prequel, Twist of Fate, for the Power of Four series, and decided it was too long to give away as a reader magnet, so thought I would write a short story for that instead. Before I had a chance to start it, one of the stories in my notebook latched on and wouldn’t let me go. Since it was October, I was seeing a lot of activity in my feed about #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and thought I would give it a try. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, you can follow the link to their website, but basically it is a bunch of folks committing to a daily word count and writing a novel in the month of November. I started November 1, 2018 with my shiny non-Power-of-Four idea, and by the end of November I was halfway through my manuscript.
I continued plugging away on my story, and by December 25, 2018, wrote “The End” on my Paranormal Cozy Mystery. With it out of my system, I moved on to completing my short story and released both my prequel, Twist of Fate, and my reader magnet, The Jinni’s Wish, by my self-imposed deadline (super important to set these by the way). Once those were done, I had a shiny new manuscript to work with right before the RWA National Convention in July.
I did a read through, became reacquainted with my characters, and took notes down about the highlights of my story. I read similar stories as well, taking note of things that worked well, and things that didn’t, always keeping my notebook nearby to jot down ideas. I attempted to sign up for the pitch session, and was upset when I wasn’t able to secure a space. However, I didn’t let it deter me. I planned my pitch anyway, nailing it down to a few sentences, in the hopes that I would be able to chat to an industry professional along the way. On the day of the pitches, I ended up having my chance, and was asked for not only one, but two submissions! I can’t tell you how excited I was, and the best part was I felt like I “had it down” that I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I had been all those years before. Because this time, I had something in my back pocket.
Developing a Pitch (also the difference between Synopsis, Blurb and Logline)
It is challenging boiling your manuscript down from 55,000 words to a few sentences, and if you haven’t attempted it, I highly recommend that you do. It really helps you see your story from a high concept standpoint and after writing a few of these you will be more comfortable answering that dreaded question… “So what’s your book about?” Lets talk about each of their purposes here.
- Synopsis – This is typically written for an Agent, Editor or Publishing Representative. It is a point-by-point summary of your entire manuscript, showing all major characters and their goals, motivations and conflicts. You also go over the entire story arch in this, leaving nothing out, so that the agent or editor can get a good feel for whether or not it will be something they can sell. This is similar to an outline, so for pantsers like me, it can be an arduous task knowing what to keep in and what to avoid, however, it is an extremely valuable exercise. Even if you don’t plan on going the traditional route, I would highly recommend giving it a try.
- Blurb (AKA Back Matter) – This is written for the reader and is generally placed on the back of your book. In the case of ebooks, it is shown on the information page where it is sold. This gives the reader a “taste” of what the book is about, and leaves them wanting to know more. Blurbs can be written in a multitude of ways, and I have found that it is best to read a number of them in the genre you are writing in, so you get a good feel for what is acceptable. With print-on-demand technology, it is easy enough to change your blurb, or it can even be one thing on the book and something entirely different digitally. This makes it easy enough to find out what “works” for your particular book.
- Logline (AKA Elevator Pitch) – This is a one or two line zinger that makes the reader or person you are “pitching” to want to know more about your book. In written form, it can be in the form of a statement, such as: “Four women find that they each embody the power of an element. The men who love them must help them find out why.” It can also be in the form of a question, such as: “What if the Fates were unable to maintain Universal balance on their own, and they gifted four unsuspecting women with the powers of the Elements. How would it change their lives, and the lives of the men who love them?” You can also think of this as “ad copy.”
I recently participated in something on Twitter called #PitMad, and you can find out more about it here. Basically, you use the 280 characters (including spaces) to present a “pitch” in the hopes of enticing an agent or editor to “like” your tweet. Likes equal requests for submissions, so it is definitely worth a shot! They do it quarterly and you can visit their website for more details. What was great about this exercise is that it helped me think about my book from a marketing standpoint, and prepared me for my next face-to-face pitch.
I know there is a lot to unpack in this post, but this was all something I felt was necessary to share at this time. First, because it is fresh in my mind, but second, and most importantly, that it might help remove some of the mystery for a new author who is just starting down this road. I had no idea where to look or who to turn to, and had I come across a post like this way back then, it might have saved me a lot of heartache.
As always, if you have any questions you can comment below, or always feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to help if I can, and if I can’t, I am usually able to at least head you in the right direction.
Pitching can be a nerve-wracking experience, and the only way you will get better is by practicing. I have listed some resources below that might help you on your journey, but remember you can always reach out to me as well. Best of luck and Happy Pitching! XO
4 Authors – 4 Different Pitches – Blog Post by D.A. Henneman
Writing a pitch for your novel – Blog Post by D.A. Henneman
Nail Your Book Pitch with a High Concept Hook – You Tube Video by KN Literary
The Creative Penn – Author Resource Website by Joanna Penn