Pitching a Book


When I first heard that writers have to pitch their books, I thought of a baseball pitcher burning the ball into the strike zone. No way—too rough! So I imagined gently tossing a large envelope containing my freshly-completed manuscript to a grateful agent—the catcher—who would open it and immediately start reading. Silly me.

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I finished writing my first novel in 2009 and revised it in 2010, based on feedback from family, friends, and writer acquaintances. It was time to get it published. But how? During the summer of 2010 I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle to find out.

Among the seminars and workshops was a How-to-Pitch class, where I handwrote the premise and salient points of my story—The Pitch—that would (hopefully) hook listeners and make them eager to read a sample. According to the instructor, our goal in pitching was to get agents and editors to invite us to send them a sample, aka a “partial,” meaning anything less than the full manuscript. If they liked it, they would ask for more.

Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers

During coffee breaks I swapped pitches and critiques with other writers until it was as polished as I knew how to make it. What if I botched it?

The Windup

My first pitching session included appointments with two agents and one editor. At a small table in a room, a thirty-something tall, lean, and charming southerner, the editor of a small press, greeted me and motioned for me to sit across from him. After he listened to me speak about my work of Science Fiction, he said, “Sounds a bit tame for what we’re after, but why don’t you send me the first 20 pages?” I thanked him and walked away, my feet never touching the ground. One for one.

The Delivery

Next, I pitched to a boyish, dark-haired agent with a New York accent who listened to my spiel and asked me to clarify certain points, which I did. He said, “Sounds interesting, but that’s not Science Fiction.” Perhaps he hadn’t heard me right. I explained that my book, which was set in the near future, stretched reality. He wasn’t buying it. Instead, he mentioned the title of a book with a theme like mine and wished me well. Okay, one for two.

The third person who listened to my pitch was a long-haired, upbeat, and fast-talking agent from the West Coast who asked several questions, listened to my answers, and said, “Might be a great book, but it’s not Science Fiction.” Not again. This time I asked for more information. For a book to be sold to a publisher as Science Fiction, it must meet specific requirements, including world-building. Who knew?

The Ump, Catcher, and Batter (Ichiro)

It took a few minutes—okay, the rest of the day—for me to process what I’d learned through my first three pitches. The next morning I changed the genre of my book to Women’s Mainstream Fiction.

Next time: Pitching in Elevators
*Photos taken by Norma Nill in May 2012

10 thoughts on “Pitching a Book

  1. Who nu? I give you a lot of credit! It is not easy to discipline ones self to write a book let alone “pitch it”. 😀

  2. Love the “pitching” photos (-: Anyone who’s brave enough to stumble their way (or gloriously, smoothly, suavely charm their way) through book pitches to real, live agents has my admiration! That means you, Norma.

  3. Very interesting and informative! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I admire your diligence. I also admire your sister. It’s a secret tho. 🙂 I’ll look forward to the next post!

  4. I like this post – it’s a great glimpse into what else goes into getting a novel out there other than that first monumental task of actually writing it!

    1. I didn’t know there were such tight guidelines, either. Although genre boundaries are becoming blurred, it’s up to writers, agents, editors, publishers, and book distributers to inform bookstore owners where to shelve the new books. Thanks for commenting, Becky!

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