Pitching a Non-Fiction Series

I am doing a pitch at the Storymakers conference for a non-fiction teaching series I am working on. Currently, it’s mapped out to be a four book series. Do I tell the publisher this upfront or pitch the first book, then tell them it’s part of a series?

Pitching non-fiction is a little different than pitching fiction. In this case, yes, tell the publisher that you would like to do a series but be brief in the details on the other three books unless they ask for more. (Brief = “I see this as a four book series, book one covers ABC, book two covers DEF, … Here is my proposal for book one …”)

Concentrate on book one because if you don’t sell that one, the rest of the series is moot.

One-on-One Manuscript Evaluations by Editors

I read your post on pitch sessions today. At the same conference, attendees will have the opportunity to have a manuscript evaluated by an editor or an agent. I assume (which may be incorrect) that the editor or agent will read the manuscripts prior to the conference and then will meet one-on-one with the author of each manuscript. If that’s the case, can you give me some tips for meeting with someone who has already read, or at least read a portion of, my manuscript? How can I be best prepared?

Oh, you lucky woman! This is a rare opportunity, so you’ll want to make the most of it.

Prepare the same way as you would for the regular pitch session, but if you sent the mss ahead of time, you won’t need the regular submission packet. If it was not already included in what you submitted to the editor, I would bring a printed chapter by chapter outline—2 to 3 sentences covering the action of each chapter (and yes, give away the ending)—just in case the editor didn’t have time to read the entire mss. I might also type up some marketing ideas to give to the editor, if they ask for it. And bring paper and pen to take notes.

Otherwise, just be prepared to answer questions about your story and to listen to all suggestions with an open mind and a closed mouth. (Do not argue with the editor about changes they suggest. You can decide later whether or not you will make them, but keep negative thoughts and comments to yourself.)

Preparing for Pitch Sessions

At the upcoming LDStorymakers conference, there are opportunities for pitch sessions with a few LDS publishers as well as an agent. I have signed up to meet with one of the LDS publishers. Can you give me some guidelines as to how an ideal pitch session would go? What should I bring? Other than the obvious questions about my manuscripts meeting the needs of their publishing house, what other questions would be good to ask?

You should not be asking if your manuscript meets the needs of their publishing house. You should already know that because you will have done your research. Instead, you will come prepared to explain to the editor why your manuscript does indeed meet their needs. Examples of “arguments” to develop are: they publish in this area, but there’s a gap/need; your book is similar to XXX (something they’ve already published, hopefully a good selling title), but different in the following aspects…; the demand for this genre/topic is high because…, etc.

You can’t just BS the publisher because they will know right away if you know what you’re talking about or not. You have to have solid reasons why they would want your book.

Some editors will totally control the pitch session. You’ll walk in, introduce yourself, and they’ll start firing off questions. Other editors will say something like, “Tell me about your book…” You need to be prepared for either approach.

Try to anticipate what an editor might ask. Some things they’ll want to know are the title and a brief description, word count, genre, target audience. They may also ask you to talk about your character’s motivation, what their greatest challenge is, why they are moved to act or change, if there is a “moral” to the story. They may also want to know what your marketing plans are—how you see the book promoted, what you’re planning to do to promote it yourself. They may also ask for information about yourself—where you’re from, what you do for a living other than writing, information on past publishing credentials, hobbies, etc.

Bring a submission packet, just in case they ask for it. Some will. Others will give you a card and ask you to mail or e-mail it to them after the conference. Submission packet should include everything they ask for in a regular submission (see their website)—plus the first chapter (or more, if they ask for it). I’d also include a hand written thank you card. Put it all in a large manilla envelope.

Do not insist they take this packet. Some editors will have traveled to the conference by plane and have limited room to take the packets back with them. Ask them if they’d like you to give it to them now or if they’d prefer you mail it to them.

There may or may not be time during the pitch for you to ask questions. If there is, you’ll want to ask first if you may submit to them. Ask if there are certain genres or topics they prefer, or if they’re looking to expand into a new area—because you’re ready to start a new project and would love to write something in their current area of interest.

A few other tips:

  • Be friendly and personable. Remember, you’re talking to a person, not a position.
  • Dress business casual. Clean, neat, professional.
  • Brush your teeth before you go in. Do not chew gum or suck on candies—not even if you have a sore throat because then they’ll be worried that you’re breathing germs all over them.
  • Do not bring gifts or bribes.
  • Remember—you are pitching A book, not a whole slew of books. One. You can, however, mention that you have ideas for continuing the story into a series (if you do) and an extremely brief description of the series. Example: “I have had a few ideas for developing this into a series. In book two, the characters could have an adventure in New York; in book three, they’ll go to Paris; the story could possibly continue on after that if you were interested…”
  • Do not whine about rejections or mistreatment by other publishers in the past.

Hmmm, what else? If you’ve done a successful pitch session, share your experience in the comments section.

Here’s a link to another post about pitching. And here’s a link to a pitch contest we had last year.

Is This a Pitch?

Sally, ostracized from high school because of her appearance, connects with Joe on a level he doesn’t understand. Unwilling to leave the “crowd” to discover that connection, Joe seeks to sever any and all ties with Sally, even going so far as to change classes. When Sally begins working at the same grocery store as Joe, his fear makes him desperate to avoid her. But, when the two are thrown together during a robbery, Joe finally discovers the connection and no longer fears Sally or his friends at high school.

Would this be considered a pitch? It’s not anything I am writing, but just wanted to try to apply your response to previous pitches.

Yes, this is a pitch. And it’s a decent one. I’d like to see a little more about what makes this story unique–different from the other teen love stories out there. Also, I’d like to see a secondary story line hinted at. But if I were in the market for teen romance, yes, I’d ask for a summary (chapter by chapter outline) and partial (first three chapters).

Query vs Pitch

What is the difference between a query letter and a straight pitch?

This question came up more than once during the pitch contest. Although I promised at the beginning of January that I would talk about a pitch, what it was and wasn’t, I got incredibly busy at work and never followed up on that. I apologize.

A pitch is the hook for your story. It’s that quick, succinct synopsis or summary that will make an agent or editor sit up and take notice. It’s the hook that reels them in and makes them want to read the book. Think of it as the blurb on the back of a softcover, the inside flap of a hardcover or the description of the book that gets printed in a sales catalog. If well written, it sells the book for you. It grabs the attention of the casual browser at the bookstore

Most of the time, a pitch is a verbal presentation at a writers conference when you’ll have 5 to 10 minutes with an agent or editor. You want to give them enough information that they’ll be hooked into the story and ask for more.

A written version of your pitch should also be included as a paragraph (or two) in your query letter. It can be your first paragraph, if you want to lead with it, or your second paragraph, if you want to introduce the basics (genre, title, word count, etc.) of your book first. Either way is fine. But a solid, polished hook paragraph must be part of your query letter or you will get a rejection.

When is it appropriate to use a pitch instead of a query?

At a face-to-face meeting with an editor or agent. But bring your query letter, which includes a written version of your pitch, with you.

Where would we find resources to show us what is and is not an effective pitch and when to use one?

You can find this info in many books about writing and submitting to publishers. Go to your library and browse the TOC of the various how-to-write books. I did a quick google and here are two things that I found.

Pitch Lines That Don’t Work

How to Write a Query (This one talks more about queries than pitches, but it’s good info.)

Many conferences offer the opportunity to meet with an editor. Would we use a pitch at that time? Would we write it down to give to the editor or simply state it to him/her?

Yes, you would use a pitch at these meetings. This is a verbal presentation. Practice your pitch in front of other people so you can give a smooth delivery. But bring your query letter, a partial and a full, in case your pitch is so stunning that it blows the editor away and they request more on the spot. (This rarely happens, but it could. I’ve accepted fulls at conferences.)

Is the purpose of a pitch to have an editor ask for a query and then a partial and then a full, or does the pitch take the place of the query?

Yes, the purpose of the pitch is to entice the editor to ask for more. It does not take the place of the query, although it should be included as part of your query (see above). If an editor requests that you mail him/her a partial or full, include your query letter with that submission. Make sure you mention in your introductory paragraph that you met the editor at such-and-such conference and that they asked for the partial/full. And thank them for their time and interest in your manuscript.

Pitch #5

Life is going well for Stacey Hunter. That is, until her young son witnesses the neighbor boy being kidnapped. When a ransom note appears and Stacey’s son describes the car he saw at the time of the kidnapping, she begins to suspect her own husband might be involved. The FBI believes he might be involved too.

Though she can tell something is going on with her husband, she tries to believe in his claims of innocence and begins an investigation of her own. Her snooping leads her to think the kidnapped boy’s father, Mark, is the one behind the kidnapping – seeing as how he’ll get nothing if he divorces his wealthy wife. The evidence also seems to point to Mark having an affair with a young woman he works with at the high school where he’s a teacher, a woman whose own husband was killed under unusual circumstances.

Stacey’s efforts are further complicated by the odd behavior of her supervisor, Patricia Summers, who has taken a keen interest in Stacey’s husband. Though uncertain of her husband’s faithfulness, Stacey presses on with her investigation until she flushes out the kidnapper and nearly gets herself killed.

This is the best pitch of the contest. It’s a little longer, but not so long that I wouldn’t read it/listen to it. It’s well written. It’s clearly a suspense novel. We know who the main character is and what some of her challenges are. It answers most of the basic questions.

I would like to see it be a little spicier, a little more intense, to show me that you can carry the suspense. Drop a line that gives us an idea of the setting—where it takes place. Mention the main character’s age. My guess is thirty-something, but it would help me to know.

Also, how is this unique? Right now, it’s just another suspense story—which is fine, if I’m looking to churn out suspense novels. But if I’m looking for a big seller (and I always am), I need something that shows me how this is different from the other kidnapping suspense stories already out there.

I’d probably ask for the first couple of chapters because I really like suspense and I’m willing to give most of them a read. But if you were pitching to a national agent/editor, there might not be enough uniqueness in the pitch to get a request for chapters.

One last comment. I didn’t set any restrictions on the type of novel to be pitched, so it could be LDS or not. Since this does not mention that it’s LDS, I’m assuming it is not—which is fine for this contest. But if you really were pitching me as an LDS publisher, you’d need to let me know that there are LDS components to the story.

Pitch #4

“She stood five-foot-eleven and had to be all of 350 pounds. Her beady eyes, dull and black, looked out from a mass of tangled, dirty blonde hair, her twisted and puffy face full of acne and pockmarks. “GLENNA! run for your lives!” we’d scream in our best blood-curdling cries whenever we saw her. Everyone knew she had cooties of the worst kind, and we would probably die if she ever touched us. But I loved her.”

First, this is not really a pitch. It’s a paragraph from the book. This is more of a hook that you might include in a query letter, but it doesn’t tell me enough to qualify as a pitch. A pitch needs to answer the questions: who, what, when, where, and why—with a hint at least on the how.

The last line catches my interest, but the rest of this pitch doesn’t do much to get me to ask for more.

You told me in your e-mail that this was a YA novel, but that info was not part of the pitch itself. It should be–or there should be enough clear hints that I get it without question. The reference to cooties leads me to believe it’s elementary or middle school. But Glenna’s height leads me to believe she’s older than that. Is she a fellow student? Or is she an older woman pushing a grocery cart down the street? Why does he (or whoever) love her? Is she perhaps his mother or grandmother?

Clearly, this is not written from Glenna’s perspective, but she’s the only character that’s introduced. Need to know more about who your narrator is. Also need to know what the conflict is going to be and some clue as to its resolution.

I also do not have a clue as to the genre of this book—is it a teen coming-of-age story? A child coming to grips with mental illness in his/her family? Is Glenna a psycho killer who is going to wreak havoc on the playground or a student with a shotgun? Is this going to be one of those make-over romances where the narrator brings out the beauty inside Glenna and then falls in love with her? I can’t tell. I need to know because I don’t want to waste my time and yours asking for partials in a genre that I’m not interested in.

You may have a very good, very compelling story here, but I can’t tell it from the pitch. I would have to pass.

Pitch Contest #3

The Misadventures of Little Red Writing Hood

Have you ever felt like you’re just spinning your wheels, flinging mud but never getting anywhere? And does ‘getting anywhere’ mean achieving fame and fortune at the expense of being reasonable, responsible, and celestial?

Beckie Mackintosh feels like she’s been spinning her wheels all her adult life, but it’s not mud she’s flinging, it’s dust. Beckie, a would-be writer, lives in a small Utah town with three slightly wacky children [doesn’t work] , two dogs who are devoted to food [doesn’t work], a cat who thinks she’s a queen [doesn’t work], and a parrot that’s in love with a feather duster [works!]. Oh yes, and let’s not forget … a husband who’s a psychologist. She wrestles with paw prints, scouting, femininity, and moths [huh?], all the while wearing her lucky red sweatshirt to help her write, and wondering if achieving the celestial kingdom is at odds with achieving the best seller list.

Her most outstanding talent, her imagination, is also Beckie’s biggest challenge since it often carries her away. Her goal is to become a published author, and her family’s antics provide ample material for her to work with. However, finding a publisher who appreciates her ability to turn the mundane into the marvelous is not an easy task.

Frustration reaches a peak and she vows never to write again. However, her husband, Rusty, submits an entry for her in a contest sponsored by a toilet paper manufacturer. The entry is a chapter from her book, revolving around an experience Rusty had while on the Klondike … using toilet paper for a substitute ski mask [works!]. Beckie is awarded a cash prize, along with the opportunity to help write a commercial for the company. She finally understands that she can be celestial without being perfect, and that her family loves her just as she is … sitting at her computer in her quirky red sweatshirt, writing stories and ignoring the dust.

Okay, this could be really good or it could be really bad. I can see that you’re going for humor, but most of it misses the zing (see notes in red). When I say “doesn’t work,” it means it’s too familiar and commonplace. “Slightly wacky,” how? Give us an example. All dogs love food and all cats think they rule the house. How are her pets out of the ordinary? The parrot hits right on. That is an unusual twist for a parrot.

I like the pun in the title–writing; red sweatshirt–but it’s hard for me to believe that there is going to be enough dramatic tension in this book to motivate sales. It’s not a romance, a suspense, or a mystery—so that means it’s going to be harder to sell. If it’s very, very funny then it might work, but the hints at the jokes and the fun aren’t sharp enough in this pitch to convince me.

Although I smiled at the set-up, I wasn’t completely sold. This is a fence-sitter. I might ask for partials if I was caught up on submissions and having a slow week. If I was really busy, I’d pass.

Pitch Contest #2

Do police officers really spend their time eating jelly donuts and drinking coffee? Read on and find out for yourself. [Drop this entire first paragraph.]

Patrolling the streets and fighting crime, Officer Russell Beck wrestles with the bad guys—from heart-stopping arrests and fast chases on the Capitol Beltway, to a stand-off with a buffalo herd in Wyoming.

“Thrills, Chills and Spills” is the adrenaline rushing, heart pounding, sometimes hilarious, true-life adventures of a cop.

And yes, it even mentions donuts.

This is too general. I need more specifics. Is this a collection of isolated stories about this cop? Or is there an over-arching theme/event that ties them all together. The second option might sell; the first one won’t.

We need more than just a peek into the life of a policeman. We need to care about this guy’s story. There needs to be some internal drama going on. What issues will he face? Where’s the dramatic tension, the conflict, the social commentary on life experience? So far, there is no compelling reason for me to plunk down my hard-earned money to buy this book, nor to spend my life energy reading it. Punch it up. Give me a reason to care.

I would pass on this one, although I do like that last line. It shows some tongue-in-cheek humor, and I like that.

Pitch Contest Responses

Starting today, I will post a pitch and my responses. I only have 5, so we’ll do this for the next 5 work days (taking the weekend off). As you read my comments, understand that they are about the quality of the pitch, not about the idea or the book itself. A negative response to your pitch does not mean that your idea or your book wouldn’t be wonderful–just that you need to pitch it differently to get it noticed.

Pitch Contest #1

Enjoy the madcap antics that go on at this mental heath center. Follow our hero, Teddy Lawson, as he battles with his boss and the bureaucracy all the while wondering if he isn’t on the wrong side of the locked door at the asylum. His inner conflict and frustration culminates in an interesting twist as he finds his resolution closer to home than he would have guessed.

Short is good–but not at the expense of necessary details. I need the who, what, where, when, why and how–or at least some hint at them. We’ve sort of got the who, but we don’t know a lot about him. Is he a doctor, a therapist, a janitor?

I need a hint at when–when in his life does this occur? Is he a teen doing volunteer work here? A new man on the job getting his first look at the facility? Or is he about to retire and worn down by years of frustration? Where does this happen–is it set in modern day America? Or are we talking about a facility on the moon?

What type of antics? How does he battle the boss? Why does he question his sanity? What inner conflict? What frustration? What twist? What resolution? I need to know some of this.

What type of book is this? Is it a “Cuckoo’s Nest” that exposes the mental health industry? Is it literary fiction, where he examines the meaning of life or man’s inhumanity to man? Is the battle with his boss and the bureaucrats literal, putting his life in danger? Or emotional? Or legal? Is it going to be a humorous take (ala Scrubs) on life as a—what? Or is he going to fall in love with a patient, cure her and live happily ever after?

Unfortunately, if your pitch doesn’t answer most of these questions, I have to pass.