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'Pitch me this book in no more than twenty words...'


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What do other authors think about the rise of 'the pitch' in the publishing industry? Is it healthy that so many books are sold on the basis of a synopsis and/or a couple of chapters these days? Is the publishing industry getting a little too high concept/quick-fix in nature; a little too close to the movie industry, in other words?

 

I'm currently writing my third book and trying to resist giving it to my agent to send out to editors before it's completed - mainly because I feel I'd like to complete it for myself, without thinking about how a publisher might want to market it and let that get in the way of anything else I'm trying to achieve. It's difficult, though, since I'm used to selling books on the basis of a few chapters, and writing a novel (my other two books were non-fiction) is difficult to support financially. I wondered if the other writers on this board had sold their books before they were completed and, if so, whether they thought that was a good thing. I sold my second book - which I don't think is as good as my first, though the writing is more relaxed - on quite a short pitch, and I sometimes wonder if that's the reason for its shortcomings.

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Most (I mean the huge majority) of novels are sold only after they are finished. Non-fiction is often sold on partials and outlines. Now this is not to say that it NEVER happens in opposite fashion.

Novels have always been sold via "the pitch". Every agent asks for a 100-400-word synopsis, which is often a pitch and the back cover blurb to boot.

If your agent feels he can sell an unfinished novel by you, then your talent is very marketable. In my experience (I have only one sale - but been on the receiving end of many stories) often only "Best seller" status can secure a sale on unwritten or partial fiction manuscripts.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm with you on finishing the things before they go out the door... having spent two months in a fizz of panic because I had queried the very first attempt at a novel I completed three years ago, knowing the writing was unpublishable, though the story fairly sound. 'I'll just revise it up to scratch,' I thought. 'If they want to see it. Otherwise this one can stay in the box under the bed forever.' And then then, of course, the publisher wanted to see the whole thing, and I was pretty sure I had a sale as long as I could revise it up to standard.

 

Revise? I re-wrote the whole thing twice (thankfully it's only a short novel - 30k words), stripped out a major secondary, completely changed the suspense plot, and about half of all the scenes.

 

So, I don't recommend this. But then again, I wouldn't have worked so hard on it if the publisher hadn't been interested in this case.

 

But I think you have to have a strong 'pitch' to even get a publisher or agent interested. So I can't really write a story without knowing somewhere in the back of my mind the 'hooks' I could potentially sell it on. The converse is that I can't write stories if I've seen someone else do it before. I knew my co-written novel, The Lady Soldier, would be a hard sell, because it's difficult to define, but then on the other hand the concept of the novel was easy to explain - 'kick-ass lady soldier survives in the Napoleonic wars', and there was a slim possibility that it could be sold to a mainstream publisher as 'women's adventure fiction' if we could find a publisher willing to take a risk. Thankfully we did.

 

My current wip is causing me a little anxiety on this score... it won't be easily genre-ised. So I think I try and relax and wait and see what agents and editors make of it when I query it. :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Interesting topic. I've never sold on a pitch, or a partial. I used to sell on a full manuscript. Then I graduated to selling on a synopsis. Now I'm advanced two-book contracts for untitled books, though I still chew my fingernails when I send the finished product to my agent, in case he, or they, don't like it. The drawback of this is working to deadline. 'Where Seagulls Soar' has just been accepted by Simon and Schuster UK. It's my 5th book with them, and my 20th novel - the sequel to "The Stonecutter's Daughter.' I'm finishing a spec book at the moment. Then I have to write another saga for S&S. I have no idea yet what this will be about. No title. No characters in mind. I often wonder if my mind might go blank, but it always seems to pull something out of the hat when needed.

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  • 1 month later...

Watching buyers, browsers in bookshops is very instructive.

What's the first thing someone not in the trade do when you hand them a copy of your book? What's the second?

The buying punter judges a new book by the cover and the pitch on the back. Especially if they've never heard of the author.

The pitch and blurb is an art form and should be recognised as such.

I'm damned if I can do it.

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The buying punter judges a new book by the cover and the pitch on the back. Especially if they've never heard of the author.

The pitch and blurb is an art form and should be recognised as such.

I'm damned if I can do it.

 

I agree Pep. The cover and blurb are very important to an author, and although some publishers consult by sending cover roughs and seeking an opinion, most don't. I've been happy with most of my covers so far, but a couple of recent ones have been a bit busy and colourful for my personal taste. I have to remind myself that the publishers have been in business a long time and know what sells and what doesn't. I used to quite like the challenge of writing my own blurbs, but I don't get to do them now.

 

Going back to an earlier thread, I've now sold a book from a partial. My agent asked for a three chapter + synopsis of my spec book, "More Than A Promise" and it was accepted by Severn House while I was writing the second last chapter, and a contract was offered. Thinking about this, I feel that it's not so much that you need to be a best selling author to be contracted from a partial, since I'm not. But it's more that you've got a few books behind you, so they know you can finish the manuscript.

 

Janet Woods :rolleyes:

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Most (I mean the huge majority) of novels are sold only after they are finished. Non-fiction is often sold on partials and outlines. Now this is not to say that it NEVER happens in opposite fashion.

Novels have always been sold via "the pitch". Every agent asks for a 100-400-word synopsis, which is often a pitch and the back cover blurb to boot.

 

Really interesting comments on an interesting question. As a published author of both fiction and non-fiction, ArJohn's comments are exactly my experience.

 

I feel I made a big mistake with my first novel in not paying attention to the pitch. I couldn't define it well in 100 words and I think that pointed to a flaw in my thinking. The publishers actually saw a different focus to me, asked for a rewrite, then commissioned and changed the title accordingly. I don't think I was clear enough in my own thinking from the start. I was lucky to get a publisher who saw beyond that and helped.

 

With my most recently published non-fiction, I proposed the concept and rang publishers with questions on who to send it to. I was asked on the phone what it was about. You need a 25 word definition ready to answer that because I was put through to the commissioning editor, much to my surprise. That then lead to a further question, and I was ready with my 100 word version. The next question was how does it compare to those in the market in the same genre. That is another thing you need to be able to answer, especially for non-fiction. I am now ready for that not only for non-ficiton, but also for fiction.

 

I was asked to submit my next fiction project - which is not written. Although I have my next non-fiction contract on a proposal only, I regret submitting the fiction incomplete because I couldn't fully demonstrate where it was going and it was rejected. I won't do that again.

 

So my advice is that the discipline of explaining your book in 25 and then 100 words (the standard advice given here in Australia) is important for all genres, partly to focus your own thinking.

 

Lynne

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