If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re at least considering publishing your novel with a traditional publishing house. If so, one of the scariest things you’re going to have to do is pitch your novel to literary agents and editors, the gatekeepers of our industry.
Why is it scary? Well, you’re essentially saying, “I spent years creating a work of art, and I want you to LOVE it and give it to readers. ‘Kay?” Just like applying for a job or asking someone on a date, you’re setting yourself up for the possibility of rejection. When you pitch, you’re going to receive more rejections, sometimes in the form of silence, than you do offers.
While rejection after rejection and feeling scared don’t sound fun, we have to pitch our novels if we want to publish them the traditional route. We have to send out query letters and it doesn’t hurt to attend a writers conference … or several.
Think you’re ready to do this? Here are four signs to look for:
#1 – Your novel is finished.
And by “finished” I mean you’ve completed a solid draft and the process included some combination of the following:
- You learned a ton about writing fiction.
- You spent months, probably years, hammering out a manuscript.
- You got feedback from fellow writers and “beta-readers” who’ve recommended improvements and highlighted your manuscript’s strength.
- You’ve revised several times based on that feedback.
#2 – You have thoroughly researched your novel’s market
And by “researched your market” I mean you have become an expert on:
- Your novel’s GENRE and the readers who read this genre.
- The names and profiles of at least twenty active AGENTS WHO REPRESENT NOVELS LIKE YOURS.
- The names and descriptions of PUBLISHING HOUSES AND IMPRINTS that print novels like yours.
- COMPARISON TITLES, as can be found scouring Amazon and bestseller lists
- How novels like yours are described on the DUST JACKETS
#3 – You’ve braced yourself for rejection
And by “bracing yourself,” I mean getting whoopin’, hollerin’ excited about the word “No.” We all know the story of J. K. Rowling who faced rejection from agents and publishers before she finally landed a deal for Harry Potter. And now look.
Stay the course, and think of every rejection as a learning experience, a stepping stone to getting an offer of representation and eventually landing a deal and seeing your hard work on shelves. Here are several forms rejection can take:
- You query an agent or editor and you don’t hear back. Oftentimes, these gatekeepers simply don’t have time to respond in writing to every query they receive and respond only to authors they’re interested in representing.
- You query an agent and you do hear back. He or she says something along the lines of “Thanks so much for the chance to consider your work. I like X, but not Y. Best of luck finding representation.”
- You attend a conference and pitch to an agent in person. He or she says, flat out, “Sorry, it’s not for me.”
- You attend a conference, pitch to an agent, and he or she says, “It’s usually not my thing, but I’ll be happy to take a look.” Not an outright rejection, but neither is this an enthusiastic “Yes!”
If ya get any of the above, guess what? You get to revise your novel again before pitching to other agents and editors. Yay!
#4 – You’re prepared for additional revisions
And by “additional revisions,” I mean the probability that you’ll need to revamp your manuscript completely. Doing so doesn’t make your first complete draft bad. It just means you’re willing to make it even better, in light of the feedback you receive from the gatekeepers of the print industry. Revisions can take the form of:
- Adding and deleting scenes or even whole chapters
- Improving your writing style
- Combining characters and adding new ones.
- Returning to your research to enhance your novel’s plot.
And the list goes on. As I shared in a recent video, I completely changed the style of my novel. First, I changed the original third-person narrator to first-person, splitting the POV between two protagonists. Then, I fashioned a unique voice for those protagonists. All of this took forever. I still have a list of additional revisions I have yet to complete.
Just remember: there’s no such thing as “done,” until the book hits the shelves. Once you land an agent and eventually an editor, these people will ask you to revise your manuscript with a mind to make it more marketable. Get on this bandwagon now! Going From Nothing To Novel takes a while and so does going From Pitch to Published.
Pitching your novel before it’s finished
While literary agents and other industry experts advise against pitching your novel before the manuscript is complete, some folks believe it’s good preparation for when your novel’s ready for real.
I tend to agree with the latter, especially after having pitched a novel to several agents when it was only half complete. It was great practice and the feedback those agents gave me helped me complete and revise my novel with a greater sense of purpose.
Welp. Have I scared ya off? If you’re in the beginning phases of writing a novel, don’t get overwhelmed by what’s to come. Just keep your head down, put your fingers on your keyboard, and enjoy the creative process. Also, stay tuned for a post on how to decide between self-publishing your novel and pursuing the traditional path.
If you’ve seen the signs that you’re ready to pitch, congrats! Stay tuned for a post on creating and perfecting your novel pitch.
Thoughts and suggestions? Comment below!