As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, the whole pitch-query-agent-proposal-publisher thing has filled me with fear and dread for a long time. It took finally reaching out to some friends and acquaintances in the know and attending a very helpful (and focused) workshop to make it feel almost do-able.
And as promised, I am sharing here some of the advice I received (some of which will conflict). Please note, that this information is a summary and cannot reflect every helpful tidbit. In other words, get thee to a workshop for the most thorough insight on how to start the publication process. (As an aside, one author highly recommended going the self-publication route. At this point, I do not feel this is the right way for me, so I will focus here only on traditional publication.)
On agents and publishers, the first step:
- Don’t contact publishers directly.
- If you are close to finishing the book, do that. Then start looking for an agent.
- If you want to sell on proposal, put together a brief proposal (think movie trailer) for an agent.
- Contacting a few publishers while researching agents is an option.
- Possibly request a casual conversation — no query yet since the books aren’t done — with a local publisher for insight on “final” draft.
- You do not need to have the book finished to begin the process. But prepare two “perfect” (your strongest) chapters ready to use as sample material.
On Pitches (a summary of information shared by David Corey at the League of Vermont Writers conference, April 26, 2014):
- Pitch is like the pick-up line to get you the date (the query letter is the first date)
- Pitch is a very short story (100-150 words)
- Use 3rd person, present tense
- Specific and concrete: talk action and character, not theme or intangibles (i.e. “the meaning of life”)
- Use nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs
- Use your own voice and make sure it reflects the tone of the book
- Paint a picture: show, don’t tell
- Make the reader care… in ONE SENTENCE!
On Query Letters (a summary of information shared by Joni Cole at the League of Vermont Writers conference, April 26, 2014):
- Use your own voice (don’t be all formal and “professional”)
- Make it memorable (“give it a heartbeat.”)
- Be specific: give “nugget” of the story without going into plot: a) The “grounding spot”: what started the story, why is there a story? b) What does character want to do? c) What’s in the way?
- Include genre and word count
- Personalized opening to agent (make you sure this is not a complete “cold call” so you have something to reference to make it personal)
- Show you did your homework (know the market: help them sell the book): a) who’s your competition? b) why is your book different? c) what’s your niche market?
- Platform: Who are you? a) credentials b) networks and mailing lists c) blogs, followers, etc.
- But above all: “YOUR PASSION IS YOUR PLATFORM!”
To read snippets of my memoir, click here. I will be adding more as this journey progresses.