closed yellow elevator doors

Author’s Guide: Practicing a Perfect Pitch

We’ve all heard of the ubiquitous “elevator pitch” and its amazing powers of persuasion. We all have experience with it—the cold email calls, the flyering, the endless scroll of Submittable. Authors must hone this skill in their search for an agent or publisher, so you might think that publishers have surpassed the need to whip out an Emmy-winning pitch on the spot. Unfortunately, this is not at all the case. In fact, agents and publishers are constantly pitching your manuscript—to their own sales and marketing teams, to subsidiary rights agents, to other publishers, etc. Once we acquire your book, we never stop tooting its horn until it has fulfilled its potential. And that includes a lot of pitching.

A publisher’s pitch isn’t all that different from an author’s, except a publisher might have some sales numbers to boost their confidence. But the core goal is the same: you want your listener to understand what it feels like to read your book. Pitching a book is selling an experience and an idea—the best way to snag the interest of your potential reader or buyer is to sell them on the experience they’ll have while reading your book. A great way to do that is by explaining how your book is at the crossroads of different genres. It helps give an idea of which readers will enjoy your book while also making it sound unique. A nifty trick to this is picking one genre that’s currently very popular, and another that’s more timeless. For example, you might say that your book is a domestic suspense (very popular in the past few years) with a women’s fiction angle (a genre with some longevity). You can also take two fairly disparate examples and neatly explain how you’re able to straddle them both—perhaps your graphic novel has the heart of Blankets by Craig Thompson but the journalistic acuity of Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. Feel free to reference big authors when explaining the writing style or context, but don’t comp huge successes directly. You’re not the next Junot Díaz, but your voice might break genre barriers like Díaz. Your book won’t be the next Harry Potter, but it might be in conversation with Harry Potter—maybe it’s another magical school story, but this time with a sociopolitical angle and a murder mystery.

It’s also important to contextualize yourself. Why are you writing this story? The reason it matters to you might very well be the reason it matters to others. Perhaps you’re breaking into a traditionally male-dominated genre, or you’re applying a queer lens to a historically straightwashed history. What drove you to write your book might drive others to take a chance on it. Your certainty on its importance is key to selling the experience. This brings me neatly to my final point:

The most important part of any pitch is confidence. Your pitch might not be in person—you could read it from a piece of paper, you might be sending it as an email or entering it on Submittable. However you shoot your shot, stand your ground firmly. Keep in mind that we all need to work together, but if you don’t sound like you’d want to read your book, you won’t convince anyone else to.

You have time to refine your presentation. Not every pitch will be perfect for every listener, so learn how to personalize your spiel to your audience and let them know that you’ve done your research. Take the time to practice, get feedback from your peers, and revise as needed. Good luck!

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