I spent the last year and a half gleefully happy that I was writing a book. Now the inevitable begins. It’s time to pitch the manuscript to agents and publishers. Here are the five signs that I’ve entered the dreaded Pitch Wars. (Cue ominous sci-fi theme…)
5. My palms are sweaty and I think I might pass out.
I swear, I haven’t felt this nervous since I tried asking out this gorgeous tall, dark, and handsome guy in high school. He rejected me. I was crushed. I wish I could remember the name of that guy I was so mad about. I swear I was totally in love and heart-broken. What was his name again?
When you’re an unknown author like me, approaching agents and publishers for the first time is like dating. I want them to like me. “Hey, see how pretty my manuscript is? It also has a great personality.” And just like my dating period, I’m so paranoid of screwing up the first impression.
However, it’s time to put on my big girl pants and get ‘er done. (Takes deep breath.)
4. My eyes are crossing from the various submission requirements.
The first rule of submitting is do not, upon pain of death, defy the submission requirements! OK, maybe not so much upon pain of death, but you’ll definitely end up in the “buh-bye” pile if you do your own thing. Because many editors and agents have inboxes with thousands of queries from authors, these professionals tend to be delete-ready.
It’s so important to pay close attention to the submission guidelines. If they only want a query letter with three paragraphs, then do that. If they want three chapters of your book, do that, too. If they want the first four pages of your manuscript, don’t give them five. Respecting their requirements is the first way you can communicate that you’re taking a business relationship with them seriously.
Just this morning I drafted my first query letter and fretted that I had four paragraphs instead of three. Know what I did? I asked for help. Poof, feedback from people who read my manuscript saved the day. Always ask for help.
3. I cried like a small child over composing my book synopsis.
Holy cow, why didn’t someone tell me writing a synopsis of your work is harder than writing the book itself? I can only say it must be like keeping the details of how painful birth is from a pregnant woman. I’ve never given birth myself but composing the synopsis is OW-WOW-OW!
In my head are all the twisty turny things, every character, and way too many details. Distancing myself from the book is crazy difficult for me. I need to step back and tell an abbreviated version, leaving out character names, and focus only on the main plot points. Also, including the ending is weird, but I understand that I’m not sending this to an audience of readers, but editors or agents who are trying to see if they can sell my work.
I confess I might have hidden under a furry blankie with utter dismay when I first attempted the synopsis. Thankfully, I came across this template by Susan Dennard of Pub Crawl. Try it. It’s pretty cool.
After I complete this summary I’m going to ask a beta reader to review it. Again, I’m too close to the manuscript, and the tighter the synopsis, the better.
2. I’ve never been so jealous of seasoned writers before.
There, I admit it. I envy you people who have published your work. You’ve been through all of this and are probably laughing mockingly at me right now. Meanies!
I have to tell myself that every established writer was once going through the growing pains of pitch wars just like I am. This is all part of the adventure, right?
It’s not an easy path I’m choosing, because it’s harder than ever to get nibbles from publishers these days. At least when you’ve been traditionally published once and have done well by it, you have business metrics to share when you’re ready to publish subsequent work. All I have are the opinions of a few beta readers and my mother. (Ma loves the book, by the way. It’s just too bad she doesn’t own a publishing house. I would unashamedly go for nepotism, given half the chance. What? Are you saying she doesn’t have an impartial, critical eye? How dare you?)
Yeah, you published writers. You make me sick. Also, mad jealous and I wish I were you. Please give me advice. I’ll be your friend!
1. The writer’s cap is off and the business fedora is on!
Yup, it’s time to let go of the artsy-fartsy and understand I’m entering the business area of the publishing world. Skin has to be thickened, query letters polished, the synopsis tightened, the manuscript pristine, and my conduct supremely professional. This is where I’m grateful that I’ve experience working with executives and that I own a consulting business. I can wear my fedora with comfort.
Rejection will be part of this journey. I’m readying myself to become Teflon-coated. Getting refused from editors, publishers, and agents can mean a variety of things. My work might not fit in with the kind of material they like to sell. Their agency or publishing house might not be accepting any more unsolicited manuscripts this year. My query might get lost in the tens of thousands of submissions they receive every month.
The trick is not to panic or be upset. OK, I’m probably going to panic or be upset at first, but part of my business plan is to medicate myself with cupcakes. All will be well. I just have to remain professional and persevere through the process.
So, wish me luck as I plunge waist-deep into the pitch wars. I’ll keep you posted as to how the battle is going. (Shouts, “FREEEEDOMMMM!” like Braveheart.)
Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is with beta readers and she’s accidentally writing her second in the series. She didn’t know there would be a series. Huh.
Cait is also Madam President of her consulting company, Dynamic Canvas Inc., Chief Crafter at Cait Cards, and works part time as Assistant to the Executive Director at H’Art of Ottawa.
(Image, “Books Publishing Shows Editor Media And Non-fiction” by Stuart Miles.)
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