So you have finished writing the story that haunted you and kept you awake. Brilliant. That's really a great feat accomplished. Take a break. Celebrate. You owe it. For the successful completion of phase 1 you must celebrate but do it more to gather strength for the next phase that awaits.
This may sound discouraging but it's the truth. You are now at the threshold of an extremely challenging, frustrating and despair inducing phase in the book journey. Unless you are a Bollywood icon, wife of a Bollywood star or a spy who walked in from the cold... Please be warned that getting a publisher is bloody tough. You will need loads of patience, guidance, friends to hold your hand and large doses of whatever is your poison. Mine is wine and pepperoni pizza. So celebrate before you plunge in to the phase 2.
However, before your wait begins, you have to pitch your MS (manuscript) to the publishers. This post is to help you with some pointers to do that.
1. What is a pitch?
This is a short synopsis you send to the publisher, enquiring of their interest in your MS. In case you happen to meet an editor in person and are able to start a conversation; this pitch could also be an oral one. Something akin to the elevator pitch as they call it. The written pitch, usually via an email is usually accompanied with 3 sample chapters.
2. Finish writing the book
This isn't mandatory but I think you should have the entire story written out so that you know which parts to focus on in the pitch. I know of few authors who sent few chapters to an editor who fell in love with the story and then asked for the whole. But exceptions don't prove the rule. So finish writing and then pitch.
3. Pitch isn't the whole story compressed
A pitch is what you read on the book back cover. The gist that tempts you to pick up the book. You don't have to tell the entire story. In fact you mustn't. It must have the essential story line, the main characters and most importantly the hook of the story. Hook means... What grabs the attention of the reader. Please remember there are no original story ideas left. All of them have been told and written. What's left is for us to tell it in a different and interesting way.
The story of my debut novel - A Forgotten Affair isn't new. A woman losing her memory and trying to remember her life. I made it different by weaving in emotional abuse, a love affair outside her marriage. What if the woman was in an abusive marriage and had found love outside the marriage... She loses her memory. Forgets the good, bad and ugly. What happens then? The narrative goes back & forth. I used Facebook as a tool for the woman to see glimpses of a life forgotten. And I had a catch line to hook the reader.
4. Catchline..? What is that? Why do you need it?
You and your MS need to stand apart from the 100 other pitches (may be more) that the editor reads or hears. If you have an interesting line that defines the essence of the story then you have an edge above others. While preparing for the pitch, I came up with 2 lines.
LINE A: Sometimes you need to forget everything to recognize what matters the most.
LINE B: There's something better than finding the love of your life, it's finding yourself.
I went with the first one. The line features in various places in the story and is the tag line or catch line of the novel.
This really caught the attention of the editors.
5 Who do you pitch to?
Yes, you may send it to the general submission email that's given on the website of all publishing houses. The publishers go blue in the face saying that they read every submission. I have my doubts. Yes, there have been people who have risen out of the slush pile but those are again exceptions. Don't bank on your luck to shine out of the pile. I got accepted by two reputed publishers and both of them were direct contacts. So preferably try to connect with editors so that they know who you are. Make an impression if you have the opportunity to. I got the chance of presenting my story idea to a panel editors at Bangalore Lit fest in 2014. That's where the HarperCollins editor heard my pitch and liked it. Please understand and remember that no one will sign you up on the basis of a 3 minute pitch. This is just an avenue to make a personal contact so that your MS isn't faceless. The normal procedure of review follows after a successful pitch. In the end it's the story that matters.
6. How long should the pitch be?
If you are sending it via email; then a short synopsis and three sample chapters. A short synopsis is about a page long, no more. Sample chapters don't need to be in order. Any 3 chapters that best showcase your writing and the story. Don't send the whole MS at this stage. If the editor likes the pitch they will ask for the whole MS.
7. Pitching to an agent
The above rule applies. But please remember, no agent of repute will charge you anything before you sign up with the publisher. The agent gets paid once you get paid by the publisher. If the agent asks for money don't work with him or her. Authors are vulnerable. Don't be fooled or taken in for a ride.
8. Patience is the key
This is a waiting game. It's harrowing. Every author knows how agonizing it is to keep checking the email to see if the yes! We will publish your novel email has arrived or not. I remember the wait. But you have to be patient. Don't bug the editor with persistent mails and messages. A friend of mine was refused by a reputed publishing house because he annoyed them by his constant messaging. It's OK to drop a line once a month. No more than that. It's a good idea to follow the editors on social media. Interact with them through their posts and tweets. They will be reminded of you but you wouldn't be chasing them.
This is where you need author friends. Believe me, your lover, partner, spouse, mom or best friend wouldn't know what the wait feels like unless they have been through this. Only an author knows. So it helps to talk to people who have felt the same despair as you. The wait is awful. I know it because I have gone through it.
Writing a good pitch is really very important. It's the first impression your book makes. And we all know that first impression matters. So don't rush it. Take your time in polishing the pitch and making it very best. So all the very best. Don't lose hope. Believe. Dreams come true…only if you believe.