Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Challenge Day 3: Advice on Pitching Your Novel


Yesterday, Jodee asked me for some advice for her daughter on pitching her novel. She’ll be attending the Writer’s Digest conference in January. Thought I’d post my two cents and quote from “You Can Write a Novel”, by James V. Smith, Jr.

First I’ll give my personal advice:

1. Focus on your main character.

2. Focus on the main characters points. What moved your character from A to Z?

Now in the book, “You Can Write a Novel”, Mr. Smith suggests finishing the novel, of course, before you try to sell it. Good advice. Next, he suggests paring down your entire novel into about forty words (even thirty-eight if you can).

Here’s his example:

Force Recon: Action-Adventure

A Marine lieutenant’s elite band fights a running battle against terrorist behind enemy lines – in Canada. French separatists trap Navy SEALS and Army Rangers, and Force Recon rescues the Americans and erases all evidence of a U.S. invasion.

Then he asks “What’s explicit in that very short story”?

  • The heroic character-a Marine lieutenant
  • The central issue of the story (plot line)-fighting terrorists in an attempt to rescue Americans
  • The heroic goal-to punish terrorists and rescue other elite forces before the United States is accused of invading Canada
  • The worthy adversary-the terrorists, all of Canada, public opinion and (implied) elite teams of other services
  • Action-explicit in running the battle and rescue
  • The ending-Force Recon rescuing the Americans and erasing all evidence of an invasion

He also suggests your thirty-eight words should include:

  • The grabber-fighting terrorists and rescuing SEALs and Rangers
  • A twist-the United States invading Canada

Mr. Smith also suggests that you “write your nugget as if your telling your best friend about a movie you’ve just seen. Don’t worry about the word count at first. Use specific present-tense verbs that describe the action as if it were happening here and now. Use precise nouns. Tighten. Don’t stop refining until you get to thirty-five or forty words”.

More of my suggestions:

  1. When you meet the agent/publisher, introduce yourself, shake their hand with confidence.
  2. Remember to give the title of your novel, genre, and word count after you’ve introduced yourself.
  3. It’s okay if you bring a cheat sheet. Let them know that it’s your first novel. From my experience agents/publishers are gracious and polite people.
  4. Remember, you’ve got ten minutes to pitch. That’s it.
  5. If they want to read your manuscript follow their implicit instructions they give you.

And finally, if you’ve written your chapters in their own separate documents you’ll have to copy and paste them into one. After you do this, make sure you have someone else go through it to make sure you didn’t post duplicate chapters, leave out chapters, and that they’re numbered correctly( believe me its embarrassing when you have to write back to the agent/publisher that you screwed up…I know… because I did that).

You should do this beforehand so you get the correct word count. Trying to tally up each chapter with a calculator is not a good move. I know. I did that,too. Didn’t work for me. Believed I had 80,000 words, told the agent/publisher that and now I’m eating it because Shelly is a dufus sometimes.

Learn from my mistakes people. Take precautions.

Anyway, I hope I spelled it out. If not, can any of you give anymore suggestions on verbally pitching your novel?



  1. My radar says Shelly is no dufus-ever.

  2. Rehearse you pitch out loud over and over with some level of excitement. If you're not excited about your novel, you can't expect anyone else to be.

  3. Good suggestions; I've already done the boiling down the whole book to a few words exercise.

    Americans invading Canada, hmm? As a Canadian, I must protest to us being labelled the adversary. We'd be the protagonists!

  4. Eve:

    Sometimes I do the silliest things...guess I learn the hard way.

  5. Nikki:

    Thanks. I forgot about that one.

  6. William:

    You'll have to discuss the Canada thing with James V. Smith, Jr. I was only quoting his work.

  7. Shelly,

    This is such a helpful post. I sent the link to my daughter. She Skyped me earlier tonight overwhelmed with trying to condense her novel. This will give her a practical example.

  8. Jodee:

    Overwhelmed and anxious. Yup. I know how she feels. It's much easier to write our novel chapter by chapter versus puiing the whole thing in a tiny box.

    If she can remember to focus on her main character and what they did to get from A to Z she'll be fine.

    Also, tell her to write one short sentence about what each chapter is about...bullet that on a seperate sheet to take with her if the agent/publisher wants to hear more than her thirty-eight word diddy. And out of those bullets she should be able to come up with her diddy as well.

    Like my first Chapter: Lila is being coerced by her mother to marry Max.

    Ch 2-Reluctantly, Lila walks down the aisle but Gram appears and stalls the wedding ceremony.

    So forth and so on.

    Hope this helps.


Let me know what you think.