Last year I discovered a steampunk series that my husband and I have been devouring ever since. Books in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, by Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine, have been published both traditionally and independently and raking in the awards. Today, I am thrilled to share a guest post by Tee Morris that gives great advice to both experienced and aspiring writers about pitching books to agents, editors, and readers.
Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Your Book
With the onset of Spring comes warmer weather and countless opportunities to get outside and enjoy the day. Spring also ushers in a new season of book festivals and conventions where editors and agents will be in attendance. This does not mean they are the chum in open waters and you pounce on them directly with manuscript in hand. It does mean that you have potential opportunities; and what if you happen to strike up a conversation with an agent or editor and they ask the inevitable question “Are you working on something at present?” Do you have an appropriate response at the ready?
Note that I said “appropriate response” which, I can assure you, is not a summary of your work-in-progress within five minutes. You don’t have a matter of minutes. You have a matter of seconds for your appropriate response. Representing your novel, you would think, would be easy for writers. After all, writers can put words to thoughts, weave then into gripping stories and engaging characters, and easily create heroes, villains, societies, and worlds where readers happily lose themselves. When it comes to summarizing a book, I’ve seen writers stumble through description so in-depth they fail to notice the editor or agent they are telling this to has checked their watch twice and are having a tough time keeping eye contact. It might surprise you how many writers can’t boil their book or series into one sentence. When you have the attention of an opportunity, you have to have a perfect pitch at the ready.
Before you think “Pitching a book is someone else’s job…” it’s not. Not any more. Whether it is to an agent, or at a book event where you may want to sell your own books and participate on panel discussions, the intent of pitching a book is to sell your book within a minute. One minute to convince someone that your book is the one they want.
For the science fiction series The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, my wife Pip and I pitch the series as “The X-Files set in Victorian London.” or “James Bond in a corset” (which a book critic actually described it as). This is what is commonly known as the elevator pitch. Maybe, say ten or fifteen years ago, using pop culture references would have been considered “reducing the value of their work” but with today’s visual mead-driven society, you are giving your work a marketing angle and a connection that people can make. This is essential for selling to a publishing house or to a potential reader. An elevator pitch wraps your work up in a nice big bow and sells itself. If it is a particularly good elevator pitch, you should hear three little words next: “Tell me more.”
Now is the moment you go into some (not all, but some) details. “A brash, impulsive secret agent from New Zealand teams up with a bumbling English Archivist to solve the unsolved mysteries conspiring against the throne of England.” You still keep it brief, only revealing enough to entice.
Finding the perfect pitch for your project is not an elusive art. It’s a process of finding what best fits your book or work-in-progress. Refining your summary of a work-in-progress means:
• Finding pop culture references that work for your world, your characters, your work. “It’s a Steampunk X-Files.” — The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
• If pop culture references are not to your liking, go on and use literature references, but give it your own spin. “The Lord of the Rings, if written by Mickey Spillane.” — The Billibub Baddings Mysteries
• Creating “tag lines” (similar to how movies are marketed). “Not all are expendable.” — John Scalzi’s Redshirts
• Using current events or trends to build upon. “A childhood friend prevents his best friend from joining a gang.” — A.B. Westrick’s Brotherhood. (She used this pitch to sell her book to an agent. The agent said, after reading the first three chapters, “You didn’t say the gang was the Klu Klux Klan! Nevermind, send me the rest!” It sold within that year to Penguin Publishing.)
Welcome to the wonderful world of the writer’s pitch. This is when the pressure’s on with your latest labor of love, blood, sweat, tears, and editing; and now you have sum it all up in one sentence.
So, sell it to me. What’s your best pitch?
Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.
Tee has now returned to fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. The series has made quite an impression with Phoenix Rising winning the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, The Janus Affair winning the Steampunk Chronicle 2012 Readers’ Choice Award for Best in Literature, and Dawn’s Early Light recently named Best in Steampunk for 2014 from the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards. Now in 2015, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their fourth book, The Diamond Conspiracy, with the fourth season of their Parsec-winning companion podcast, Tales from the Archives.
When Tee is not creating something on his Macintosh, he enjoys a good run, a good swim, and putting together new playlists to write by. His other hobbies include cigars and scotch, which he regards the same way as anime and graphic novels: “I don’t know everything about them, but I know what I like.” (And he likes Avo and Arturo Fuente for his smoke, Highland Park for his scotch!) He enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, his daughter, and three cats.