If you want to get ahead of the publishing game before you even hammer out that first draft, you need to write these three things first:
- Your pitch
- Your synopsis (or your book jacket, for you pantsers who don’t like much detail)
- Your query letter
You do not have to know every detail of your story before you sit down to write it, but you absolutely do have to know the details that will make your story unique and riveting. In other words, you have to know the details that will make the publishing industry give a damn about your book.
I’m not saying that you should only focus on what you think will sell (which usually never works anyway because you either guess wrong or you find yourself at the tail end of a dying trend); what I am saying is that you need to be realistic.
If you want to traditionally publish, you need to win over an agent, an editor, and eventually an entire publishing house before your book hits the market. That means you need to know how to pitch your book to their bottom line.
(And if you want to indie publish, the game is pretty much the same. You still need to convince people—i.e., your readers—in a very short amount of space that your book is worth buying.)
So it makes sense that the first thing you need to do with a potential story is figure out how you’d pitch it. The worst thing you can do is finish writing your book, only to rudely discover that what you thought you were going to write—and what was going to skyrocket your book to best-sellerdom—isn’t actually what you ended up writing after going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole.
Why You Need a Pitch Before You Write
A pitch isn’t just to sell your book; it’s to keep you focused during the writing process. Tape it above your computer and ask yourself every day, Is this still what I’m writing about, or has it changed?
If it’s changed (and if you’re a pantser that’s probably the case), that’s okay. But now you need to figure out what it is you are writing about—because there’s a good chance you’re not writing about anything, at least not anything publishable, and you’ll have to do a lot of re-writing.
Must-Haves for Writing Pitches and Queries
For some great examples of professional pitches, subscribe to Publishers Lunch, the free daily email from Publishers Marketplace, which lists recent book deals and their one-sentence descriptions. Simply by reading this one thing every day you will better understand what sells and how it sells (i.e., how to write a pitch that’s worth pitching).
For query-letter writing, check out this excellent article from Jane Friedman: The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests.
And to top it off, in an upcoming post I’ll share the best advice I’ve found on how to nail down your pitch quickly and painlessly.