Dangerous Cliff

Hello, Agent Smith

I’m standing at the precipice. No, it’s not a metaphor – it’s the literal precipice of launching my completed manuscript into the world of traditional publishing. Ribbon Road is ready for agents.

I am terrified.

I remember, way back in 2018 when I sat down and decided to write a book (the one before Ribbon Road), that the task would be difficult. No thought entered my mind about having to actually sell the book. And that’s what you’re doing when you pitch to agents. You aren’t trying to get them to recognize your creative genius or your genre-defining masterpiece (well, OK, maybe a little bit). You’re trying to get them to see the sales potential of your story.

This sounds crass, but it’s true. The world of professional publishing is all about selling books. If a book doesn’t sell, it doesn’t make anyone along the publishing chain money: bookstores, publishers, agents, and most importantly, authors. But the sad truth is that most books don’t sell many copies (or so says the New York Times, courtesy of Nathan Bransford).

Your job, in a pitch, is to convince your agent that your story has the potential to fall into that small percentage of books that sell, or that even smaller percentage that reach best seller status. You do this with a query letter (usually a blurb about your book) and a synopsis.

And you thought writing a book was hard.

I’ve been struggling through the blurb and synopsis for Ribbon Road. I’m getting there, but it’s been tough. And most probably, this is because I made a fundamental error in creating this story: I didn’t write the pitch first.

What? I hear you say. How can I condense my 300,000 word masterpiece into only a few hundred words, before I’ve even written it? Well, first thought, if you can’t do it before you’ve written the book, it certainly won’t be any easier after. It makes sense, though. If you don’t have your idea fleshed out enough to pitch it before you start writing, do you really understand your idea?

That’s not to say you can’t change as you go. Use the pitch as a guide to understand the theme, the protagonist, and the stakes: what your protagonist wants and what’s stopping her from getting it. Without those, you have no story, no plot. Without understanding those, you are meandering through a forest of plots with no path and no compass. Yes, the trees are pretty, but pretty writing does not a story make (nor a blog post).

When I wrote Ribbon Road, I simply sat down and wrote the story (based on a dream), hence my current struggles to write my pitch. I’ll get there, I know Ribbon Road is a good story with a strong hook, I’m just struggling to condense everything I’ve been working on for the past year into those few words. When you write the pitch beforehand, you don’t have all that baggage – the idea is fresh and still developing. You know the core, and you can worry about the details later. Stripping the details away to find the core is much harder.

And, of course, I practice what I preach. I’ve got the next novel idea developed, another middle grade fantasy, working title Cup of Prosperity, set in the city of Evimare. (No, I’m not going to tell you more yet.) But I’ve already written the pitch and tested it with a writer’s group. I know the idea is sound, now all I have to do is add the details – or, write the book. Easy, right?

Want to know more about me or Ribbon Road, or follow the development of my next project? Have a story to share about pitching your book? Just want to vent about the whole process? Reach out on twitter, sign up to my newsletter, or comment below. And no, you don’t have to pitch your comment ideas first.

There are many, many types of art out there, of which writing is only one. Many people post images online, free for use, on various sites, and I am ever thankful to them for this. The cliff image on this post is by Michal Osmenda and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

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