Five Things I’ve Learned About Pitching a Novel


Writing a great novel doesn’t guarantee publication. The publishing industry is brutal, highly subjective, and has no room for the weak-willed. I’m relatively new to the novel pitching game, but I’m already learning it takes a lot of determination and thick skin. Four rejection letters and two beacons of silence are all I have to show for The Muse, despite months of querying.  Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I can go on and on about how important it is to be tough, but I think the bigger lesson is to remember to have a little fun with it and don’t take anything personally.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I have pick up a few nuggets of wisdom along the way …

1. Agents are not evil-doers who love to say no.

I’ve read horror stories of vicious rejections letters and negative interactions with agents, but so far my experience has been quite positive. The rejection letters I’ve received have all been very encouraging even though they all said “no.” I don’t know if this is because I only pitched to super nice people or if my work is good enough not to elicit venom. Honestly, I like both possibilities equally.

2. Sometimes a response can take months.

We all like to think literary agents have the superhero ability to stay up all night and read really fast, but the fact is they are human. They need sleep and they like to read carefully while considering someone’s work. The last response I got from an agent came four months after I sent the query letter. I had already marked the agent’s space on my spreadsheet with “no response!” It just goes to show you never know when a response will come. Patience is everything.

3. Finding the right agent takes a lot work.

There are literally thousands of agents looking for a good book. And they all want different things! It took months of research to create a list of six agents I though might be interested in my novel. As much as I hate using a cliché on this point, the process of looking for the right agent is exactly like looking for a very tiny needle in a huge haystack. In the end, I’m hoping all relentless research will be worth it when I find the perfect agent.

4. Writing a synopsis sucks.

I know as a professional writer I should be able to write anything, but squishing my entire novel down to a single page is pure torture.  Moreover, it’s ridiculous that I can easily write a short synopsis for a book I just read, but not my own! It’s been six months and I’m still editing a synopsis for The Muse. I’m either being too picky or I’m a moron that can’t write a synopsis.

5. Persistence will pay off.

Every account I’ve read from a published writer reinforces the reality that persistence is everything. Agents don’t go looking for you, so you have knock on their door with a kick-butt query and novel. Getting published is all about self advocacy and seizing every opportunity. If you skulk in a corner and refuse to speak, your writing will never see the light of day. Persistence is everything … and so is a little luck.

Write those queries and believe with everything you’ve got!

– – –

c.b.w. 2014


18 thoughts on “Five Things I’ve Learned About Pitching a Novel

  1. Number 4 made me go “HA!” out loud, because yes…absolutely yes. My first ever query was to a publisher who requested that your synopsis include the actual ending of the novel. I wrote and rewrote that synopsis about twenty times before simply giving up and accepting that it was going to sound stupid no matter what I did with it. I feel very strongly that there is simply no way to describe your novel – including exactly how it ends – and not have it sound stupid, at least to yourself.

    Also, yeah…number 2. Number 2 is why I will probably end up self-publishing in the end. It’s not that I’ve had a lot of experience with long waits (that first query was actually my only query, and I heard back after about six weeks), but I know that if I HAVE to deal with them I’ll just end up losing my mind. lol Call me impatient, but I can’t even fathom the projected six-month waits that some publishers have, especially since a lot of publishers won’t let you submit to anyone else while you’re querying with them. Can you imagine waiting six months for a no, just so that you can finally submit to someone else who also wants exclusivity during the query and also takes six months to say no? You could be querying for the rest of your life! o.O


    • I thought about self-publishing, but then I decided I wanted to at least try the traditional route of publication. If I fail after a valiant effort, I may reconsider self-publishing again.

      Although, you are right – the waiting part is hard to do!


      • I’ve thought the same way for quite a while now…it’s hard not to feel like getting published the traditional way is “winning”, somehow. Even though self-publication is a perfectly legitimate method it almost feels like cheating somehow, you know?

        BUT, in the end my patience is extraordinarily thin, so we’ll see what kind of mood I’m in once my manuscript gets back from the beta-reader. lol


  2. Writing a synopsis definitely sucks. We work so hard to find all of the right words. Shoving it all into such a small space never feels right. But I’m so glad that you’ve been hearing back from agents! Hope you get a “yes” soon!


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