Preparing to Pitch: The novelist salesperson
“Can you summarise your novel in a sentence or two,” my marketer, Eloise asks, her smile wide, her tone as always, encouraging. You would think, having spent two years crafting, carefully editing, and rewriting Piglet that I would be up to such a task. But, in the doorway of BookBar, the first of many bookshops Eloise and I visited with armfuls of proofs and cake – the latter a gift-bribe to ingratiate the former – I realized I was not. Pitching a book is a different beast to writing one.
The thing is, I should know how to sell a book. I’ve been on the other side, as it were, devising marketing campaigns for non-fiction titans such as Yotam Ottolenghi and David Attenborough. I could put together an elevator pitch. In fact I had put together an elevator pitch for Piglet when I secured my agent. But by the time I was holding an advanced copy of my debut in one hand and boxes of mini cupcakes in another, years had passed.
I had forgotten how to talk about my book, how to be a novelist salesperson.
In order to craft a novel, I have to exist in a carefully curated environment for the duration of my writing. I am, essentially, chasing a vibe for six, nine, twelve, eighteen months: listening to the same music, eating similar foods, trying to hold on to the feeling of my fiction. I have found it is no good to try and continue living within the creative energy of your novel after you have finished your work. The vibe dissipates. Smoke on the wind; intangible magic.
So, could I summarize my novel in two sentences? Not at that moment. I was so far gone from being in the work, I couldn’t even remember how I’d managed to write it in the first place.
Less than ideal. But fixable. Here’s how I did it –
Re-read your work
Obvious, right? But this must not for copyedits or proofreading. Reread your work for pleasure. Return to your favourite scenes, recite them, indulge yourself as if you were the audiobook narrator. You’ll quickly reimmerse yourself in the world you created and remember what it is about your book that makes it shine.
Rely on your team
Unless you’re self-publishing, you’ll be surrounded by a team of talented individuals. Marketers, publicists, editors, salespeople, the list goes on. Use them all. Draw on their expertise. Not sure on talking points for interviews? Brainstorm them with your publicist. Need a hand honing your elevator pitch? Hello, marketer (and thanks, Eloise)! Even having worked in the publishing industry I needed to remind myself of this point. It’s your teams job to help! It’s your job to ask for it.
Embrace your inner salesperson
Unavoidably, you are one of the best people to pitch your book. After securing representation, I hadn’t anticipated – the finish line in my mind, at that time, very much being getting an agent and adding their handle to my Twitter bio – how I would need to continue selling my novel to publishers, to booksellers, influencers, and readers. These people – booklovers, all, so the best kind of people – want to hear from you. Get comfortable speaking about your work, tailor your talking points for your various audiences, and embrace spinning your story.
Lottie Hazell is a writer, contemporary literature scholar, and board game designer living in Warwickshire. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Loughborough University and her research considers food writing in twenty-first century fiction. Piglet is her first novel, out now.