Do You Need a Developmental Edit, Or a Copy Edit? What’s A Pitch?

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blackwingNovelists contact me with manuscripts in hand. I’ve got 80,000 words, they say. Can you quote me on a copy edit, or a developmental edit? You use these edits in a different order. Developmental edits are different from a copy edit. The copy edit only takes place once you’ve chosen all of the paths the story will take, and the scenes that will remain. Developmental edits help you make those choices. What’s more, it’s better to have an outline, with not all of your book written, before you purchase a developmental edit.

(If you’re ready to see how copy editing looks — just to get an idea of whether you and your editor will be a good fit — a good editor should be able to edit a 500-word sample for free. It’s just a couple of pages worth, but you get the idea.)

How ready are you to pursue a publisher? One very important part of breaking in with publishers is your summary paragraph about your book. In about five sentences, tell me the most important things about the story.

Your entry to the whole process is your pitch. You use a pitch to get the attention of an agent, or an editor at a smaller press. It’s the one sentence you say when people ask, “So what’s your book about?”

Pitches for novels should contain setup, hook, and resolution:

When <character> discovers <catalyst>; s/he must <overcome problem> before <impending doom>, or else <stakes>.

Donald Maas (agent-book developer) had a good deal to say about stakes during the seminar I took with him in San Francisco. They are crucial, and the higher the stakes, the more compelling your story will be. They go all the way up to mortal stakes (your character will die, or someone they love will die.) You can even go beyond those mortal stakes. For example, in my novel Viral Times, millions of lives are at stake — because if Dayton Winstead cannot find the source of the MightyHand virus, then tens of millions of millions will be infected with HIVE-5.

At some point in the near future, you’ll have a chance to deliver the story you’ve written, perhaps by telling a pitch in person to an agent. That’s what conferences can offer you. What you do between now and then will give you a better opportunity to find someone who’s the right person to represent you.

You do research. Which books are like yours, not just in subject but in tone and style? Who agented them?  Use online resources like Publisher’s Lunch to sort through the known universe of agent submissions. Learn as much as you can, and start a list. Rank agents in order of likelihood of love match.

Am I ready to agent it up?

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Perfect PitchOne of my writers from our Manuscript Brunch workshop has a sparkling, vast fantasy novel. He’s workshopping it with us, 20 pages a month. It’s complete, in the sense that he has a version of it that’s been revised and it has a cogent ending.

But now, with the upcoming WLT Agents Conference less than two weeks away, this novelist wants to know if he should invest the $390 in attending the Friday-Sunday meeting. This is a good conference, especially if your budget is limited and you live in Austin, like we do.

Are you ready? One thing you’ll gather from the Writer’s League of Texas Agents Conference is knowledge of how publishing works. I don’t know how much time they’ll give to self-publishing. SelfPub is so mainstream now that major bestseller lists now include SelfPub titles. And major publishers have imprints dedicated to it.

Knowing about the process of publishing — that’s something you might be about to learn in a thorough writing group. Here’s the basics on how to handle an agent opportunity. You must have finished your book, truly, if it’s fiction.

  • You polish your book.
  • You write a meaty summary (synopsis).
  • You condense that into the back-cover copy three paragraphs, which becomes the most serious part of your query letter.
  • Finally, you pitch — to an agent in person, if you’ve paid your $400 to attend.

If you’re not quite prepared to pitch, it will be worthwhile to find someplace to practice. In our Workshop group, we can pitch to one another. This is a rehearsal kind of thing. No matter how much you dislike giving the sizzle of the story in a conversation, it’s crucial to getting an agent. They need to have the sizzle to get a publishing house to read your book.

There’s a “how to pitch” pre-conference meeting that always sells out at the Agents show. It’s often full of people who have not pitched before. In my opinion, it takes a special kind of writer-performer to make changes to improve their pitch, just 24 hours before they need to start making it.

And you begin to pitch your book as soon as you register and walk into the conference hotel. “What’s your book about?” is the icebreaker question. Or even better, “tell me about your book.” Always lead with a character if you can when you answer. As humans, we care the most about people.

We create art to make meaning from our lives. The meaning comes from experiencing what people in your story go through, in person, in scene. Lead with people in trouble in your pitch, meeting a crisis that will change their lives every day going forward.