Thursday, May 13, 2021

To Pitch or Not to Pitch? from James W. Ziskin

 What comes first, the book or the pitch? Put another way, do you develop the larger idea of a book to test out with your agent/publisher, before writing the book? Or do you write the book and then look for the pitch in it? Or?

With the exception of my first Ellie Stone book, I’ve always written a short pitch for my editor before starting work on the novel. But the pitch was little more than a formality. Something to show to the publisher to ensure the story wasn’t something awful or inappropriate. In fact, for the third Ellie Stone novel, Stone Cold Dead, I sent the first fifty pages to my agent and editor for their OK, even after the publisher had signed off on the pitch. I wanted to be sure the crime in the story wasn’t taboo, Both my agent and editor told me not to worry. The storyline was fine.

Since my agent wanted to proceed one book contract at a time with the publisher, this pattern of a paragraph or two as a proposal continued through the seventh book with no hiccoughs along the way. But now I’m trying to branch out and write another series  or two, so I’m back to square one. 

For my latest book—a throwback thriller set in 1975 India—I had to pitch it to my new agent. In truth, the pitch was basically one line: “Graham Greene meets Gatsby on the Subcontinent.” She read the manuscript, offered some suggestions. Nothing major, but it was extremely helpful input that improved the final version. Then I had to write something compelling to entice editors. My agent and I worked on it for a while and came up with this. 

A literary thriller set in 1975 India, Bombay Monsoon is “Graham Greene meets Gatsby on the Subcontinent.” Danny Jacobs, an ambitious, young American journalist, arrives in Bombay for a new assignment and gets caught up in the chaos of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency.” His enigmatic expat neighbor, Willy Smets, is helpful and friendly, but the man’s secretive business dealings trouble Danny. The reporter falls hard for Sushmita, Smets’s beguiling and clever lover, and the infatuation is mutual.
 "The Emergency," a virtual coup by the prime minister, is only the first twist in the high-stakes drama of Danny’s new life in India. The assassination of a police officer by a Marxist extremist, as well as Danny’s obsession with the beautiful and inscrutable Sushmita, conspire to put his career—and life—in jeopardy. And, of course, the temptations of Willy Smets’s seductive personality sit squarely at the heart of the matter. 

Bombay Monsoon is out on submission now.

Next up is what I hope will be a winner of a stand-alone. I’ll only give the tentative title here: Arctic Hopscotch. It’s set during the Cold War in a frigid place. You’ll have to wait for the pitch, however, to know more.

And finally, I’ve got an idea for a new series starring two of my favorite secondary characters from my Ellie Stone books. If you’ve read Heart of Stone and Cast the First Stone, you may remember Nelson and Lucia Blanchard, the lovable but shamelessly licentious couple who try to lure Ellie into their bed at every turn. This will be a humorous series with a killer title. Can’t share that yet. But a suitable teaser description might be “What if Nick and Nora Charles had been swingers?”

I plan on writing pitches to my agent for these two projects soon.


Wendall Thomas said...

All sound great, Jim, cannot wait to read. THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY is one of my favorite films and it sounds like Bombay Monsoon while be in that wheelhouse, but of course since you're writing it, better!

Edith Maxwell said...

Fabulous, Jim! I'm working on a couple of new ideas myself. The pitch is all important.

Why did you use the word "literary" to describe the thriller? Just curious.

James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Edith. “Literary” was my agent’s idea. She knows better, I suppose.


Brenda Chapman said...

Some intriguing books ahead!

Edith Maxwell said...

Another question! Did you go ahead and pitch before the manuscript was done, or wait and have a polished book ready for publishers who show interest?

James W. Ziskin said...

I pitched my first book only after it was done. The others I pitched before I’d finished. But for those the publisher already wanted a new book, so the pitches were a formality.

Susan C Shea said...

Jim, would you write my pitches for me? Inspiring post, thanks.