Pitching Your Potential

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Writers pursuing publication usually come up against the question, “What have you published in the past?” If they haven’t previously published, they worry nobody will take them seriously; if they have published, they wonder if their books were successful enough to  impress anyone. The fact is, the majority of writers don’t have a track record that will make agents and publishers jump out of their seats with excitement.

But lack of track record can be overcome, if you know how to highlight your potential instead. Despite the fact that editors and agents are always looking for writers who make financial sense (i.e. writers with a platform and/or a successful sales history), they can occasionally be swayed by an author’s potential.

In fact, there is research showing that people instinctively value potential more than track record, even when it doesn’t make logical sense. Potential is more exciting because it’s an unknown; the sky’s the limit with potential. We’re not limited by history and numbers. This is where our humanness becomes part of the decision-making process. Looking at potential is one of the ways we “go with our gut” in seeking out writers for publication.

So in the absence of an impressive track record, what are some ways you can sell your potential to a publisher or an agent?

1. Be exciting.

Make sure every idea you pitch is unique and compelling. Whether fiction or non-fiction, the strength of the idea itself is the first thing that will herald your potential. Your ideas can’t have the ho-hum ring of “been there, done that.” Your ideas ARE your potential.

2. Have a large bag of tricks.

Always make sure you’re NOT pitching just one project or idea, but you also have a list of your future books, projects and ideas. Let your future potential be apparent in your abundance of ideas, ready when anyone asks, “What else are you doing?”

3. Know how to network.

In almost any field of endeavor these days, proving that you already have social media and networking savvy will help you be perceived as someone with potential. It’s a necessary competency for today and for the future.

4. Let every word shine.

Make sure every piece of writing you show (synopses, proposals, emails, blogs) is stellar. Make people love your writing, love your ideas, love the way you communicate. Make them desperately want to work with you—not because of your track record, but because of what they see right in front of them.

5. Take the time to build a platform.

What are you doing to engage your target audience? Are you already in communication with them via a blog, Facebook page or group, Instagram account, podcast, or through speaking engagements? If you’ve shown you know how to gather a following, that speaks highly of your potential.

Focus on selling your potential rather than worrying about your lack of track record, and I bet you’ll find the pitching process less stressful and possibly even more effective.

What are the advantages of selling your potential rather than your track record? Does this idea change your thinking about pitching to publishers and agents?




Image copyright: chaiyon021 / 123RF Stock Photo

20 Responses

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  1. Dead right, Rachelle. Track record is a knock on the door; potential is the key to the lock.
    * And potential has to be nurtured. It’s tough; after writing BPH I had no idea if I could write another story, ever; I was played out, and too inexperienced to realize that the fatigue was normal. So, here are some thoughts:
    1) The ideas you have, write them down and flesh them out. Yeah, write a synopsis, even if synopsis-writing is a couple of rungs below cleaning a biker-bar toilet on the ‘fun things to do’ ladder.
    2) Never question your abilities out loud. Sure, we all have doubts, but if you say them…to yourself, or even more to someone else…you’ve given the doubts a structural framework. Let your hope and faith be the gatekeeper for your lips.
    3) Recognize and celebrate your victories; don’t dismiss even a small success as “Well, that was really nothing.” Case in point, and please pardon the candour – today I made it outside before puking my guts out. The big part of this was “I made it!”; it’s one small victory over illness.
    4) Collect praise…if someone really likes a comment you made on, say, the Books And Such blog, copy and paste it into a Word document. And when you feel like you’re teetering far ahead of your ability, re-visit these freely-given treasures and KNOW that you really, really can do it. You’re GOOD.
    5) Tune out negativity. This is not to say ignore constructive criticism from knowledgeable people; but discard the trolls, like the family member who asked, after reading BPH, whether I was still practicing necromancy (there’s ghosts in that thar book…but hey, the Apostles though Jesus was a ghost, as He walked across the water…so thar…uh, there.)
    6) Participate…just coming to Books and Such for every post makes me feel like I’m still a writer, even though the strength to even start editing one of my unpublished masterpieces is, for the moment, beyond me. You guys are the wind beneath my wings, and…
    7) I love you all, far more than I can say.

  2. There are important words of encouragement, Rachelle. Thank you.
    * I admit it, I was more comfortable in the pre-social media days. “Social media and networking savvy”? Not my strong suit. I think I’m better in person. But still, social media is a huge door of opportunity, and I’ve met great folks in these places. My hope? That agents and publishers think, “for an old gal, she’s not bad. A tweak here and there, she’ll fly high!”
    * So its on to the next challenge, the next social media thing that makes my tummy scrunch and my hands sweat. One scary step at a time. With a smile!

    • Shirlee, you’re so on-target with the statement that social media is an opportunity. To be candid, “platform” has become something of a cuss word for me. I’m exceedingly frustrated by that “requirement” and in that frustration it is easy to look at social media as a “necessary evil” rather than a golden opportunity. I need constant reminders that it is exactly that. In in that vein, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Instagram, etc. have become a places I visit exclusively as an author. I open it and browse past all the drama and cutsie memes with that author mindset.

  3. Kristi Woods says:

    You just hit the high beams, allowing us to see the road ahead. I’ve always heard of a three-pronged approach: platform, writing ability, and something else my 6 AM brain can’t gather. Your post goes a bit further, and is paved with more hope. I look at these and consider that publishing is doable, simply stay the course. Thanks much!

  4. This was so encouraging, Rachelle! I’ll be pitching for the first time at the ACFW conference this year, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the prospect. Pitching my potential makes it a lot less daunting and a lot more exciting.
    Question on point #2. If an agent doesn’t ask what else you’re working on, is it acceptable to bring up your future book ideas at the end of a pitch?

  5. I love this, Rachelle! And I’ve got a conference coming up, this does give me a place to focus on. Thank you.

  6. Michelle Aleckson says:

    Whew! That’s a relif and makes a lot of sense.

  7. Carol Ashby says:

    Off topic. Andrew is having a super hard day and would appreciate prayers.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Hi Carol, thanks for this update. I’m sure many people here join me in praying for Andrew.
      * As for your previous question about pitching a series, I’m not sure I understand how that would have any relevance. The idea of focusing on your potential if you don’t have a sales history applies to all unpublished authors independent of genre. Make sense?

      • Carol Ashby says:

        It was prompted by your “no” to Amanda’s question about mentioning future book ideas while pitching. It seemed like a special case to me because it suggests you have potential to be more than a one-hit wonder, assuming a first hit.

      • Rachelle Gardner says:

        Carol Ashby » Ok, I see. Maybe I was being a little confusing! I think it’s good to have more tricks up your sleeve, but in a pitch situation at a conference, you might not want to bring them up unless someone asks. In those pitch meetings, it’s not uncommon for an editor or agent to say, “Do you have anything else?” I guess the important thing is to bring up those “additional projects” if and when the moment seems right. And bring up the fact that your book is the first in a planned series if the person shows interest in the first one.

  8. CJ Myerly says:

    This post taught me so much. I’ve always wondered how to pitch my work as an unpublished author. It definitely changes my thinking in that I felt as if my track record was the only thing an agent would be looking at.

  9. I have never heard of nor considered this thought! Thank you so much. The Lord has blessed each of us with different forms of potential.

  10. This is excellent information! An agent recently told me that my query was great but it lacked showing potential readership in it. The book I’ve written is non-fiction geared towards infertility, faith, foster parenting, and adoption but it is unlike most books on the market on these topics. I currently write for a few websites (one having over four million readers per month) that specifically targets the niche of my book. I’ve asked my editor for stats on the readership of my particular articles including shares, etc. Would the numbers/ratings, along with views/reads on my personal blog, be of interest to agents and be considered potential? Also, when writing query letters, is it a good idea to offer other book ideas if they fall within the same topic? Any advice is appreciated. Thank you!

  11. Emma Fox says:

    Great post, Rachelle! As a new author, I’m learning that platform building takes a great deal of patience and perseverance. Each day, I try to set small, concrete goals to help keep me moving forward. At the end of each month, I take time to reassess and brainstorm new ideas. I trust that God will bring a harvest in His time.

  12. Doris Bates says:

    Dear Rachelle,
    I have written a book that I believe is a great book, while writing this book I felt the emotion of the main character as if I were Him and as he goes through with his life not always the perfect situations The Lord was with Him and you grow with this character as I have and you learn to say “Yes Lord” as he did.