Why You Should Pitch a Single Book
If you’re like most writers, you’re probably not writing just one book. You’ve written multiple books, possibly in different genres. You may have a whole 3 or 6 or 9-book series planned. So the question naturally arises: Should I pitch my whole series to an agent? Should I tell them about my entire body of work? After all, I want an agent to represent all my work, not just one book.
Along similar lines, reader Jan wrote on Facebook: Whenever I check an agency’s guidelines, they always talk about pitching a particular book. I already have a book published, and I’m looking for an agent to help me build my career. How do I query/pitch in that situation?
The answer is simple and clear:
When querying or pitching an agent, always start with just one book.
1. While most agents are looking for authors with long-term potential and therefore want to know about your other books, it always has to start with one salable book. “Building a career” starts with selling a book to a publisher.
2. It’s unlikely an agent would take you on if you just have a smorgasbord of ideas and a vague idea of a plan. You need a book ready to go. A book that’s so great, the agent can envision the rest of the career you’re trying to build. If you don’t have a single sellable book, then talking about a whole career is pointless.
3. Similarly— if you’re writing a series, you’ve got to get them interested in the first book. Nobody is interested in sequels if they’re not already in love with book #1. So start there. Sell them on book #1.
4. Agents only get paid when they sell a book to a publisher, not by engaging in endless conversations about hypothetical “career building.” We start with a book to sell, then build a career from there. This is true even if you’re already published.
5. At some point in your conversation with an agent, you’ll know when it’s the right time to talk about all your other books and your vision for your career. Often the agent will ask. If you’re writing a query, you can briefly mention toward the end of your letter that you’ve planned a series based on the book you’re pitching, or that you also have other manuscripts in the works if the agent should be interested.
6. It’s not that you shouldn’t let an agent know of your series or your career plans. The point is not to forget your most important priority:
Sell them on a single book. Everything else follows from there.
Do you have a series or multiple manuscripts in the works? Does it makes sense that you’d need to sell them on a single one to start with?
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash
I’m sure that pitching book 5 of my already-written/divinely inspired/unmodifiable 17-book series will work a treat. Just waiting for the world to come beating down my door . . . .
The first two books in my trilogy were released by a small publisher with a short term contract and modest sales. I have book 3 ready to go but am considering other options – most likely self-publishing. However, would agents be interested in a pitch for book 3 only? (The answer is most likely no but wanted to check before taking the plunge).
[…] and realized that wasn’t going to help you at all. The first article I came across was from Rachelle Gardner, which advises writers to pitch a single book. The gist: Writing is a business. If you make […]
This advice is very helpful since I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I have one manuscript ready to go and others that are in-process. Thank you!
I’m writing a single book now, but still trying to shop the series of my other book. My original plan was to have two products to shop around rather than just one and I am on my way to making that true.
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Suuuuure wish I would have seen this earlier! Actually the queries/proposals I sent only mentioned a second book. I didn’t really pitch it as a series or try to pitch the second book. I hope that didn’t reduce my chances.
Also, I’d like to ask a question…do agents take any stock in contests won with the manuscript?
[…] Agent Marie Lamba writes about how the recession has forced many writers to regress in their careers—and what to do about it. And Agent Rachelle Gardner says to resist the temptation to pitch your entire body of work in a query—start with pitching a single, saleable book. […]
I do have a picture book series going for children. The first book leaves the reader not knowing exactly what is going to happen and, hopefully, hungry for more. I wondered about how much to say when sending out queries. As the book is based on a true story, there is too much for one single picture book.
Yes, it does make sense to work at selling that first book. If I understand you correctly, you are saying it is okay to mention that it is a first in a series, but not try to make a sale on it being a series. Is that an accurate assessment?
Thank you, Rachelle for this valuable advice.
Remind me to never read this blog after 10 PM … the conversation and asides and asides-to-the-asides are mind-boggling.
And, yes, I’m jumping into the conversation about pitching one book.
I’m all for selling an agent (or editor) on one book, and only one book.
But because I always think that one book is the only good idea I’ll ever have for a novel, I continue to play the writer’s “What if” game and mull over potential premises for new books. I pitch the idea … complete with a long synopsis … and think, “I got nothing else.” And then I let my mind wander — in a constructive kind of way — and usually I stumble upon another story idea that I can begin to mold and shape into the beginning of a new story.
My point: Only pitch one story to an editor or agent — but at least have another story idea in your back pocket — and be ready with it if an editor or agent asks, “What else ya got?” Why? Because I’ve learned that sometimes my editor wants the story I had tucked in my back pocket.
Yep, I have both series books and stand alones, and yes it does make sense to pitch just one. Get going, then start travelling. Recently I read that even books in a series must be able to stand alone because publishers are wanting that (does it actually mean publishers are freaking out about saleability and not storylines?).
As a reader I love it when the story continues over three, even four books. If a set being sold as a ‘series’ doesn’t follow on specifically with the lives of the first characters and instead follows on with minor characters from the first books, I do feel a bit ripped off. As a writer, however, I totally get that need and curiosity to explore other characters because there are so many stories waiting to be told.
One upshot for me when the story continues with the same characters is that it proves life’s ups and downs are real 🙂 Often with a one-trick pony it’s all bit rosy and resolved too quickly. Protracting a good one is so fun to read.
What if you have two manuscripts completed in two different genres? Do you pitch one MS to one agent, and the other MS to another agent, so that each one gets just one book to look at?
And for the sake of your readers, make sure that first book contains a complete story. You can hint at things to come and set it up for a sequel, but provide some form of closure to the immediate plot so that your readers feel satisfied if the series option doesn’t work out.
It makes PERFECT sense! Yup yup. 🙂
[…] (@RachelleGardner) covers one of the basics of the traditional publishing path when she addresses Why You Should Pitch a Single Book on her blog. Space doesn’t permit me to reprise her six reasons but the fact that she’s got six […]
I’m working on (my first) non-fiction proposal. I have ideas for three different non-fiction “series”, but I knew I needed to pick one to start with (for the reasons you mentioned). I just hope I’ve picked the most compelling one. 🙂
I’m happy to work hard on one book at a time. I just can’t spread focus, attention, and energy without thinning them too much.
Think of it like a book reader. Imagine someone said to you “have you read AuthorA? They’re amazing! Their books are so good. Would you like to buy all five of them? “Most likely you would say- that you want to read one of them first before committing to buying the whole set.
It seems so counter-intuitive though.
In music terms would you look for a One Hit Wonder or a musician/band with the talent to put out several good songs?
It seems like it would be more rewarding for an agent to invest his or her time with an author with long term potential or multiple projects.
Authors aren’t dumb. We know that a series will never take off if the first book isn’t strong, but there doesn’t seem to be any harm in letting an agent or readers know that if they like this one there is more where it came from.
I’ve got a three-book series in the works, but each book could standalone. To me, it definitely makes sense to pitch the first book but say something like, “Title is part of a potential three-book series, but could stand alone.”
Why is it that the most obvious seems so foreign to us? Thank you for make this topic clear. I have wondered what to do when the time comes to pitch to an agent. Now I know. Thank you.
I have to at least mention the other books. When writing about an historical person life doesn’t stop with one event as my first novel does. It continues on until death or after, just as my novels do. No one (well, few) want to read a 1000 page novel. So, jsut as Charles Martin probably wrote The Dead Don’t Dance and Maggie as one, it was published as two. And I’m sure everyone can think of similar ones (Ted Dekker’s Black, White, Red (and later Grren) Trilogy, for example.) I could write one long 1000 page novel, but I wouldn’t want to read a book of that length, so why not just call it 3 novels (a trilogy) covering sequential periods of the character’s life. After all, that is how it is likely to be published. Will that scare an agent away?
I’m beginning the second book in my series now. But after reading informative blogs like this one, I’m writing each so that they can stand alone if need be. My query also focused on the first book with just one sentence toward the end that hinted at books two and three. Thanks for all your helpful advice, Rachelle.
Hi Meghan, ohhh, good plan with the stand alone/sequels. I was told by an agent, not this fine one, but another one, that if you have sequels, write them well enough to stand alone, but spend a bit of effort at the beginning catching the readers up to speed. The Thoene’s books did that very well.
I think we read the same blog, Jennifer!
Well, duh… I mean read in past tense, as in we must have read the same blog post a while back. Obviously, we’re reading the same one now. 🙂
Thank you for the tips today, Rachelle.
I do have a question:
I have a 3-book series I plan to pitch after the first of the year. When writing up the query letter I usually start with “The first in a 3 book series…” Is that something I should try to avoid?
Rachelle, you have again provided an answer to a question I haven’t even asked yet! Thanks for this post. Here is a question, I am working on a YA fantasy/futuristic series. When and if I decide to query an agent about it, should I provide a very brief synopsis of where I envision the series heading in the books that follow the first? I realize I would only be pitching the first book, but does an agent prefer a very brief explanation (few sentences) on where the story goes after that? The first book includes so much description, backstory,character development, and society building that I fear the agent would not see the potential for the series as a whole. Of course the first book has it’s own plot and resolution, there is just so much more to it than that. If this question seems silly, I apologize. I’m a newbie!
What if sales on Book #1 are so abysmal the publisher doesn’t want Book #2? Have you ever had that situation come up?
Yes, it happens. It’s life. What comes next is up to you and your agent.
Thank you so much for this inspiring article!
I believe in pitching 1 book first. And I am one of those people with a whole mess of work in various genres and various lengths. And it really is a whole mess of work because I’ve been practicing the craft of writing and finding my voice. I know not one of those stories is agent-worthy (yet) and I am practicing to find that one story that I know I can build a writing career out of. I have one story I know I will rewrite now that I’ve done a couple more. This one has series potential, but I can’t figure out exactly what the rest of the series is like until I get that first story under control. So one book it will be…
This post is very helpful. I plan to look for representation next year and the book i’ll pitch is originally a four book series with each being a stand-alone. I guess that would overwhelm an agent to just burst in with these four books, especially since i’m not established…. You’ve helped some of the butterflies go away. But querying is hard.
I fall head first into the multiple manuscript bunch, but judging from the comments, I have some fabulous company. Currently, I’m hip wader deep in MS 1 edits, (not to be confused with first-pancake-ugly MS attempts 1-4), and like many, my dream is a series.
Here’s the dilemma…
My critique partner, whom I adore and respect, strongly recommends a tighter ending – a “wrap this thing up, no dangling bits” sort of finish – and I completely agree. However, that requires a re-working of sub-plots in a way that feels a bit forced – a kind of TA-DAH, look-how-happy that all worked out way. In addition, those sub plots expand into major components in MS 2. I’m hoping for enlightenment during edits – but so far, nothin’.
Ohhh I feel your pain!! In an effort to lower word count, I re-wrote some plot lines and character arcs. The result? Barftastic ending and KILLED the sequel. SO, I returned to the original plan, kept the extra words and had a MUCH better finished product.
Slog through it, and you’ll be happy you did.
Uggg..word count is another evil!!
Thanks for the clarification. While I do have one book, I’ve wanted to make sure I had another written before I queried to make sure the agent knew I was more than a one trick pony–though I suppose it didn’t matter to Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee. They did pretty well writing only one book, though as readers, we wish they’d written more.
Rachelle, this makes a lot of sense. I was just trying to explain to someone recently why they should only pitch one book. You put it so succinctly. Thanks for the clarification on the pluses of a one book pitch. 🙂
Simply put, Thank you.
Good question, Rachelle. I’m not Bodie Thoene, so I can’t just email an agent and say “Ya know, I have this idea…”.
Maybe someday, but um, not now. Yet. Not YET.
How can I logically sell #2 before I sell #1? It makes little business sense to hype a sequel if no one had heard of the debut book.
But, if the agent goes nuts over the first book, then selling #2 should be much easier.
And yes, I’m already at work on #2.
Jennifer, I’m right there with you!
I’m nearing completion of #2. #1 and #2 can be stand alone in a series. I pitched #1 at ACFW 2010 and got a good response from editors but just not the right timing for the next step yet. So, my goal for next year is to pitch #2 and focus more on agent networking.
I hope I have my goals set on the right order of things. If asked for more, I can pull out #1 again. I’d love to be able to say by Sept 2013 that #3 is in the works as well!
Thank you for the insightful post. I do think, it also depends on the genre. My forthcoming book is about my experience with molar pregnancy, defines concepts, and tells (in basic terms because everyone is different) what to expect on their own journeys, and then it talks about moving on and forward. Essentially, it will be a much-needed resource for women going through it. Now, I have other things in the pipeline and other ideas, but this subject matter is likely a one-book deal.
BTW, I’m a published writer (newspapers, magazines, ezines) and author (have contributed chapters, etc. to other books) in a totally different genre.
Surely, there are a lot of articles and blog posts that can be written on the subject of molar pregnancy (plus speaking engagements and awareness/advocacy work), but this surely won’t be a series and I think it’s evident in the subject matter.
Good luck to all of you. Best wishes for a successful 2013!
“If you’re writing a query, you can briefly mention toward the end of your letter that you’ve planned a series based on the book you’re pitching, or that you also have other manuscripts in the works if the agent should be interested.”
I appreciate hearing that. I think I’ll add “I also have a completed YA thriller” to the end of queries for my grown-up book.
Would crossing genres like that be a bad idea?
Thanks for this post, Rachelle. I have three novel manuscripts under my belt and am getting ready to pitch the fourth at the start of 2013. This has been a lengthy apprenticeship so I wasn’t sure whether I needed to plug that to prove I’m in for the long haul. Some of the previous comments make a lot of sense. The fruits of that apprenticeship should shine through in my fourth manuscript. I don’t need to labour it.
Rachelle, thank you for the advice. I understand that when we’re first querying, we’re trying to build a relationship. The first date isn’t when you bare your whole life to the person in front of you…it’s a gradual process.
[…] about word count, I’m definitely going to read it. Another one I’ll definitely be reading is Why you should pitch a single book. Both these posts tell me exactly what I’ll be reading. If the subjects had been something like […]
I appreciated this post. I suspect that making a one-book pitch would present a potential author as a single-minded, focused individual, who isn’t spreading him/herself too thinly over an array of topics or projects.
I believe the issue is quality, at the beginning stages, rather than quantity.
Thank you for another invaluable post!
Rachelle, you’re reading my mind! This is a helpful post.
I’ve published one non-fiction and am currently working on a contemporary suspense. I also have a nutshell idea for two additional books in that genre, but from time to time I “play” with a fun cozy mystery and already have ideas for two sequels in the series. Add to that, I have another non-fiction book proposal in hand, ready to pitch!
My plan was to have both a finished MS for the novel and the NF proposal ready for Mount Hermon. After reading your post it’s obvious: I need to decided which ONE to pitch!
It makes complete sense to pitch a single book. My question is: how do I demonstrate that I’m not a one trick pony so an agent sees potential in building a working relationship with me? Thank you!
Jim, I’ll slip into the agent’s seat (while Rachelle’s not looking) and see if I can answer that one.
Your mastery of the craft, ability to create believable characters, and the way you maintain control of the plot you’ve chosen are the key technical indicators that indicate potential.
Add to that an awareness of what current reader preferences are, for example in terms of character archetype (in the 1960s, the antihero was ‘in’), and you’ll have a fairly good predictive paradigm that can be set against other writers.
Uh, oh, here she comes, time for me to amscray.
(hmmm…has anyone tried pitching a book written entirely in Pig Latin?)
It’s quite alright Andrew. Our Lady of Literature has limited time. Let’s hope this newest work grabs someone’s attention. My hope is that I’ve learned to stop pleasing English professors and am writing in my authentic voice. One never knows when old woman of room 101 will sneak into my writing with a pair of stilts.
No. I bet no one has pitched a book in Pig Latin, but something tells me either you or Jim will be firing Pig Latin at each other for days.
I’ve got a book in print, several complete manuscripts, and no agent.
I want an agent.
Therefore, I will pitch only one book, for the following reasons:
* the agent will be selling one title, and dropping a ‘catalog’ into her lap will probably result in a polite “no thanks”. If I can’t pick which book I want to pitch, what other representation weirdnesses might I drag the agent into?
* I want to show that even though I have a body of work, I can focus on the task at hand, which for an author new to an agent’s stable will be the sale of one book, AND the process of bringing it to publication.
The key point in building a career is the word, “build”. Building anything worthwhile takes time.
Unless you weld your hand, then building takes longer. Cough hint cough.
Good point Andrew. On a side note, when you mentioned building, I suddenly had the song “Brick House” pop in my head. Perhaps that song is about Michael Crichton’s body of work?
Yep, I think maybe so!
Thanks!! Now I’m humming bad ’80’s music…
You can mention that you are the author of more than one book. That alone says “this pony can brush his teeth AND leap from a tall building”. But do NOT say “I’m the next Monty Python”. Even if you are.
Can I say, I’m the LAST Monty Python, for none shall be fit to follow in my steps?
HEY!! I said NO TO?!?!? Good grief, it’s Miscreant Day, isn’t it? That whole 12/12/12 thing has addled your minds.