Dear Indigo,

I’ve finally finished my novel! Now I’m terrified of the prospect of selling it. I’ve registered for a big writers conference in about a month, where I’ve signed up to pitch my novel to agents and editors. What’s the best thing I can do between now and then to improve my novel’s chances of getting the green light from one of these pros?

Nervous But Excited


Dear Nervous,

First of all, congrats! Finishing a novel is a huge accomplishment and one you should be proud of.

It’s true that selling your masterpiece can be a daunting task, especially in today’s tough market. Fortunately, there are two key steps you can take and ten questions you can ask to improve your novel’s chances of attracting the attention of agents and editors.

Step one is to get clear on your novel’s strengths and how it fits into the current publication landscape. You’ll definitely want to brush up on the fine art of pitching, as the way an author tends to think about her novel is not typically the way an agent or editor will. There is a wealth of resources available online on this subject, so take some time to review the basics as they apply to your novel, and work out your plan of attack.

A great pitch, however, will only get your foot in the door. From here, you’ll need an opening chapter that sucks your reader in and makes him hungry for more. With this in mind, for step two, take a good, hard look at the opening of your novel and ask yourself:

1. Are my novel’s greatest strengths represented here?

2. Does this opening establish a strong, distinct narrative voice?

3. Does it clearly establish what’s at stake for my protagonist?

4. Does it make promises (and drop clues) about the story to come that will capture my reader’s imagination?

5. For speculative fiction, does this opening establish how (magic, technology, etc.) the world of the story works?

6. For mysteries and thrillers, does this opening include the triggering event from which the rest of the story will unravel?

7. Think of your proposed back-jacket copy. (Hint: this will likely include a good bit of the material you’ll use in your pitch.) Does this opening clearly correspond to the juicy promises you’ve made about the novel as a whole?

8. Does the opening include enough exposition/backstory to provide an emotional context for the action unfolding?

9. Does your opening suck us into caring about the protagonist and what will happen to her in the story to come?

10. Are your scenes built around clear conflicts that establish the difficulties your protagonist will face?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as every novel comes with its own unique strengths and challenges. However, addressing these questions in revision will go a long way toward attracting the attention of both agents and editors—as well as your readership as a whole. Which is, after all, the name of the game, no matter what your novel is about.

And remember—as a final note—if at first you don’t succeed, don’t despair! Your friendly team of Indigo editors is standing by to help you revise and strengthen that all-important opening chapter (or, if necessary, your novel as a whole).

Best of luck in publication,
Susan DeFreitas

Do you have a question about editing or publishing? Ask Indigo! Email with your question, and we will answer it in a future newsletter.

Susan DeFreitas, associate editor, excels not only at editing but at writing, and you may just see her teaching around town. This month find her teaching for Indigo (see information elsewhere in this newsletter), and next month she’s critiquing manuscripts and teaching for that big writers conference referenced in this letter (psst: it’s the 2013 Willamette Writers Conference).