Practice makes pitch perfect

On the Writers SA calendar in April is a workshop with Michael Bollen and the team from Wakefield Press – Inside Publishing:From Manuscript to Market. In this six-hour session we look at traditional publishing from the pitching and editing process to marketing, publicity and production. Participants will workshop their own pitch and maybe even get the chance to ‘sell’* your novel concept to an editor on the day.

As authors and writers we often get asked what we’re working on. You could stumble through a series of, “Well, there’s this girl, and her mum and dad got divorced, and she’s moving across the country to live with her dad but when she gets there she meets this guy who is totally hot and totally weird and she falls for him hard…” and by this time the person who asked the question is regretting taking an interest and chances are, you’ve put them off or put them to sleep.

This is where the elevator pitch comes into play. If you only had the twenty second ride from the ground floor to the eighth and you found yourself locked in with your dream editor/publisher/agent, what would you say? Better still, how would you say it? Twenty seconds is the shortest time but it helps you to hone your point, or your hook, as those in the business say. Your hook is the briefest blurb about your book. It is not a synopsis or blow-by-blow break-down. Narrow it down to these four elements:

Protagonist, goal, motivation, conflict.


Who, what, when and why.

The why is really, really important! Why should the editor care? Why should they buy your book? What will you say that will entice them to ask to see more?

‘Bella just wants to live a normal teenage existence and picks up her entire life to move in with her estranged father only to fall in love with a mysterious boy who has a dangerous side and a dark secret’. – Stephanie Meyer, Twilight

‘Detective Alex Cross returns to Starksville, N.C., his hometown, for the first time in 35 years, to help a cousin who has been accused of murder.’ – James Patterson, Cross Justice

We’re not summarizing the plot. We’re not giving away the ending or telling all the stories in your story. The pitch is also not how the idea came to you or why you decided to write this particular book. Agents have horror stories about queries that start with the author having a moment of divine intervention or that God told them they had to write it. You might care about this and your readers might care too, but the pencil pushers in marketing do not. Think of marketing as the gatekeepers. Impress them and your book will be published.

The general don’ts;

–Don’t pitch an incomplete book unless you’re an established author with an established career. You’re not selling an idea. You’re selling your book. Don’t forget in your planning that the editor will have some questions and if you haven’t written the entire book, they’ll know by the vagueness of your replies.

–Don’t pitch your book in a random place or space, especially not the bathroom or the lunch line. Don’t be obtrusive or you’ll have blown it!

–Don’t pitch with food in your mouth. Or chewing gum. Be professional. If you’re at a conference or convention, dress the part. Treat your potential pitch like an interview. Be confident and be professional.

The do’s;

-Be immediately interesting,

-Provide relevant information,

-Feel and be professional,

-Open the door to further discussion.


If it’s not an elevator pitch and you have a full minute or two, it goes a little differently.

My story is a romantic, adventurous romp that starts in England and winds up at Gretna Green. It is complete at eighty-thousand words and can be compared to works by authors like Stephanie Laurens and Candace Camp. It is the story of a nobleman who kidnaps the daughter of a pirate in order to arrange a hostage swap but instead of a recalcitrant kidnappee, she turns out to be a hellion who would sell her own virginity on the auction block to escape the confinements of aristocratic England. Can they both get what they want or will they realise what they need is so much more important… Bronwyn Stuart, The Road to Ruin


Great Links!


Not booked in for the workshop? Get your ticket here – Inside Publishing:From Manuscript to Market. 


*there are no guarantees that you will have the opportunity to sell your novel concept or that Wakefield Press will consider your idea. Just like any time you can be in front of an editor or publisher, you should have your shiny, sharp pitch ready to go.

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