A great pitch can sell a novel. It makes your writing stand out before the publisher has read the first word, getting them excited about your project. When writers talk about pitching, it usually means a verbal, one-on-one with a publisher or agent where your book may then be requested, read and considered for publication. These opportunities are often part of conferences or festivals, like Writers SA’s Adelaide Pitch Conference or the Salisbury Writers Festival.
There are countless advantages to pitching in person. You get to sell yourself and your story directly to a publisher or agent who will remember your face when they receive that email afterwards. You’ll know who’s reading your novel and that it’s being read, rather than sitting at the bottom of a slush pile. You can also engage in a discussion about your novel, where the publisher can ask about the vital parts they’re particularly interested in.
Most pitch sessions are about five minutes long. Some writers prefer to talk off the cuff about their writing, while others give the bare minimum of details before engaging in an organic discussion about the story. President of New York Writers Workshop, Tim Tomlinson, who hosts several pitch conferences annually, advises that writers plan out a pitch of 90 seconds to two minutes that they either memorise or read during their session, leaving time for questions and answers at the end. This way, you know you’ll say everything you needed to say. You’re also more likely to be articulate and clear about your message. This material will then make up your cover letter to publishers or agents.
So what should your pitch include? A pitch tells the publisher why they should read the story, the hook, whereas a synopsis answers the question of ‘what is the story?’ Your pitch should include the title, length and genre of your novel; a short description of the call to action and the conflict, your target audience; where it fits in the market (i.e. books similar to yours, or authors similar to you – also known as “comp titles”); and your bio.
Here are some things to think about before you write your pitch:
- Is your book finished? (You shouldn’t pitch an unfinished book. The publisher or agent may want to see it in a timely manner and they may ask about the ending.)
- Who is the publisher/agent you’re pitching to? Do they have similar books to yours? Have you read them? Why do you think it would be a good fit for that publisher/agent?
- Who is your audience?
- What’s unique about your book?
- Where does it fit on bookstore shelves?
- Which titles/authors does your work resemble (but not imitate)?
- Do you have a marketing plan to assist with book sales?
- What is your book’s tagline?
- How can you quickly and simply describe your book/what happens?
- Why did you choose the setting?
- What gave you the idea?
- Have you been published before or won any writing awards?
- Do you belong to any associations or groups?
- Why should they read it?
- What’s the central conflict?
- How would telling your pitch to 25 million people change what you say?
Once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, it’s time to start writing your pitch. Not all of this information will make it into your final draft, but being clear about these things will help you to write a better pitch. You may also be asked some of these questions in your pitch.
Tips for writing your pitch:
- Lead with a hook; this could be a quirky idea or a question.
- Identify the protagonist and the setting through the exposition, which links it all together.
- Include just enough to sell your book, and then stop before you might give the publisher a reason to hesitate.
- It’s important your book has a working title, but the title could be changed later.
- The language should be lively, engaging and sophisticated. It should give a taste of your ‘voice’. It may connect to the tone of the book, but don’t write your pitch in the style of the book.
- Mention your authority: what qualifies you to write this book?
- Mention if your day job or area of expertise helped with the writing of the book.
- Be specific (e.g. define your book by one genre, not 2 or more)
- Use plenty of adjectives.
You may not be able to read the publisher/agent in a pitch session, or you might receive immediate feedback. Remember that they’re all human and approachable. Don’t interrupt them or assume you know where a question is leading. Be polite and professional and try not to answer any criticisms with ‘but’s. Think of your pitch like a job application. It is also your chance to ask questions, if you have any.
If you get the chance to, consider signing up to pitch your manuscript at an event. conference or festival. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no thanks. They usually garner a high number of requests. Even if you aren’t successful, you’ll gain from the experience, you’ve met a publisher or agent, and you’ve spent time honing a pitch that you can then use with other publishers/agents.
This post is adapted from an original article by Sarah Gates for Writers SA. Sarah pitched at the 2015 Adelaide Pitch Conference and Romance Writers of Australia conference. Her contemporary romance novel was requested by all seven publishers: Hachette, Harlequin, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Random Romance, Simon & Schuster, and Tule Publishing.
Keep your eye on our website and e-news for details of upcoming pitch-related events.