Monday, August 29, 2011

Tips for Writing the Perfect Pitch

If you want to be a successful published author, you have to be your own best advocate and that starts at mastering the pitch.’ Hazel Flynn, publisher.

I will be the first to admit that writing queries are not my forte, however I have read a lot of dos and don’ts regarding this hair-pulling writing exercise so I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

Purpose of the pitch
While it’s often a case of easier said than done, the pitch is meant to pique the agent’s interest in your story so they will want to know more. It is a brief explanation of what your book is about.

Profile of a pitch
A pitch shouldn’t be longer than 250 words. In a few short paragraphs the writer has to give a sense of the main characters, show the conflict, the setting, genre and word count. It should be written in third person present tense regardless of the style your book is written in.

Tips for pitches
Publishers are taking fewer risks these days so it’s worth spending quality time to get the query right.

If you can’t get a handle on your central theme, how can anyone else? You need to show you have a clear vision.

If you have a great concept, you need to make sure you can show you’ve put that concept into a solid story with conflict and a character arc. A book won’t sell on the concept alone.

The spoken pitch is very different to the written query. Make sure you have both prepared—especially if you are heading for a conference. And practise that spoken pitch so you can avoid the stutters and show confidence.

The sub-plots aren’t as important in the query. Removing them for the pitch makes it easier to find that central driving theme of your story.

Can you add any more tips for writing the eye-catching query?

45 comments:

  1. Thanks Lynda. Just focus on the story, don't waffle.

    Denise

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  2. I didn't realise that pitches were meant to be in 3rd person present. Thanks for the advice :)

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  3. I needed this post today - I have a spoken pitch coming up in a couple of weeks and my preparation involved putting it off until the night before. Think maybe I need to do some work on that. :/
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  4. Very good info, thanks. Also, hello from a fellow Campaigner!

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  5. I usually find that the best queries describe the inciting incident, the thing that happens to the main character within the first fifty pages that requires an entire novel be written to resolve it.

    And it's really important to be able to filter this down to one or two sentences if the pitch is live. Hate doing both. :(

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  6. Pitches are amazingly challenging to write! But I love it when you get them nicely polished.

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  7. Argh, I hate saying my pitch or what my novel is about aloud to people! Unless I've thought of it beforehand, I tend to be quite bumbly. ;) Queries are good to write even after you're agented too--to see if there's a clear focus/vision, like you said.

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  8. A verbal pitch should be practiced in front of your mirror. Listen to the inflections in your voice. This helps in cases where there is humor or horror. It also helps to know when to pause and wait for their reaction to your storytelling.

    A college professor told me once "your amongst friends. Teach us what you know." Be the teacher of your novel. Tell them what you know.

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  9. Thanks for the tips. It sounds like a pitch is just a slight extension of what we write in the query. The extra words make up for the last paragraph that isn't about the manuscript.

    I've slacked on polishing a pitch. I've probably sounded like a train wreck.

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  10. That's great advice! I've NEVER been good at writing query letters. I'll make sure to refer to this post while writing mine next time! Thanks!

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  11. Alex, great tip

    L'Aussie, aw, but waffling is so fun... ;)

    Jamie, hope it helps

    Charmaine, eek. Even though I know how confidently you present yourself, I'd definitely advise you to have more prep. Good luck with your pitch!

    Tonja, :)

    Julie, Welcome fellow campaigner!

    Luanne, excellent tips!

    Trisha, it is satisfying when it's done right :)

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  12. Carol, you make a good point about writing the query even if you already have an agent. It DOES help to see whether or not you have a clear vision.

    Shelly, yes! More great tips!

    Theresa, exactly right. I'm sure mine sounds like a train wreck too. It's time for both of us to polish our pitches.

    Jess, don't worry, the majority of us writers aren't good at writing the query. ;)

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  13. I'm a loooooooooooooong way to a written query or even with verbal pitching but these are so helpful and handy and I'll be sure to refer to them - I hope - in the future! Thanks Lydia. Take care
    x

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  14. How cool! Thank you for such wonderful information.

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  15. I've just started working on the query - haven't got to the pitch yet. It's up next :)

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  16. Remember a pitch is not a query. My pitch started out like the first paragraph of my query, but then I realized I was doing it wrong.

    My pitch now is what I tell people who I know don't read my genre. I figure that If I can tell them in a sentence, and they say "sounds cool" then it works.

    example.

    Bob, a teacher of physical education for nigh on twenty years who has never read anything longer than an article in the sports section, walks up to me with that knowing look in his eye.

    'Hey Trav, I hear you're getting a bok published. What's it about?'

    Many things go through my head. Like telling him It is about a made up game of magic where everyone flys around on a broom to catch a little gold ball. But that sounds too ridiculous, even for a sports fan. So I decide to tell him the truth.

    'Its about a world where everyone does magic except for one boy who can't do any magic at all.'

    'Oh,' Bob says, nodding as he digests this, wondering if there is a way to make a joke. There isn't. 'Sounds cool.'


    'Thanks, Bob,' I say, knowing he will never read it even if I were to give him a copy and a slab of beer.

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  17. it is very very sad, but I actually read a lot of bestsellers which sold solely on the concept :) They had just the basic, alluring, idea and nothing much else.

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  18. 'If you can’t get a handle on your central theme, how can anyone else? You need to show you have a clear vision.'

    This is something, I have learned, that needs to be in place lo-o-ong before the pitch.

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  19. Thanks! I always appreciate advice on this part of the process as I have a REALLY hard time selling... well, anything! Lol... I'm so NOT a saleswoman and I know that's, in a roundabout way, what I have to become in order to successfully get an agent to be interested in my work.

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  20. Excellent thoughts on pitching. My problem is not being so nervous that I stumble over my words.

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  21. It seems that our latest posts dovetailed nicely. I guess great minds do indeed think alike as you said;) I'm working on my pitch now:)

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  22. Thank you for the post! I haven't reached the point of needing a pitch--but I'll have to refer back to this if/when I do.

    I know I'll definitely need to practice it to not stumble over the words. :P

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  23. At one conference, we gathered at a round table. Each writer had a minute on the timer and we pitched. Agents visited the tables to hear the pitches. By the third or fourth random agent, everyone had polished their pitches. It was also interesting to hear how agents reacted to different pitches, etc.

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  24. The query basically covers the 1st 30-50 pages [which should contain the inciting incident] and should read like the blurb on the back of a book.

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  25. Very good points on writing the pitch-- from you and from all the commenters! I always make sure I nail the character, conflict, and consequences in a single sentence. Once I do that, I can expand the query from there and make sure I stick to the essentials.

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  26. Terrific information. Concise and to the point, just like a good query.

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  27. Great tips… I wish I had something to add.
    But so far my attempts at queries or any form of a pitch suck big time.

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  28. Old Kitty, even if you are a long way from it, it's a great thing to start thinking about early.

    Clarissa, and you are so lucky you don't really need a formal query anymore. A quick pitch is all you'd need ;)

    Jemi, oooo good luck!

    Travis, lol, fantastic example. Yep, I think I should have defined "pitch" in the post. In Australia the pitch is also the query and the query is the cover letter.

    Dezzy, yup! I've read a few of those. They come so close to the mark, but don't quite get there. The trick is to have both the great concept AND the great execution.

    Suze, exactly right.

    Crystal, I think all authors resist the need for querying and pitching. So often we are such introspective creatures and to get out there and sell our babies...that's hard.

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  29. Shari, that's my problem too.

    Mark, a huge good luck for your pitch!

    Golden, good luck for the future.

    Stacy, now that sounds like the kind of conference I'd love to attend. :)

    Read, :)

    Mary, yes indeed. Sounds easy, doesn't it ;)

    Shallee, for me sticking to the essentials is the hardest thing ;)

    Giggles, thanks

    Jeff, yeah, I feel the same about my own pitch. lol. Maybe we are our own worst critics ;)

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  30. Ah, pitches. The bane of a writer's existence. I love your blog title, btw! Fellow campaigner and new follower.

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  31. One piece of advice I heard recently is to write your pitch before you even start writing your novel. Wow! Sounds like an excellent way to get focused. I really wish I'd done this before starting my first book.

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  32. Excellent tips here I must say.
    My spouse, the Education Tipster, is working on her first YA historical novel right now and this information will be very useful to her.

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  33. Great advice. I just finished writing the pitch of my book. It took me ages.

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  34. I always write a one or two sentence synop and put it in my header. I can change it if the story takes a turn I hadn't anticipated, but it serves as a guide for me along the way.
    Also when I'm in an elevator and it sticks between floors with several agents inside with me, I have my pitch ready.

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  35. Great tips. I still need work on spoken pitches. I went to a really good workshop on pitches, but I have to review my notes.

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  36. Christine, welcome!

    Gail, yes, I've heard that too and I do recommend it. I also wish I'd done that for my latest novel lol

    Anthony, fantastic. Hope it helps :)

    Rachna, for such a short piece of writing, they DO take ages :) Good luck with your pitch!

    Cleemckenzie, I wonder how often those elevators break down at conferences ;) You have a good plan.

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  37. Great tips, and yes, keep it short and to the point!

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  38. Hey, Lynda! Thanks for commenting on my blog and for becoming a Follower! It's great to meet you!

    And thanks for this great post. These tips are insightful and helpful!

    I've bookmarked your blog and will be back soon!

    Thanks again!

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  39. Medeia, I did a workshop as well. I still haven't mastered it yet, though ;)

    Mary, thanks

    Lauren, great to meet you too. Welcome.

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  40. Great tips. The pitch is so important, yet so hard to master.

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  41. Hi Lynda, fellow Campaigner here! Thanks for the great advice! Pitching is hard and scary, but I found it fun too (after the initial ACK moment)! At a writer's conference last year I got to attend a pitch practice with a panel of four agents. Their main points/complaints to the people who pitched were basically the same excellent things you've listed here, but they did recommend not using character names while pitching. They said when you give names in a pitch it's harder to follow, especially if there are multiple characters. Just give your protagonist their generic title, like a high school junior or a gymnast or whatever. And they all wanted us to start out with our genre and word count, as you said earlier. Nice to meet you, and I look forward to learning more about you from your blog!

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  42. Cynthia, exactly right

    Cortney, welcome fellow campaigner. Oh that's interesting. I've also attended a pitch session with a panel of agents and publishers and they hadn't mentioned those points. I think it's all so subjective. Thanks for the pointers.

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