Writing a Perfect Pitch

Your manuscript has been reread so many times you’re cross-eyed. You think it’s time to put away the polish and let your work shine, so you register for a conference, like New Jersey Romance Writer’s “Put Your Heart In A Book”—and if you haven’t, here’s the link:  http://njromancewriters.org/index.php?/conference/put_your_heart_in_a_book_conference/

But the sigh of relief you feel upon completing a manuscript is fleeting. Because now comes the panic, when you must flick the switch in your brain from a creative, oh-let-me-try-that mode to a hard-sell this-is-what-readers-want-to-read mode.

It’s time for business. It’s time to perfect your pitch.

I’d like to share with you a compilation of advice gathered over the past few years. Though I have enough notes to write a small chapter book, here are some tools I’ve found useful when perfecting my pitches. My suggestion is to select what works best for you, and make it your own.

Good luck!

Beginning

Consider using a brief personal anecdote as a hook. At NJRW’s Michael Hauge workshop, he modeled this technique with a few opening lines about his troubled childhood as a lead into his pitch. It was an anecdote everyone sympathized with, which made his pitch seem like a story everyone could identify with. And, he lied! The anecdote was a complete fabrication and a simple ruse to catch the audience’s attention (and in turn, an editor/agent).

Suggestion:  Focus on something in your life, however minor, that your character might have to deal with. For example, falling off a curb at an Italian Ice venue—a crowded one—and breaking your ankle. After you share the anecdote, lead into your pitch with: “So, it made me wonder about” or “Imagine a heroine who broke her ankle, a career-ending injury . . .”

Remember, you want to reflect the tone of your book in your pitch.

Finally, it is a great way to break the ice. You’ve established a dialogue with your target editor/agent, with a purpose—selling your manuscript.

Transition

Use the anecdote to lead into the Title, Target Market, Completed Word Count. This will signal the editor/agent that you’re about to share the heart of your story, and that you’re pitch isn’t a rambling self-indulgent mess! They are expecting this information.

Body of Pitch

In your pitch, you want to answer these questions:  Who is the protagonist? What choice does he/she face? What are the consequences of the choice?

Kimberly Killion offers this template, which can be helpful when flushing out a concept for a story, as well as for formatting the bones of a pitch.

“TITLE is a WORD COUNT, GENRE about MAIN CHARACTER, an ADJECTIVE/DESCRIPTION, who wants to DEFAULT ACTION. But when CALL TO ACTION, he must STORY GOAL, which seems impossible because CENTRAL CONFLICT.”

When an editor or agent asks, “Tell me in one or two sentences about your story”, this template is the bare bones of it. You can add a bit more detail and flesh out the bones, but make sure the information is important to theme, characterization, goal, motivation, or resolution.

Conclusion

You want to establish within the body of your pitch that you’re not just anybody. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

What I mean is you want to place the seed in the agent/editor’s head about how to position your book. Give them a selling tool. Why does it have mass-market appeal or why does it fit a certain category line.

The simplest way of doing this is compare your manuscript to current published works or movies. In my True Blood meets Modern Family-toned paranormal romance . . . (Wouldn’t that make an interesting story—or compilation of stories?)

Remember:  Make sure what current movies/television shows/books you refer to is reflected in your writing. Imagine instead of True Blood meets Modern Family, it’s True Blood meets The Flintstones.  What a horrible surprise!

In Kerri Nelson’s Pitching Your Novel class, she suggest ending with a line incorporating the theme of your story. Keep it short. “Veronica learns that sometimes a lie is the only way to learn the truth.”

The next step

Most resources I’ve gathered suggest you initiate the next step . . . “I hope you’ll consider me for representation” or “I’d be glad to send you my manuscript . . .”  However, I’ve never had to conclude a pitch. Agents and editors will prompt you with questions and concerns. You don’t have a lot of time with them. So usually what happens is they’ll end the pitch by asking if there’s anything else you’d like to tell them, or some other key phrase letting you know you’re time is up. They will request a partial or full if they want your manuscript.

Make sure you understand what they are asking for.  A partial manuscript is the Chapters 1-3. Some editors/agents might ask for the first 20 pages, or first 50 pages. If you are lucky, they will ask for a full.  Find out how they prefer submissions—usually an e:mail in Word, with a blurb reminding them what you’re manuscript is about. Get their business card, and write this information on the back.

Useful Tips

  • Do your homework. Know what the editor and/or agent is acquiring and who they represent/publish. Information can be found in the market updates of Romance Writer’s Report, The Writer’s Market, and on the agent or publisher websites.

How does your manuscript fit into this?

  • Think and write out a career strategy: where you are now, where you want to be in five years.

Be prepared. Editors and agents want to know your career goals. Often they will ask what else you have written or are working on.  They might request blurbs on the next two books to be sent along with your requested manuscript.

Do you have ideas for a series based on your manuscript?  What other books are you writing or developing?

  • Type, cut, and paste your pitch on index cards. Number them. Highlight words you’d like to stress, especially main plot point, etc.  You might want an additional index card with one or two sentences describing the heart of your book.
  •  Practice, practice, practice. You’ll use the cards to practice your pitch until they become more of a guide than a crutch. Even though having them in your hand might give you a sense of comfort, be prepared enough to pitch without them.

During your appointment, the use of index cards is acceptable, but you want to refrain from reading them directly (see warning below). Make eye contact and smile. Keep the editor/agent engaged.

Keep it brief as the appointment is only eight to ten minutes long, and you want to leave time for discussion.

WARNING:  Do not depend on the index cards. You know your story, so make sure you have it simplified in your head. I had an editor tell me “I’d rather you tell me about your story than read from cards.”  Fortunately, I was prepared (and thus confident)  and slid them back into my bag.

So, are you ready to find representation and to sell your manuscript?

Writing is subjective and, having taken numerous pitching classes, I’ve discovered the format of a pitch varies as well.  My advice is to find a format that works for you.

Please feel free to comment and give additional strategies and advice on writing a pitch.

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10 Comments

  1. jennablueblogs

     /  September 3, 2012

    Well done, Michele! And perfectly timed with the pitching opportunities at our NJRW conference right around the corner!
    One additional note: it’s reasonable to be nervous while pitching, but important to remember that these editors and agents have seen it ALL. How many pitches will they hear in one conference? 30 maybe? in one year if they go to numerous conferences? 150? if they’ve been doing this for years and years? THOUSANDS…so my advice is: stress enough to be on your game, but not enough to freak yourself out!
    Jenna Blue
    PS: love the “success” baby with the fist! : )

    Reply
    • Hi Jenna. Gosh, haven’t we all been stressed about pitching! Most times, the editors and agents are very nice and make you feel comfortable so in retrospect, stress is something you put on yourself unnecessarily in most cases! Thanks for commenting. Michele

      Reply
  2. Well said, Michele. A lot of times, I feel as if the editor or agent is trying to get a feel for how professional you are. If you come across as a nut job, you’re not going to get very many requests. So how you dress/act/speak is almost more important (IMO) than what you say!

    And don’t freak if that editor or agent passes on your work! The key to pitches is to meet people face to face and network. They may not want this particular story, but who knows down the line?

    I once had a pitch recipient rewrite my pitch for me as we went along. While that pitch bombed, her advice/criticism helped me nail the others I had that day…..

    Reply
  3. Great post, Michele. I find I pitch better the more relaxed I am (not that I’m ever completely relaxed). For me, it’s very nerve-wracking to have to remember what I’ve written on the cards. Each time I’ve pitched, I’ve done it a little differently. The last time I found it helpful to give a lead in to what inspired me to write the story and then said a couple lines about the book. That resulted in questions and an actual dialogue. And I think that’s key. You want the agent/editor to ask you questions and draw more out of you.

    Reply
  4. What a great idea to compile all of this info you’ve received from numerous sources and workshops. I feel that knowing the key points you want to make about your manuscript, and not relying on the index cards, is definitely the way to go. It’s so much easier to be enthusiastic about your work, and to convey that enthusiasm, if you are looking at the agent/editor, right into their (usually) encouraging faces, and tell them about your story. Making eye contact encourages a dialogue, and that’s much more effective than droning on by rote. It’s kind of sitting in a class where the professor jumps around the room and engages you, rather than standing there and reading his notes. I’m sure it’s much more pleasurable for the agent, as well. And you want to be able to get a sense of that agent’s or editor’s personality, to get a feel whether he or she would be someone YOU want to work with, as well.

    Reply
    • Hi Jaye, Great advice. Eye contact and NOT droning on and on helps immensely. It’s putting your writing into action, right. You have to sell it and make it interesting to listen to as well as read. Thanks for commenting. Michele

      Reply
  5. hieubietusa

     /  September 10, 2012

    This post is great. I find myself confused about Literary Agents and their priorities.
    I understand the little hints…and as with most advice from this blog…it goes into a little folder I have. However…what are they looking for? Someone that can talk and persuade or someone that can write. An agent asked me to write a blurb for a prospective publisher…I admitted…the blurb(it seemed)took longer to write than the ms.
    ok…I’ll be quiet now…
    Joe

    Reply
    • Hi Joe, Well that’s the golden question – what are publishers looking for? Another is “will my manuscript catch a publishers interest at XX given moment in their day/lives/mood/busy schedule?” Talent, and a heck of a lot of luck has a lot to do with it, I think. Michele

      Reply
  6. R.A. DeFranco

     /  September 10, 2012

    Amazing post, Michele! This is the perfect guide to the perfect pitch. I especially appreciate the ice breaker reminder with the anecdote. It always feels hard to get started and using the anecdotal transition could help smooth what could feel like a somewhat awkward moment. I also like the tips for thinking beyond just the limited scope of the pitch itself. Thank you! I’ll have this guide by my side while preparing for the conference!

    RoseAnn

    Reply
    • Hi RoseAnn, glad this post was helpful. The anecdotal approach did work for me, and it made me relax, as well. I suppose experience helps too – knowing what editors/agents like and are looking for, and being prepared. I’m sure you are going to successful pitching in October, though!!! Thanks for commenting. Michele

      Reply

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