Writing a pitch for a novel is no easy task. Whether face to face or as part of a query letter, how to pitch a book to literary agents means being able to present your book as a piece of theater. The writer must make the case why the world needs their book. Even if you are intent on self-publishing, it’s still a good idea to be able answer the points raised in this post. All authors are well-served from taking the effort to articulate their book’s appeal.
How to Pitch a Book
The first step I took in preparing to pitch a book with literary agents at the PNWA conference in Seattle, Washingon was to write a logline for Lost Girl Road. After consulting many sources, I followed the guidelines in this link: How to Write a Logline. This one sentence took four hours to write! Then author SP Mount suggested I incorporate more power words.
- A browbeaten housewife plagued by the spirit of her daughter’s best friend, struggles to come to terms with the shocking role she and her alcoholic husband play in the girl’s bizarre disappearance—until she has no choice but to face her demons.
Then I really stumbled when trying to write my pitch because I kept trying to incorporate the entire logline, but I finally decided it was too much of a mouthful. Agent Katharine Sands offered the following formula:
- Place: Describe where the story starts.
- Person: Who is the main character and what qualities do they possess?
- Pivot: What is the inciting incident that introduces the conflict the character will face?
- Takeaway: Why should people buy this book? What titles compare to yours?
The pitch sessions were only four minutes long, so luckily I didn’t have to dazzle my audience with the takeaway portion. When it comes to how to write a pitch, I rather painfully realized that I am not ready to answer that crucial question. Now that I’m beginning to revise Lost Girl Road, I can start to formulate a clearer picture of comparable book titles already available on the market.
In any case, I spent the hour before my pitch session alone in my hotel room recording myself on my iPhone repeatedly giving my pitch.
Rather than just post the raw video footage, I took the opportunity to play around a bit with Adobe Premiere Elements. Alas, I won’t even divulge how long it took to edit and add all of the effects. One thing is certain, I am in dire need of a laptop that doesn’t keep freezing-up when using such software.
Attending the PNWA conference has brought new focus to Lost Girl Road as I am now just beginning the second draft. If you’d like to read more about my pitching experience, I take a humorous approach on Carol Wyer’s blog in a post titled Pitching a Fit: How to Find a Literary Agent. Ron Herron also recently offered some excellent advice in his post Why Go to a Writer’s Conference.
I’m more excited than ever to try to shape my novel into something great! More than anything the conference served to boost my confidence at just the right time.
What’s your take on writing conferences and/or the description of Lost Girl Road?
I love the video! Of course I love what you had to say as well. I am looking forward to reading this novel of yours. 🙂
Cheryl, I would love you to read my novel. Although it might be eons before it’s available 😉
Excellent pitch. I can’t wait to read it and the advice around the process is so useful. Its not a world I’ve had much exposure to and I’m fascinated by the process. It certainly would have the effect of separating those serious about publishing and promoting their book from those who are just fooling around. It would take so much work to bring a book down to such a succinct description and still make it appealing without giving away the whole plot, nicely done!
Debra, in a tortured some of way, I think I most enjoy the nitty-gritty aspect of writing blurbs, etc. The editor in me (aka Word Ninja) likes to come out and get the the heart of what’s going on in as few words as possible. That’s not to say that I’m a very concise drafter. It takes me soooo long to get the words just right.
I like the ghost effect you put in for yourself. It works into the storyline well.
Jon, the ghostly effect definitely fits. I achieved this effect after much tinkering. I’m most certainly still in the learning stages of adding detailed effects via video editing software, but it’s safe to say I’m addicted!
This has been weighing on my mind. I will take your suggestions and advice regarding this. My biggest challenge is not getting stuck in the words that would discribe my pending book.
Susan, if you need help writing the blurb for you pending book, look no further! Just sayin’ 😉
I like the video. What impresses me most though, Jeri, is that you are doing the real hard work. It’s no fun digging into the heart of the story and subjecting it to your own most critical eye, even though what you discover may pile even more work on you. The pay off will be when someone else, like an agent or a publisher looks at it, and likes what they see. The story sounds like one I’d like to read.
Larry, with my first draft finally finished, I am finding I am really enjoying getting into the necessary evil of editing and pitching. It really makes me wish I had been able to write the initial draft a lot faster. At least I will be able to go into my next book with a picture of how the entire process will more or less play out.
Jeri! How cool is this? I LOVE your video, your pitch is perfect, your guidance re: this terrifying element is appreciated! Bravo!
Molly,the entire pitching process really was terrifying in so many ways, but an AWESOME sort of terrifying because it ignited me to want to do even better.
First I’d just like to say that its always admirable to see someone immerse themselves so wholeheartedly into the world of writing; it is a journey, a trek that never ends, but by exploring every little trail along that precipitous terrain, sometimes hitting a dead end, one becomes familiar with the mountain range and gets there in the end.
Coincidentally, today, I’ve received a request by a newbie writer asking me to review a synopsis/pitch which reads like a first chapter or two, reminding me of when I tried to do the same thing; incorporate every little detail I felt a publisher should know about my story, for surely they wouldn’t be able to help but fall in love with it if only they would. Lol. I think I’d better try to be subtle with my own word choice in my response – not my strong point – or at least not always received in the way it’s intended – the difference between starting out on the journey and somewhere far into it, I find; the ability to receive constructive criticism, for certainly it does takes great skill to encapsulate everything that’s great about your story in a few measly hundred words.
However, I’ve seen really great up and coming writers whose synopsis’ read very amateurish too and that always surprises me – I guess because its more about business than the actual pleasure of writing that carries us away that’s throwing them – and so the process of learning to do it effectively is certainly something that must be learned separately.
Personally I have always objected to the whole comparing my work to someone else’s thing, and I can’t and won’t do that. But then, like I said, that’s just me, it no doubt has great merit.
Well done on the video; always interesting to see someone that you’ve come to know on the Internet come to life.
SP, it was really difficult to only touch on the highlights of my story. When giving advice, one of the agents reminded all of us writers that we already know the story, but new readers do not. Too many details can overwhelm and bog down the potential for interest. What really struck me is the information that ended-up being adlibbed into pitch. The divergent information gave me new ideas for how to make my pitch even better the next time around.
That’s a great speech, but I think you could impress me more. How would an actor deliver it? Clint Eastwood would probably whisper through his teeth. Marlene Dietrich would growl. Rod Serling? Who’s your fave?
Al, I was just happy to get the words down! Next year, I’ll work on my acting skills 😉 Though I’m sure I was a bit more animated when I was face to face with agents.
Jeri — loved your video! It sets the tone for your novel. It’s so mysterious, it makes you want to learn more. I sure do hope it sells you book. No one likes pitching, or selling. It’s uncomfortable but necessary.
Jeannette, yep pitching was uncomfortable, but I can’t wait to do it again!
The video was definitely spooky—-maybe too spooky unless the book is in the genre of a shocking thriller a la Stephen King. (Disclosure: I have never actually read a Stephen King novel because scary books scare me and I don’t like feeling scared 😉 I haven’t progressed beyond having essays published and writing a blog, so I am impressed that you have bitten off a writing project as daunting as a full length novel and that you are on to your second draft.
I haven’t been to a “real” writing conference, but earlier this summer I attended a travel blogger conference (TBEX) in Toronto. There were 1,300 travel bloggers in attendance. The work-shops (a mix of craft and technical aspects) were helpful and there were “speed dating” 8 minute meetings with potential blog sponsors and destination marketing organizations. My favorite part of the conference was having the chance to network informally with other travel bloggers—some of whom had been on-line mentors and/or my blogging “heroes”.
PS: I’m a recovering lawyer and no one ever handed me anything to read over without also handing me a “red pen”, so please don’t be offended if I suggest you try a different “grammar checker”. I think the second sentence in your post is missing a word, along with another missing at the end of your pitch — or else I am too obtuse to “get” that you said exactly what you intended to say (a distinct possibility).
Suzanne, Lost Girl Road is psychological suspense, so since it focuses on why a crime was committed spooky was indeed what I was going for, so it sounds like it might not be the book for you 😉 I would love to go to a travel bloggers conference. If there were more hours in a day, I would start a travel blog. Finally, thanks for getting out your red pen of doom and noting the two hours I have now fixed…. guess I’ll blame those on writing the post at 2 am!
Jeri–great article! I can see that you are being thorough in every step of the way to get your book out there. The video was good. You have a strong voice and presence on camera. Made me wish I had a book to pitch. Its been neat following you on this journey.
Bethany, thanks for stopping by! I miss your blog, but hope you are doing well in your goal of becoming a personal trainer.
The images in the video definitely gives a creepiness. I didn’t think it was too spooky. The pitch gave me a curiosity for the book but looking at the cover of the book, it says short stories. Is the one in the video just one story in the book? Just a thought.
Joanne, the cover of the book you must be looking at on the sidebar would be Such is Life which is now on Amazon. My novel won’t be out for quite some time, but I still wanted to post my pitch.
Enjoyed the video and what a great idea! It’s a great way to self-critique, too! I liked the pitch. But just like books, pitches are subjective. What turns one agent on, might have the opposite effect on another. The key is to keep trying:)
Jacquie, readers’ and agents’ tastes certainly vary. I’ve barely started the process, so I hope I don’t get too discouraged once I start submitting my novel.
Lost Girl Road sounds like a great book! I look forward to reading it. Your outline for pitching a story is terrific. While I am not an author, I often write book reviews and I will follow this outline to make my reviews far more succinct and meaningful!
Gracey, using the Place, Person, Pivot formula would work great for book reviews as well. What a great idea.
Oooo. Nice pitch. Where can I buy your book? Bravo for nailing that sentence down in four hours.
Sarah, unfortunately Lost Girl Road is still in revision, then I’ll try submitting it to agents before I consider self-publishing. I do have shorter works on Amazon though 🙂
Excellent video Jeri and good for you doing the pitch. It sounds like your learned a lot which will help the next time you do it. As the others have said I am looking forward to reading it when you finish it.
Susan, the conference truly was impressive. I’m glad I picked such a good one. Not to mention, it’s always worthwhile to find an excuse to visit Seattle 😉
Jeri- I loved the video and I love it that your novel is mysterious. I am sure it will help sell your book. What I find interesting is that every business if they are selling has to pitch what they are selling. Like anything that one is pitching difficult to only touch on the highlights of one’s business or in your case your story. It has to be concise and grab the audience. Your first impression is your only one. Very well done.
Arleen, sometimes my novel is so mysterious I still don’t know all the twists and turns it’s going to take even though I’m on the second draft. I’m pretty happy with my pitch, but I’ll continue to work on it as the book evolves.
I haven’t done a writing conference…but I need to add that to my list. Sounds like it was a great experience for you. Pitching sure is hard…I find it hard to sell myself or my writing…I don’t want to seem like I think I’m all that and then some : )
Hey Jeri, great to actually “meet” you via a video. This online game we have with blogging etc is funny like that. But back to the pitch. Man that is a difficult thing. Condensing so much into one sentence, and then a bit more for the pitch – trying to convince people to help/buy/agent etc. You did a great job!
Ashley, the process is sooo nerve-wracking but it really got me riled-up and brought out my competitive side.
Wow, Jeri! That video you produced is really amazing! I enjoyed it tremendously.
Interesting that you had a chance to meet with Katharine Sands. She helped me focus my own book proposal back in 2010.
Good luck with it.
Doreen, thanks so much. The process of writing my first book is teaching me so much. I thought I knew a lot, but experience is always the best teacher.
Excellent post, video and information, Jeri. Have bookmarked it:-)
Catarina, that means a lot coming from you since I know what high standards you have!
Excellent post, Jeri. Very helpful.
Writers’ conferences? Going to them definitely improved my novel, Revelle, which I self-published last year. I’ve learned though, that I like blogging much more than I like writing novels. The only bloggers’ conference I’ve been to was BlogHer back in 2009, and it was just way too big for me, and commercially oriented. I didn’t resonate. I’d love to find a writing-group of bloggers who’d like to meet in person here in Portland, Oregon to support each other, hone our craft and build readership. But I know that’s an awfully specific thing to want :). Visiting and commenting on each others’ blogs as we’re doing (found you through BHB) is surely the next best thing.
Alison, I sometimes feel happier bogging as opposed to writing a full-length book. I suppose my second book will be the judge of that 😉 As for blogging groups, have you looked into finding a group via Meetup’s service?
Great video! I’ll bet you made excellent use of your four minutes. And I’m as impressed by your video as I am by your book. As for writers’ conferences, the big one I attend annually is MagNet, organized by Magazines Canada. It’s definitely energizing and puts a spring in my step – nothing like networking with other writers to learn, motivate and get creating.
Krystyna, the four minutes for the pitch really flew by. It was interesting how I added various bits and pieces in depending on the vibes I got from each agent.
You did a fantastic job, both at the pitch and the video. I love the effects, really adds to the whole thing.
Laura, it just seemed so bland until I added the effects 🙂 little by little I think I’m getting pretty good at editing.
Jeri, I like your voice! I think that you should make more videos! 🙂
Lorraine, I’m hoping to make more videos on emcee I get a laptop that can handle the software better 🙂
Very cool pitch! I’m amazed and impressed at how much work you’re putting into the details of this book… can’t wait to see the end product.
Thanks so much, Dan. It’s gonna be awhile before my book is finished, but in the meantime, I’ll be releasing some shorter works.
I think I’m with you on the length of time it took me to write the log line for my work in progress. But it was really good to figure it out before I started writing because it has served as a beacon for where I want the novel to go. And, hey, this way we have one of the hardest tasks out of the way!
RoseMary, it’s always fantastic to get those hard tasks out of the way sooner rather than later 🙂