Any opportunity you have to get in front of an agents or publishers and tell them about your book is a precious opportunity, no matter how brief the encounter. Don’t waste it. Make the moment memorable (for the right reasons) by crafting a series of brief, targeted talking points about your project.
Qualities of a Good Pitch:
- It’s brief: A good pitch starts with a single sentence, known as a logline or hook. Prepare one or two additional sentence-long talking points about your project based on the book’s synopsis.
- It gets to the guts of your book: By boiling your pitch down to a single sentence, you are forced to get to the heart of the story or message. The hook should be the book’s compelling central idea and will be used to sell your idea again and again.
The elements of a pitch are slightly different for each genre, but the purpose is the same—to convey the meat of the project in as few of words as possible.
A fiction or memoir logline contains the following elements:
- Protagonist: Name your hero/main character.
- Core conflict: Lay out the main issue of your book (only use relevant subplots for additional talking points if the agent or publisher asks—for example, they may ask if there is a love interest in the story).
- Differentiating factor: Explain to the agent or publisher what sets your book apart.
- Setting: Establish the time period, location, or specific subgenre, if applicable.
Here is a sample logline from the copyright page of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:
“In a future North America, where the rules of Panem maintain control though an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districs against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place.”
This logline hits all the elements listed above; we see that
- The main character is a sixteen-year-old named Katniss.
- The main conflict is that Katniss must compete for her survival against other teens.
- The story is different because of the idea of children fighting each other as a means of entertainment.
- The setting is a future dystopian North America.
If you would like additional examples, read the blog post “Writing a Logline” from Query Tracker.
A nonfiction logline is slightly different from a fiction logline. A typical nonfiction hook will contain
- Genre: Whether stated or implied, the agent or publisher should be able to surmise the book’s genre—business, new age, health, etc.
- Key problem addressed: Are you helping women with weight loss, new parents with discipline skills, business managers with communication skills?
- Promise: How does the book solve the problem? Are you teaching people how to be more assertive, how to eat better, how to delegate?
- Differentiation: What makes this title different from its competition?
Here is a sample logline for the upcoming title Briefcase Essentials by Susan Spencer:
“A woman’s guide to discovering the 12 natural talents that can help her achieve success in a male-dominated workplace. “
We see that
- This is a business book that deals with success in the workplace.
- The problem addressed is women competing in male-dominated industries.
- The promise is to give women 12 tools to help them find success in a male-dominated workplace.
- The book is different in that it encourages women to embrace their natural abilities rather than try to adopt masculine traits.
Again, you can refer to the examples in Query Tracker or look on the copyright page and back cover of comparable titles for ideas on how successful authors and publishers have crafted their pitches.
As you develop your pitch, avoid the following mistakes:
- Don’t talk about the process: Although the journey has been the most exciting and rewarding part of your writing experience, it is not relevant to the agent or publisher’s decision-making process. Refrain from explaining how you developed your characters or where you got your ideas. Those topics are better reserved for author interviews.
- Don’t pounce: Take the time to open up a natural conversation if at all possible (if you’re pitching roundtables or attending a crowded conference, you may not have this luxury). Building rapport before the pitch makes the agent or publisher more receptive to your message.
- Don’t verbally vomit: Stick to short, one- to two-sentence talking points that make them respond with “Tell me more.” People lose interest during long-winded pitches. Pause, take a breath, and if you see their eyes gloss over, stop.
- Walk away when you’re ahead: Once you hear the magic words “Send it to me,” say thank you, stop talking, and move on. You’ve done your job, now congratulate yourself and end the conversation before you undo the progress you’ve made.
Again, the pitch is not a retelling of the whole story. It is a brief statement depicting the core idea of your book. When you’re competing against hundreds of other writers, a well-crafted pitch can make or break your chances of connecting with a potential agent or publisher. Take the time to do it right. Practice saying your pitch out loud. Test it on a couple of friends. Whittle it down until it contains only the barest essentials. You’ll be glad you did.
Shennandoah Diaz is the Business Development Assistant at Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor supporting independent authors and small presses. Diaz develops educational materials for authors in addition to managing Greenleaf’s social media, writing case studies and white papers on the publishing industry, and coordinating Austin Publishing University.