Editing Tip – Pitching A Home Run
Posted on October 23, 2012
Sadly, the blog for my editing tips from my now defunct business WordFalls Services is closed. I’m posting the whole thing here.
If you’ve finished a manuscript, one of the things you need to think about is how you will pitch it. For those who intend to self-publish, think of the pitch in terms of the blurb you write to attract a potential reader posted on the online website that sells your work. If you’re looking to find a literary agent or submit directly to a publisher, you’ll need to perfect your pitch both for a query letter and/or for a possible one-on-one pitch session if you attend a writing conference.
There are two types of pitches that I want to mention – the elevator pitch and the query pitch. For self-publishing, that would equate to the blurb and the back cover matter. For the elevator pitch, there are a couple of ways to think about how you have to make the most impact in the least amount. One thing I heard is that it’s like the length of two Tweets (one tweet being 140 characters). That’s not a lot of time/space. Another way is to truly think about how you might tell a stranger what your book is about if you got in on the 6th floor and rode the elevator down together.
A query pitch contains a little bit more space to pitch, but not much. I will save advice I’ve learned about querying for another post, but I will say that you need to be able to do an elevator pitch before you can include a pitch in your query letter. If you can narrow down your book into a strong representation in short form, then what you put in your query will not take up too much space. And the one thing I saw from watching an agent go through query letters is that they want and give preference to short and concise.
So what goes in a pitch? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Who are your readers? – Along with giving the title of the book, the pitch should give a sense of who your intended readers are. That comes from including the genre in the beginning to giving comparable books you feel it is like. Fair warning – do not compare to large blockbuster books. Instead, find contemporary and generally popular books that it’s like. If you’re pitching to an agent or publisher, find those books that are in-house. For self-publishing, you need to know who your readers will be in terms of writing a comparable blurb with other books in the genres you use to tag it.
2. What’s the book about? – This is a nebulous question, and the one that’s going to take the most time to nail down. You want to give a sense of the book without giving the whole away. You want to hook to make them want to buy into that book. An example would be to include character name, and give a sense of who he/she is and his/her struggle (if your character has a specific voice like humor, try and work that in as well). If you’re writing fantasy, there needs to be some element as a clue that it takes place in another world – this could be as small as a word. The same could be said for any genre.
3. General vs. Specific – Another nebulous area, the details can make you or break you. And the less space/time you have, the less you can give. If you’re protagonist deals with supernatural creatures, that’s a pretty big statement and too general. What makes your supernatural creatures different? You’ll have to balance where to be specific, which is another reason why you have to practice perfecting your pitch.
4. Stay on track – Related to #3, keep the focus clear. Even if your book has multiple points-of-view, there should be something to guide the reader from page one to the last. Whatever it is, relay that focus in the pitch. If you mention a protagonist but get lost in explaining another character who is important to your protagonist, your pitch may get muddy because you’ve switched the focus from your protagonist to their companion character.
In order to create a well-crafted short pitch, you will need to practice. Write it, then revise and revise again until you have something you could tell someone at the drop of a hat. You never know who might ask you about your book and when.
5. Practice your Pitch – Just like in sports, you don’t get on the mound and pitch the ball straight over home plate the first time. In order to create a well-crafted short pitch, you will need to practice. Write it, then revise and revise again until you have something you could tell someone at the drop of a hat. You never know who might ask you about your book and when. If you’ve got a practiced pitch ready to go, it could lead you to a possible future reader.
I am by no means an expert, but I pass on to you what I learned by doing my own pitching at the James River Writers Conference both to an agent and in an event called Pitchapalooza run by The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry that included lit agent Alec Shane from Writers House. Through both experiences (one was 7 minutes and one was 1 minute), I learned how to keep paring down to the meat of what makes my book different. I now have that in my back pocket so if I choose to self-publish, I’ve got a blurb. If I pursue an agent or traditional publishing, I’ve got something ready to go.∗
Here are some resources that I find helpful:
- Nathan Bransford‘s blog about pitching: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/one-sentence-one-paragraph-and-two.html
- Blurb help from Writer’s Relief: http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2009/10/how-to-write-a-killer-book-blurb-for-your-query-letter-what-literary-agents-want-to-see/
- A Writer Beware blog about pitching (conveniently written recently): http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/10/guest-post-dear-agent-write-letter-that.html
- Note: I endorse The Book Doctors as I bought their book and found helpful information as well as got help with my pitch during Pitchapalooza:
- The Book Doctors and their blog as well as their book The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published