So you’ve finished your manuscript and you’ve made the decision to attend a Pitch Conference or a Writer’s Conference which includes a Pitch session. Here are some of the basics you need to know when building your pitch for a fiction novel. The rules may be different for non-fiction where proposals come into play, but I won’t speak to those differences here.
Pitch opportunities are the best way to fast-track getting your work in front of an agent or a publisher to accelerate your journey to publication. Rather than having your query letter languish at the bottom of a slush pile, you can receive a direct request for your work. But there’s one very important caveat: you must be prepared. Otherwise, you could be wasting an opportunity with that particular agent or publisher.
Before we begin, the two most important things you need are a complete edited manuscript, and a well-written pitch. A pitch session is not the place to float ideas. If agents / publishers want to see your work, they will make a request on the spot.
You may already have written a query letter. Your pitch is the ‘synopsis' part of your query letter. But not to be confused with a book synopsis, which is the summary of your book including all the major plot points with the ending revealed. Agents may request this with your partial manuscript. Don’t reveal the ending of your book in the pitch, only in the book synopsis.
For those of you who may not have pitched before, the closest thing I can compare it to is speed dating. Time in front of the agent can vary from 3 minutes at a large conference to 10 minutes at a small one. But you should limit your pitch to 90 seconds or approximately 300 words, and leave the rest of the time for the questions. Three minutes may not seem like a lot of time, but I’ve managed to do it with 30 seconds to spare after materials have been requested. It will depend on the agent.
Building your pitch:
- Build a one sentence log line, which is your book summarized in one sentence. This is also sometimes synonymous with your ‘hook’. This is a way to quickly orient the person you are pitching to about your book. Honestly, I stopped included the log line after giving half of my pitches since I felt like I repeated myself during the pitch. I ended up with the same amount of requests without it. It’s your call.
- Ex: XYZ novel is the story of a 30 year-old man who learns that roping cattle is the answer to world peace.
- Genre, Word Count, and Title: Know the genre of your book, and be able to come up with comparable titles that aren’t the hottest on the market (i.e., Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code, etc.). This is important because it ties to the potential marketability of your book. No market could equate to no interest.
- The Pitch Formula: A pitch can vary between 3 -10 sentences and has three main components: Main character, Conflict, Resolution. In that order.
- Main Character: Tell something about your main character that is interesting and sets them apart. Is there something they want? We need to care about them to care about your story.
- Ex: Cheryl is a dyslexic mother of three who lives a secret life as a pole-dancer to make ends meet while her drunk of a husband works nights in a factory. Lower back pain causes her to revalue her career choice, leading her to a new job as private investigator of cheating husbands and part-time drug-dealer to PTA mothers.
- Conflict: What is the inciting incident that drives the story? Are there complications that make things worse? Major plot point that lie at the heart of your story. What are the stakes for the main character if they fail?
- Ex: When Cheryl’s loser husband turns up on the other side of her surveillance camera, she sees red. As much as she’d like to see him dead, she’s not the one who put his cold corpse in their marital bed. Teaming up with Detective Sam Covell, she snoops her way through her PTA connections in search of the real killer in order to exonerate herself before her new wardrobe is comprised entirely of stripes and the only view of the world she has is from behind iron bars.
- Resolution: Hint at the wrap-up but don’t spell out your ending. Make your last sentence strong and end with a punch.
- Ex: In order to save herself and her children, Cheryl must confront her anger and place her faith in the one person she can trust the least… the killer.
Some additional tips and advice:
- Be specific and avoid grandiose language that doesn’t say anything. Make sure you are painting a picture for the recipient of your pitch.
- Use the same tone or voice in your pitch that you used in your novel.
- Leave out subplots and extraneous characters.
- For novels that contain world-building, such as fantasy and sci-fi, keep it high-level and simple.
- Ex: a post-apocalyptic world where oxygen is no longer free.
What has been the hardest part of creating a pitch for you? What would you recommend to others?