Ten Tips for Writing an Effective Pitch

By Alyssa Schaffer and Joanna Szabo

Pitching your manuscript can be one of the more intimidating aspects of the writing process, so we've collected a few essential tips to help you prepare your next pitch.

  1. Start with a hook. This should be one or two lines covering the most exciting thing about your book. However, if you're struggling to come up with a good hook, it's better to skip it and jump into the details than to pitch a bad hook.
  2. Include essential details up front. Word count, genre, title. Keep this information straightforward and early in the pitch.
  3. Use the summary formula. Setting, protagonist, conflict, and stakes. Not all of your story's plot or characters are going to make it into the pitch—in fact, most of them won't. But a pitch is meant to draw the reader immediately into the core of the story. Find the heart of your novel and focus on that.
  4. Acknowledge your audience. Who is this book for? Be specific—show you understand your genre and where your book fits. The phrase “a general readership” is too vague for a pitch. Instead, think of groups like “avid hikers in the Portland area.” Picture who you imagine reading this book, and then identify what else they would be interested in.
  5. Include comp titles. These are books that are used to help identify where your book fits within your market and audience. You want to reflect today's market, so your comp titles should: be published within the last two years (go further than that, and trends may have changed); target the same genre and audience as your manuscript (don't use an adult sci-fi book if you're pitching a young adult title); and avoid comping big name authors and titles (you'll lose credibility with the agent/editor if you're unrealistic).
  6. State the connection to the press (or agent). Much like in a job interview, you should know about whoever you're pitching to and show why you're interested in them in particular. Researching this information is the first step to building a sustainable work relationship.
  7. Tell a little bit about yourself. Do you have any previous publications or special familiarity with the subject? What do you do in your spare time? Keep in mind that, while you're pitching the book, you also want to show why they should work with you.
  8. Research before you pitch. Make sure you've followed the submission guidelines. They are there for a reason!
  9. Be concise. Even with all of the information here, be sparing with your language. You want to avoid the editor or agent skipping over anything, because they might miss something that you feel is crucial. A single page is a good starting length to aim for.
  10. Phone a friend. Have a friend/fellow reader who hasn't read your book look over your pitch. Do they understand what it's about? Are they interested? That will give an indication as to whether an agent or editor (who is seeing your query for the first time) will feel the same way.

Does your pitch still need more work? Join us at the Willamette Writers Conference for a Master Class on query letters with agent Jody Rein.