In journalism, a “pitch” is a way to clearly and succinctly convey the idea for an article. Pitching an idea lands assignments for journalists and helps to sell their freelance work. But what used to be the domain of journalism has now come to play in the world of books. More and more, authors of longer pieces are asked to describe their story in as little as one or two sentences. Particularly if an author is going to attend conferences and workshops, during which interaction with agents and publishers is possible, he or she should be prepared to pitch.
So what makes a strong pitch?
- Brevity. Many agents and editors feel that if you cannot describe the book in a few sentences, then the premise and story are not clear enough. Some will advise no more than two sentences. Work on the length of your pitch ahead of time and never find yourself rambling on. Do not say, “My books is a coming-of-age story that starts with “¦ and then this happens “¦ and then this happens “¦” Instead say, “My book is about the son of a slave owner coming of age during the days leading up to the Civil War.”
- Specificity. The more details you give, the better. I know this seems to fly in the face of advising brevity, but make every word count. For example, instead of saying, “My book is a World War II love story” say, “Set in Berlin, my book is a World War II love story featuring a trapped American writer and a German officer.”
- Premise. Stick to details about the book and not you, as the author. Unless you have specific and impressive credentials that qualify you as the best person to write your story, sell the premise and not yourself. What counts most is the idea. Ask yourself what sets your book apart from others. What makes it unique and original? For example, say, “My book takes the idea of mythological gods to the next level. Continuously reborn and living among us, they influence the life of the first teenaged president of the United States.”
- Character. Pitch the idea as best you can, but don’t overlook the power of character. If you captivate interest in your premise as well as provide a glimpse of a fascinating and unusual character, then your chances of getting a reading will be improved. An example of this kind of pitch is, “My book is about a deaf marathon runner who begins to hear voices in her head for the first time. It explores the range and limits of human imagination and inborn memory.”
Write, rewrite and practice your pitch ahead of time. This way, if an opportunity presents itself, you will not find yourself tongue-tied. Preparedness is always impressive.