Writing the Perfect Pitch, Part I - The Basics

2012-Dec-18 -> from the helpful-advice-for-all department Tags: abna perfectpitching tipsandtricks 

Perhaps "perfect" is the wrong word to use, but "writing the best pitch you possibly can to sell your story" was a bit too wordy. Once you've written a book, you invariably wonder what comes next. For some people, like myself, what was next was self-publishing. Others go the traditional route. In either case, selling your story will become extremely important. How do you sell your story? With a sales pitch, or a pitch for short.

That's what this is all about today, coming up with that all-important pitch. It's 250 words (or so), how hard can it possibly be? This is the deadly secret of the writing world that nobody wants you to know: writing a sales pitch for a book is the hardest 250 words you will ever write.

I have some guidelines that can make it easier. (Note the terminology: guidelines, not rules. We'll address that later.) If you follow this list, and capture your plot, you'll have a pretty good pitch to start out with.

The "Do"s:

  • Keep the word count to 250 words or less. That's not many words to capture the essence of a story that took 50,000 or more to tell.

  • Include your main character, the central conflict, and the stakes.

  • Use active language.

  • Use present tense.

  • Write in the same voice as the novel.

  • Show us the story (vs. telling it to us).

  • Leave the reader with a cliffhanger.

  • Be concise.

  • Make every word count.

The "Don't"s:

  • Try to write the entire story in 250 words.

  • Introduce too many characters or proper names in the pitch.

  • Start the pitch with a rhetorical question.

  • Include self-praise of the work.

  • Use adverbs.

  • Overuse in-book terminology.

  • Give away the ending.

That's a lot of guidelines to follow, which is part of what makes this process so incredibly difficult. Anyone who knows me, knows I've gone through at least four complete rewrites of my pitch, and countless minor revisions.

Anatomy of a Pitch

The basic anatomy of a pitch is three simple paragraphs: character, conflict, and stakes.

Start out by introducing us to your main character, and add in a hook. As a reader, I need something to care about. Don't just tell me that your character Bob is an accountant. That's boring. How bout an accountant who can bend steel bars with his mind? Okay, that got a lot more interesting. Perhaps your book is more down-to-earth, but your character is broken in some way: Bob is an accountant who is clinging to the last dredges of a life he has destroyed through alcoholism. You get the idea. This is where you make the reader care about your character. Why character? I'll explain that later.

Having an interesting character is awesome, but you need plot to go with that. Conflict is what drives the plot. All we want in the second paragraph is the central conflict of the book. How did the character get there? Who else does it involve? Don't get too involved with details, but make sure the reader can understand what the story is about.

A cool character, loads of conflict, and now? We need to know what's at stake. The third paragraph wraps this up and shows the reader what the character stands to lose, or what could happen if the conflict doesn't get resolved in a positive way. The idea here is to build it up to be nice and juicy, and make them beg for more. At this point, the reader should be sold and writing up a request letter or hitting the "buy" or "preview" button. That's how bad they have to need your book.

Breaking All the Rules

What good are rules if you can't break them? Of course, there are only guidelines, and yes, you can venture outside of those guidelines, but understand that the further away from those guidelines you go, the bigger risk you are taking.

What are you risking?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The pitch is your first impression. Put your best foot forward. Proof read it, have somebody else proof read it, tighten it, read it out loud, have your best friend read it out loud to you. If they stumble while reading it, so will a potential buyer, agent or editor.

Make. Every. Word. Count.

Character vs. Plot Based Pitching

This is a guideline that I really push people to follow. The reader must connect with your story in some way, and the easiest way to get into somebodies head, is through a character. You can write a plot based pitch, but it becomes much more difficult for a reader to connect to it. If you can make that connection, and get inside their head, you've made the sale.

Never Say Never

The guidelines above can be bent, and even erased if you're careful. But there is one rule I stress to anyone and everyone I help out with a pitch:

Never, ever, ever start a pitch with a rhetorical question.


It doesn't build suspense. It doesn't hook the reader. All it does is ask the reader a question before they have a reason to care about the answer. Don't put potential readers in this position, because it means they have to work to get to the good stuff, and most people simply won't. Most agents and editors will toss a pitch that starts with a rhetorical question. Most potential readers will pass over it.

Take Frequent Breaks

If you get frustrated, or just can't seem to get it right, stop and take a break. Shelve the pitch for a day or two, a week, or even longer. Come back to it when you have a clear head, and fresh eyes. Have other people look at it and see if they can suggest something. Find a writers group that might be able to help you. This doesn't have to be a solitary effort.

Above all, have fun with it. Whether you write as a hobby, or as a career, you should always try to have fun with what you do. Get yourself excited over this, because the more excited you are, the less like work it will seem.

If you enjoyed this, you'll probably like the rest of the Perfect Pitching Series.

Thanks for reading!

I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.

Don't forget to join in on the conversation in the comments section below.

9 Comments(1 Pending Approval):

By L.A. Rikand on Fri 21 Dec 2012 09:32:01 am [ Reply ] Good checklist for pitch-writing, Thomas! I like the character vs. plot-based pitching. It's not human nature to attack it that way when the rules simply state to "tell me about your book." And it's bloody hard to pull off...

By Jeanne Rejaunier on Sat 5 Jan 2013 10:21:55 am [ Reply ] Thanks for the great suggestions. One of them is unclear to me, the "rhetorical question" never-never. Could you give an example of that? Thanks again.

By Thomas A. Knight on Sat 5 Jan 2013 12:03:24 pm [ Reply ] Hey Jeanne, thanks for dropping by.

I've seen people start a pitch with something like: "Have you ever felt like you were trapped, with no way out?" or "What would you do if a purple hippopotamus ran by in front of you?"

Don't do this. :)

By Vanessa on Sat 5 Jan 2013 01:45:26 pm [ Reply ] I am the one called Anonymous from the Amazon community. Is this more of what you mean - Info, conflict, high stakes and etc?

Bad luck happens to everyone... but not like it does to 13-year-old Nandi KaSha. Being born in secrecy, adopted, poor and living in a village where the citizens shun and kids bully her, Nandi prays for better days.

Learning you're an ET prodigy and a lost Queen isn't great after all. Now Nandi discovers she’s the possessor of a powerful bequest called Serenity, which has been stolen by the Prince of the kingdom and even worse he’s her step-brother, a sibling she never knew she had. Now she has to battle him to reclaim it. But how when you’re afraid of your own shadow?

From the moment of her abduction, Nandi knew her life was about to change. However, being prepared for ‘Charge’… meaning learning how brandish a magical sword along with remembering incantations written by the universe's greatest sorcerers within seven days-- wasn't on her list of likelihoods. Also knowing that magical powers are about to burst from her body isn't a pleasant thought either. Still, all is fair when you're fighting to save the world from destruction.

Nevertheless, even if Nandi succeeds, still there's another; a Fallen One who not only wants to rid the world of Serenity, but he needs Nandi's flesh to do it, after all she is half alien, and this is unacceptable.

NANDI AND THE SEVENTH CRYSTAL COIN is a 129,000 word epic 'sword and sorcery' quest that follows the twisting path of a heroic but unlikely group of friends: a peasant Queen, her two valiant cohorts and three apprentices. Like the action in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, thrilling adventure lurk in every chapter.

By Vanessa on Sat 5 Jan 2013 05:28:00 pm [ Reply ] or this one maybe...

In ancient Egypt, it’s been almost 1,000 years since the ETs surfaced, delivering their concept called Civilization and twelve souls of Cipher Heralds each a forthcoming possessor of a crystal skull called One Love. Thirteen-year-old Nandi is the seventh prodigy of those twelve and the intended heir of the Oath of Serenity, the keeper of peace.
When her inheritance, Serenity ends up in the hands of twelve-year-old Mali the tyrant ’bad seed’ Prince of their kingdom, a troll abducts Nandi along with two friends. They are taken to the legendary mystical land of Mer Wer, where a ‘weaken’ Seer is hiding. Once there, Nandi learns she is an ET prodigy and a lost Queen and that Prince Mali is her half-brother, a sibling she didn’t know she had. She gets caught up in her emotions because she has to destroy him to reclaim what is rightfully hers in order to save the world and continue the building of civilization including the pyramids.
Nevertheless, even if she succeeds there's another; a diabolical villain who not only wants to rid the world of Serenity, but he needs Nandi's flesh to do it, after all she is half alien, and this is unacceptable

By bridgit on Fri 4 Oct 2013 02:52:15 am [ Reply ] Found your website from the Amazon pitch thread. I want to say thanks for the advice. I hope to add my pitch to the thread too.

By Thomas A. Knight on Fri 4 Oct 2013 07:26:01 am [ Reply ] Fantastic! I'm glad you dropped by and hope you've found some value in what I've written here. Looking forward to seeing your pitch on the pitch thread. :)

By Nicole Collet on Fri 27 Dec 2013 06:15:19 pm [ Reply ] Thanks a lot for posting this, Thomas! I was n the dark and now I can see :-)

By Thomas A. Knight on Sat 28 Dec 2013 06:32:44 pm [ Reply ] Thanks for dropping by, Nicole. Glad you found this useful. :)

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