How to Write a Book Pitch No One Can Resist
I have yet to meet a writer who’s thrilled to discover they must learn how to write a sales pitch for their book.
You just spent months—possibly years—learning how to write a fantastic novel. Why can’t that masterful work of fiction just speak for itself?
Because literary agents receive 2,000+ submissions a year. I don’t know anyone who can read 2,000 full-length novels in 365 days. Not even if it was their day job.
So if your goal is to become a traditionally published author, you must first convince an agent or publisher that your novel is worth reading. To do that, you need a solid pitch.
Whatever path you’re taking, you need to know how to sell that puppy. And if you choose to embrace the process, you may find that writing a book pitch isn’t even all that miserable.
So let’s get to it. You’re about to learn:
- What exactly a book pitch is and how it compares to other marketing materials
- How to write a killer pitch
- How to survive the actual pitching process
- Tricks for increasing your odds of landing a book deal
First, a definition.
What is a Book Pitch?
Simply put, a book pitch is a short and compelling explanation of what your book is about.
A well-written pitch is a powerful marketing tool whether you’re trying to find a literary agent, sell your book to a publisher, promote your novel to the media, or attract new readers.
Now, you may have heard a couple other terms—specifically “query” and “proposal”—that seem like they’re basically the same thing. While it’s true these documents serve similar functions, there are some key differences.
Pitch vs. Query vs. Proposal
A query letter is a 300-400 word letter used to snag the attention of an agent. You can also query publishers if you intend to pursue publication without the help of an agent. (Check out this article to explore the pros and cons of submitting your manuscript directly to a publisher.)
Now, your query letter will contain a book pitch—around 200 words drawing them into the world and conflict of your story—as well as some details about yourself and why you think this literary agent is a good fit for you.
A book proposal often begins with a book pitch, but then there’s a lot of information after that. This is a much longer document (usually about 10-25 pages) that not only outlines what’s in the book, but makes a case for its marketability.
Book proposals are most commonly a tool for nonfiction writers, though fiction writers occasionally use them, too. And while you’d never want to send out a query without having a polished manuscript ready to send, the purpose of a book proposal is to sell the book idea before you write it.
Query letters and book proposals each have a specific purpose for a specific moment in the publishing process.
A book pitch, on the other hand, has one job that comes up time and again: making your novel sound awesome.
Components of a Book Pitch
You want to include these key pieces of information:
- Setting – Where and when does the story take place?
- Main character – Who is this story about and why are they interesting?
- Goal – What is the protagonist trying to achieve and why is it so dang important?
- Conflict – Who or what is getting in their way?
- Tone – How will the reader feel when they read this story?
- Comp titles – What currently successful book(s) are similar to this one?
Now, not all of this information has to be said directly. Ideally, your novel’s tone will be implied by the way you write your book pitch. You may not even have to mention the genre if the story itself makes it clear.
You just want to make sure all this information is in your book pitch one way or another. As for how much detail you give, that depends on the type of pitch.
“There are different types of book pitches?” you ask.
Why, yes. There are.
The Elevator Pitch
You’re in an elevator with your dream agent. They’ll be rushing off to an important meeting as soon as they reach their floor. You’ve only got an elevator ride’s amount of time to get them to fall in love with your premise. What do you tell them about it?
That’s your elevator pitch, also known as an elevator speech.
Of course, you’re not likely to be in this exact scenario. But you get the idea, right? An elevator pitch is about one to three sentences long. It’s the teasiest of teasers. For example:
When a disillusioned ghostwriter who no longer believes in love returns to her family’s funeral home to bury her late father, she finds herself haunted by the ghost of her very hot and very recently deceased editor. (The Dead Romantics)
It’s super short, but it’s all there. Main character, goal, obstacle, setting. One would assume the genre is contemporary paranormal romance, and the tone is clear. All that’s missing is a title comp, and there’s space to work that in before the elevator dings.
So when would you use an elevator pitch if not in an elevator?
All the time. When you get a chance to chat one-on-one with the literary agent at a writing conference roundtable. Or when you have to state what your novel is about on three lines of a fellowship application.
Or when your spouse’s coworker casually asks what you’re working on. If you know the pain of hearing yourself ramble incoherently before finally saying, “It’s better on paper,” you understand the value of having a compelling elevator pitch at the ready.
The 60-Second Pitch
As you may have guessed, the 60-second pitch is something you can bust out when you know you have someone’s focused attention for longer than an elevator ride. Maybe you’re meeting for coffee or you’re on the phone with an interested agent who wants to know what else you’re working on.
Fun fact: it takes about 200 words to fill out 60-seconds. That means this particular book pitch also fits neatly into your query letter.
So what can you say in this longer pitch that you can’t fit into an elevator pitch?
I’ll let you see for yourself.
Example of a Successful Book Pitch
This is from the query that landed Sarah J. Maas a literary agent:
What if Cinderella went to the ball not to win the heart of the prince, but to kill him? In THE EYE OF THE CHOSEN, the first book of my fantasy trilogy, QUEEN OF GLASS, Celaena Sardothien is not a damsel in distress—she’s an assassin. Serving a life sentence in the salt mines for her crimes, Celaena finds herself faced with a proposition she can’t turn down: her freedom in exchange for the deaths of the King of Adarlan’s enemies.
Before she can complete her mission, she must first train within the glass castle in the capital of the empire. As training with the Captain of the Guard revives her muscles, encounters with the Crown Prince threaten to do the same to her heart. But Celaena soon learns that the King of Adarlan might have plans more sinister than assassinations.
An ancient queen’s ghost charges Celaena with an enormous task: to discover and destroy the mysterious source of the evil king’s power. Torn between her desire to win her freedom and a mission much bigger than herself, Celaena thus begins an adventure she never wanted, which will uncover her forgotten, magical past—a past more dangerous than any tyrant…
As you can see, Maas used the 200-max word count to set the scene, heighten the tension, and emphasize the stakes. She was also able to add a couple more characters than she could in an elevator pitch.
And that opening question is a great strategy for hooking the listener’s interest in a book pitch of any length.
Now, as long as we’re talking strategy…
How to Write a Killer Pitch
Here are some tips for giving your debut novel an irresistible sales pitch.
Read a ton of good pitches and blurbs
You can find loads of successful query letters here. A Google search will show you even more. Re-read the book blurbs that got you to buy your favorite books. Note what drew you in and try using those tactics yourself.
Find your hook
Of all the components that must go into your book pitch, which one is the grabbiest? Is it the dystopian setting? The protagonist’s unusual worldview? The how-are-they-gonna-get-out-of-this conflict? Open with that.
Keep it simple
Once you’ve spent months or even years with your manuscript, every detail feels crucial. But for your pitch, you gotta get back to basics. One central conflict. One setting. Four characters max (fewer is better).
Spark their imagination
If an agent asks to see a book synopsis, you’ll probably want to include the ending of your story. But for a pitch, the goal is to spark curiosity and get them to envision the possibilities. Include vivid details that make them wonder what happens next.
Reflect the tone
Your goal is to give the listener a taste of what it’s like to experience the story. So make sure the tone of your pitch matches the tone of your novel.
Now that we’ve covered the writing, let’s get to the really tough part.
How to Pitch Your Book. Out Loud. Even If You’re an Introvert.
You can’t always hide behind a query letter. There will be times when you have to pitch your book out loud to a human being’s face. Here are some strategies that have helped my anxious, introverted soul. Hopefully, they’ll help yours, too.
Practice a lot
Get to where the words of your pitch flow as naturally as your ABCs. That way you don’t have to stress about forgetting anything or sounding too robotic.
Put it into perspective
My brother once reminded me before a pitch meeting that “life is not an Eminem song.” That is to say, you do not only get one chance to blow. You’ll have many pitch opportunities in your life. Your dream does not depend on this single moment.
Be ready for questions…
…about the story, your career, and how your books fits into the market. Questions are great. If the person you’re pitching to has a lot of questions, it means they at least see potential.
Plus, questions give you an opportunity to stop performing and talk in-depth about something you care about.
Be ready for weird listening faces
It’ll throw you off if you’re not ready. My brother and I once had to pitch a TV series to the side of a producer’s face because staring out the window helped him concentrate.
You might pitch to a literary agent or publisher who scowls when they’re focused or yawn because they’ve got a newborn at home. Practice not taking it personally. Have a friend listen to your pitch with a closed-off expression.
Find a personal connection
It doesn’t have to be deep. Even just establishing that you’re both breathlessly awaiting the next Tia Williams book will make you feel more like you’re talking to a potential friend than performing for a gatekeeper.
How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Published
So is there anything else you can do to give yourself the best possible shot at publication?
Knowing your market is one of the best ways to give yourself an advantage. Not only will it help you write a book that’s likely to sell, but it’ll also help you make a stronger case when you pitch your novel.
You also want to research literary agents and publishers so you can target the people who are most likely to love your book.
Finally, let your community help. Workshop your pitch with fellow writers. Share resources and tips. Go to your writing community for inspiration when you burn out and to celebrate your wins.
Don’t have people like that in your life, yet? Join our community in the Story Craft Café. Share your journey in the forums, get in on group writing sprints, and connect with the people who understand you better than anyone else.
You don’t even have to be a Dabble user to join. Just click this link and introduce yourself.
Book marketing. Those two innocuous words instill fear and loathing into the hearts of so many writers. You just want to write your books and have them sell themselves. Why do you have to tell people about it? Well, Susan, because you do. I know you want to write, but if your goal is to write, publish, and make money from your books, then you’re going to have to find a way to make them visible. Thousands of new titles are uploaded to Amazon every single day. Millions of books are being published every year, and no matter how good your story is, without marketing, there’s not much chance very many people will find it.
What kind of writer are you? Are you the sort who writes a meticulous outline that tips into the five digits or the type who sits down in front of a blank sheet of paper and lets the words pour out of you like a runaway train? Did you know there are specific terms for this kind of writing? Writers will come up with words for anything, I swear. Plotters are the first type of writer. They like to have detailed outlines that tell them exactly where their story is going. Pantsers are the other type of writer, which is kind of a weird name, but the term was coined by Stephen King (a famous pantser) to describe writing by the seat of your pants. Cute, eh? There is no right or wrong way to write your book, and I’m going to repeat this so many times. The right way is the way that works for you.
Dystopian fiction is one of the darker subgenres of science fiction and fantasy. It takes us into dark, foreboding worlds, where oppression and bleak landscapes are the norm. Books like 1984 by George Orwell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley have become classics that shine a light on political corruption, environmental disaster, and societal collapse.Why do we love these stories? Maybe it's because dystopian fiction allows us to explore worst-case scenarios, to grapple with the idea that the world we know and love could be lost forever. It's a way for us to confront our fears and anxieties about the future, to see what could happen if we continue down a certain path.