Thursday, October 27, 2005

WORKSHOP: Ten Steps to a Great Pitch - 1

Ten Steps to a Great Pitch

By Dara Girard

You’ve finished a book and now you want to sell it to a publisher. What’s the first thing you need to do? Come up with a great pitch. A well crafted pitch can be used in your query, synopsis or at your agent/editor appointment at a conference. With a good pitch you won’t be tongued tied when asked about your book.

Here are ten steps:

1. Know your product. Is your book a romantic suspense, fantasy or cozy mystery? Even if you write a sci-fi fantasy mystery romance, if you want to sell it, find a category it can fit into. Yes, there are crossover books that can’t fit into a category that sell, but make it easy on yourself and give it a category. Publishers and bookstores will likely give it one anyway.

2. Know your audience. Who are your potential readers? They are not ‘Everyone who likes a good romance novel’ or ‘Anyone who likes mystery.’ Every genre has a subgenre and readers that are loyal to them. Perhaps your potential audience likes mysteries with a bit of humor or young women living in the city or traditional stories with a little family drama.

3. Know your editor/agent. Will they like what you are selling? Does the publishing house need more Regency or has that line closed due to low sales? If you meet an agent that is interested in sweet romances, don’t sell them romantica. Know what they need that way you can approach them as though you’re doing them a favor.

4. Know what a great pitch looks like. How? Read the TV guide. See how they sell a two hour movie in about two lines. Then go to your bookshelf and read the back of books or the inside jacket copy and see how the publisher sells the story.

5. Know how to build your pitch. Now that you know the preliminary steps, let’s build your pitch. First know who the story happens to? Describe that person in one sweep with a well placed cliché. For example describe your heroine as a kind hearted nurse or your hero as a burned-out cop. Or you can describe the character in a blank statement. David is tired of money hungry women. Laticia is sick of men who are only interested in her good looks. Clichés resonant with readers use them to your advantage.

6. Know your setting. Your setting is both the place and where the hero or heroine is at the beginning of the story. Is your story in the present day or the future? Has your hero just suffered a divorce? That gives an emotional setting to your story.

7. Know your conflict. What does your hero/heroine desperately want and why can’t they get it? Does your hero want to get something (a house/ land/ woman) that belongs to someone else? Does your heroine want to prove that she’s an independent woman in a culture where women must depend on men?

8. Know your theme. Your theme is not your plot. Your theme is the ‘moral’ message you want your readers to leave with (i.e. Greed is bad, love conquers all etc…)

9. Know your resolution. How does the story end? Does the hero/heroine achieve their goal?

10. Start using it. Practice on your friends or your critique group. If it doesn’t get the response you want, revise it. Remember your pitch may follow you from your first sale to your first interview and your website, so make sure it generates interest.


The following is a pitch for a contemporary romance. Look for the Character, Setting, Conflict and Resolution.

“When 32 year old Isabel Lawson’s husband deserts her, she closes her heart and focuses on her career. World-weary gardener Martin Weber wants to get away from his past and is glad to be hired by Lawson’s Landscape so he can start building a new future. However, when these two damaged souls work together to landscape a wealthy widow’s garden, they learn that true love can bloom in the toughest climate.”

It could still use a bit of tightening--I know--I just wanted to give you an idea of how you can sell a story in a few seconds. Get your pitch right and soon you’ll see your book on the shelves. Good luck!

© 2005 Dara Girard. All Rights Reserved.


BlackButterflyReview said...

Thanks, that was helpful information. Eleanor (#17)

Elaine said...

You say to mention the resolution of the story. What do you do if you are writing a mystery/suspense? Do you leave it as a kind of question or do you go ahead and spill the beans?

Elaine (badge 23)

Anonymous said...

Go ahead and spill the beans. How you resolve the conflict reveals a lot about your philosophy and storytelling style. Editors and agents want to know if your book is something that the public will buy (or at least the type of audience they should market to).

Whether the ending is happy or sad let them know. If you say that the killer escapes or that the killer ends up being the heroine's brother that will give them a different angle than if you say the killer was a galatical space alien or the little old man down the street. They need to have a sense of what the story is like, what will resonate with readers (i.e. who your readers are or will be. Since mysteries have different subgenres they have different audiences).

So always give the ending. This statement also applies when you're writing your synopsis. Never end your synopsis with.."But you'll have to read the book to find out what happens." No, they don't. They'll chuck your manuscript aside and read someone else.

Excellent question by the way. Good luck!

Dara #85

Elaine said...

Thanks Dara, your answer has helped. It never occurred to me that my angle and style could be gleaned from the way I end my story. Now I can see why they'd need to know! Thanks.

Elaine (badge 23)

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