Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Dozen Ways To Pitch Your Book

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

You're a writer, so people will always be asking you: “What’s your book about?”

Most of us cannot answer that quickly. We tend to start talking about it, then follow rabbit trails in our plot, and before we realize what happened, we’ve been talking for ten minutes and we really haven’t gotten to the good part yet!

If you’ve done this, don’t worry. We all have done this! Today we're going to go over some ways to avoid doing this.

Why does it matter?

Short and sweet is always best. It's memorable. If you're at a writer's conference and are pitching to an editor or agent, time flies in those 5-15 minute appointments. You have a very short time period to communicate your story idea and need to make every second count. Plus, if you can explain your story in a way that the editor or agent can remember it, they just might remember it all the way back to their office and ask you to send them more.

There is no right way to do this.

I went to a big writers conference in California. My book was complete. I had rewritten it a few times. I was feeling really good. This might be the year I sell my book! I did my homework and knew which agents were interested in a book like mine. And the first night of the conference, I went to a pitch lab in which the instructor encouraged us to memorize our blurb to pitch.

Do not do this. I'm serious.

But I did. And the next day as I wandered across the conference campus, I saw one of the two agents I needed to talk to sitting alone on a bench. I balked. I freaked. But I knew I had to face my fears and do this. I went up to her. Asked if I could give her my pitch. She said sure. And I started rambling out my memorized story blurb. Halfway through my mind went totally blank. I couldn't remember a thing. I just stood there, staring at this agent, saying something like, "Uhhhh... ahhhhh... Well, then he, uhhhhh..."

She stopped me. Said, "Sit down." Patted the bench beside her until I obeyed. Said, "Breathe. We don't bite. Go ahead and start again."

And I did. And that time I got through it. (So embarrassed.) And she was very kind. Asked me a few questions as to genre, length, if the story was complete. Then she gave me her card and asked for the first three chapters.

I danced away, thrilled that I had done the dreaded deed and lived to tell the tale.

But there was still one more agent on my list. I sat at her table at dinner. Somehow ended up right next to her. I was hoping she'd do that thing where she goes around the table and gives everyone a chance to pitch one at a time. She did not. She ate her dinner, quietly. So I ate mine. We made casual comments to one another about the speaker, who gave a bunch of announcements. The time passed. I kept telling myself, "Jill! You've got to pitch! This is your chance!"

But I couldn't. I was still recovering from the first time. I just didn't want to put myself through that again.

Suddenly dinner was over. The agent started gathering up her things. So I gathered up mine. Then she asked me, "What do you write, anyway?"

My chance! She was giving me a chance! I said, "My story is a Christian Agent Cody Banks."

And that's all I said.

She perked up. "Interesting. Do you have sample chapters on you?"

Yes, I did!

All this to say, there is no right way to pitch. Both my methods worked in the end. One was far more stressful for me. The other short and sweet. Which is why I always recommend the latter, to start, anyway. But ultimately, you need to do what works best for you.

The purpose of a pitch is to effectively communicate:

• type of story: genre/subgenre and length
• (for fiction) the story is finished
• story elements: setting, hero, goal, obstacle
• what makes it special or unique
• how it fits with the publisher/agent, if you know that it does
• showcase your platform (for nonfiction) and any marketing hooks you might have

So how do you do that? Read on. Here are 12 Ways to Pitch Your Book.

Fiction Pitches

1) The high concept phrase: A ditsy blonde goes to Harvard Law School. (Legally Blonde) /  A love story between two terminal teenagers. (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)  /  Die Hard on a bus. (Speed). Read more about high concepts in this post.

2) The logline: A one-sentence description of the story with certain important ingredients. Read more about loglines in this post.

When ____(inciting incident)____ happens to ____( adj. + hero)____ s/he struggles to ____(story goal)____ before ____(what’s at stake obstacle)____ happens.

Ex: When residents of his seaside town are killed, a land lubber sheriff fights to kill a giant shark to keep his family and others from getting eaten. (JAWS by Peter Benchley)

Or this:

A(n) ____(adj. + hero)____ does/experiences ____(inciting incident)____ and must face ____(story goal)____ before ____( what’s at stake obstacle)____ happens.

Ex: An outcast teen finds therapy writing her enemies into her story, but when her novel is published, she must face the consequences of using her pen as her sword. (The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill.)

Tips to help your logline:
1. Your character description adverb should help show how your character is flawed in the worst way to face the obstacle before him.
2. Choose active verbs that depict conflict: battles, clashes, contends, crusades, duels, feuds, fights, grapples, jousts, opposes, quarrels, scraps, scuffles, spars, struggles, takes on, wages war against, wrestles, etc.
3. The obstacle/antagonist should feel insurmountable. The problem should be BIG.
4. The goal should have high stakes.
5. You don’t have to stick with these formulas or sentence arrangements. As long as you have a HERO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE, you're in good shape.

3) The “Who . . . wants what . . . why . . . and why not?” method, which looks like this:

Adjective + Who: a fugitive doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife 
Wants: to prove his innocence
Why does (s)he want it: to find out who killed his wife
Why can’t (s)he have it: because he is being pursued by a relentless US Marshall

Put it all together: A fugitive doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife struggles to prove his innocence and find the real killer while being pursued by a relentless US Marshall. (The Fugitive)

4) Ask a question: This can be a “What if … ?” question. Ex: What if Peter Pan grew up?  (Hook)  /  What if there was a farm that grew people?  (Replication) /  What if a boy was raised by wild animals? (The Jungle Book)

This can also be a theme question: Are angels real?  /  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

5) ______ meets ______ Compare two unrelated things --or-- Blend the familiar with the strange: Murder and mayhem meets prom  (Carrie) /  Boot camp for children (Ender's Game)  /  A doctor who becomes an assassin (The Way of Kings)  /  Cowboys & Aliens

6) The set up teaser: In a world where women no longer give birth, one women becomes pregnant.  /  After a hit and run killed his wife and children, a man becomes the foster dad to three children removed from the home of an alcoholic.

7) Tagline: This is a form of marketing copy that might go on the book jacket or on a movie poster. Keep in mind, though, not all taglines work as pitches. Here's a good example: The dream is the scene of the crime. (Inception)  And here is an example that doesn't make a good pitch: Don’t go near the water. (JAWS) The former gives the listener an intriguing concept to hook their attention, while the latter is vague and confusing as is.

Nonfiction Pitches

8) The felt need: Share why readers will pay money and spend a weekend reading your book. What existing need in their life does your book answer? What do they want that you can give them? Think of the needs we all share. "I want to save money"  /  "I want to lose weight"  /  "I want to feel closer to God"  /  "I want to worry less"  /  “I want to stop fighting with my spouse.”

9) Nonfiction logline: Title + subtitle. The title should be catchy. The subtitle should explain the title. Ex:
BEYOND THE BLUES: A Workbook to Help Teens Overcome Depression 
THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER: A proven plan for Financial Fitness
PRICELESS: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures
I AM A CHURCH MEMBER: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES: The Secret to Love that Lasts
AN INVISIBLE THREAD: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

10) ______ meets ______: It’s The Tipping Point meets The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  /  It’s How to Win Friends and Influence People meets The Love Dare.  /  Or even one title with a different audience, like “It’s Creativity Inc. for families.”

11) Your platform: This only works if you have an existing platform. “I give X talks each year to Y people.”  /  "I am the creator of Goodreads." *grin*

12) Your story: This only applies if it gives credence to the story you are pitching. If you were on Dr. Kent Brantly’s medical team in Liberia when the ebola outbreak happened and that fact relates to your book, sharing that information can be your pitch. If you’re writing a book about the poor culture vs. the poverty culture and you grew up in either, you can start out with that information, or with a story from your childhood.

The point is to use what will bring about the biggest—and most relevant—wow.

Let's try it out in the comments. Give your target audience, genre, pick one of the above methods, and give us your pitch.


  1. Yay! Here goes:

    Target audience: 13-16 year old girls
    Genre: YA contemporary fantasy

    Pitch: When sixteen-year-old Kate Stillwell discovers a secret organization of magicians who protect the balance between magic and creativity, she volunteers to help them find an ancient sword. If she can't, a band of rebel magicians will use its magic to free their leader and restart a war that's been dormant for centuries.

  2. Wow! This post is perfect for me. Amazing timing! The Lord knew I was freaking out and sent this post my way through you. Thank you so much, Mrs. Williamson.

    I'm leaving for my first writer's conference early tomorrow, and though I may or may not be pitching. I've been all over this site the past few days and read( and re-read) every blog post on pitching, one-liners, and one sheets.

    Target audience: Teens and young adults
    Genre: YA Medieval fantasy

    Pitch: In The Burden of Areli an orphan struggles to overcome his physical weakness which he believes caused his family's death. When the faithful believers in El Roi go missing, Areli must resist the powers of the demon-containing keys, which can release the captives. But to do this he must discover where true strength is found.

    1. Good luck with the conference!

    2. That is great timing, Elizabeth! Have fun at your conference.

      You have a lot of interesting concepts in your pitch, but they're not flowing so well together yet. Will you try this format for me? Change anything I've got wrong below.

      Adjective + Who: a guilt-ridden orphan
      Wants: to resist the powers of demon-containing keys
      Why does (s)he want it: to rescue the faithful believers in El Roi
      Why can’t (s)he have it: because if he uses the keys... (what will happen?)

    3. Thanks! I'm sure I will. (I'm going with a friend which should help.)

      Thank you for the tips. Your version is much better. (I love the guilt-ridden orphan) Here it after some changes.
      I'll probably play with it some more on the way there tomorrow.

      In The Burden of Areli a guilt-ridden orphan must resist the powers of demon-containing keys, trying to destroy/kill, and rescue the faithful believers in El Roi. As his strength deteriorates, he must look beyond himself to find true strength.

    4. That's better, Elizabeth. Enjoy your conference! Hope you have great meetings. :-)

  3. Oh boy. I stink at this. Alright, let's give it a go.

    Target audience: Teens
    Genre: YA fantasy
    Two sheltered brothers, both longing for things they will never have, are separated for the first time on their quest to halt an angry dwarf warlock who is bringing war to the world in a desperate attempt to make his brother pay for crimes he himself committed.

    1. This is a good start, Lily. Having two protagonist brothers and two antagonist brothers is an interesting parallel. Your pitch seems to be missing something that ties it all together. I don't know if what I'm about to suggest is true to your story, but maybe it will show you what is missing in your pitch.

      Two estranged brothers must set aside their differences and embark on a quest to stop an angry dwarf warlock from bringing war to the world in order to enact revenge upon his own brother.

    2. I love the second part of your example, but the protagonists aren't estranged. They're part of a very secluded, private people, and they have a lot of prejudices to overcome on their individual quests. Maybe I could play that up... Luckily I don't need this anytime soon, because this is the book I'm hoping to finish during NaNo.
      By the way, are epic fantasies considered different from normal fantasies? Like, would I put: YA epic fantasy, instead of just YA fantasy?

    3. Gocha, Lily. These things are often easier to perfect once the book is complete. Go, NaNo, go!!

      Yes, epic fantasy has higher stakes (usually the entire world is at stake), where heroic fantasy focuses on the heroes journey/quest to do something. Epic fantasy is much longer. Over 120K. And there are usually multiple characters and subplots and things of that nature.

  4. I don't usually comment, but I'll give this a shot . . .

    Target audience: Teens. Mostly.
    Genre: YA fantasy
    Pitch: Udarean is a land where stories are life and Authors are the ultimate rulers. But when a new Author discovers that something is causing her Authority to wane, she enlists Rinna, a girl who dreams of telling her own stories, to help her figure out the truth before her power is gone forever.

    1. Fascinating, unique and utterly original. Hope to see this story in print someday.

    2. This is well done, Sarah. What you've said is intriguing, clear, and makes me want to hear more. Which is the whole point of pitch. Good job! The only thing I'd suggest for an oral pitch is leaving out the name of your land. Anytime an editor or agent is listening, fantasy words stop them, since they're foreign. You can give the same pitch like this: In a land where stories are life and Authors are the ultimate rulers, a new Author discovers something is causing her Authority to wane. She enlists Rinna, a girl who... etc.

  5. Target audience: ages 12 to 20s (is that YA?)
    Genre: High Fantasy

    Option 1: Loyal sidekicks shouldn't be overlooked.
    Option 2: When Didlo's friend struggles to fulfill his role as the hero, Didlo must find out what needs to be done before his country can be freed.
    Option 3: Didlo wants his friend to free his country from the oppressors, but the prophesied one's plans keep failing.
    Option 4: What if the prophesied one's sidekick turned out to be the hero?
    Option 5: A sidekick becomes the hero.
    Option 6: The prophesied one is of age, but he's having trouble fulfilling the prophecy.
    Option 7: Heroes rise in unlikely places.
    Option 8: Feeling lost in the sidelines? Maybe you are being prepared for taking the spotlight.

    Can those who read this tell me which seizes the interest most? --Savannah McPhail

    1. Out of these, I'd say options 4 and 5 stick out to me the most. However, I don't have a really good picture of what Didlo & Sidekick are up against. Who stands in the way of freeing their country? I do really like option 5, though. :) Good luck!

    2. Option 5 is very quick and snappy, which I like. It's specific enough but still leaves room for questions to be asked. Five is my favourite. The next one after five that takes my interest personally is option 4. Good luck with your story!

    3. I love Options 1, 5, and 8 best. Also, I really want to read this story. :D

    4. #1 is a good tagline, but by itself if doesn't do enough. If you combined it with one of the others that would show more of the story, it would be good. For example: When the chosen one fails in his role as hero, Didlo steps up to the challenge and learns that loyal sidekicks shouldn't be overlooked.

      That still doesn't tell us what the challenge is. Who is the bad guy?/What stands in their way?

    5. Thanks for the feedback! The enemy is the empire Makidon, which subjugated Didlo's county years ago. --Savannah McPhail

    6. Maybe this would be better:

      Marchos is the prophesied one, and snarky sidekick Didlo is determined to follow his friend to the death in order to free his country from the oppressive rule of the empire Makidon, but Marchos' plans keep failing. --Savannah McPhail

    7. Marchos is the one prophesied to free his country from the oppressive rule of the empire. When he fails in his role as hero, his sidekick Didlo steps up to the challenge and discovers that heroes rise in unlikely places. ???

  6. This is such perfect timing, thank you! Recently a few people have asked me what my story was about, and I just kind of blathered on...thankfully they were also writers, so they understood the difficulty of pitches. I'll give mine a go.

    Target Audience: Teens
    Genre: YA fantasy
    Pitch: A fearful teen warrior accepts a mission to assassinate the enemy royal family and prove herself by killing for the first time. But when she starts to fall in love with her target, she is forced to choose between her country and the prince.

    Any tips on how to prove my pitch would be most appreciated. Thank you for the great post, Mrs. Williamson!

    1. I think you're off to a good start, Melissa. Maybe just tighten things a bit more and choose very specific words. Ex: Pitch: A fearful teen warrior accepts a mission to assassinate the enemy royal family and prove herself by killing for the first time, but when she starts to fall for her target, she must choose between her country and her true love. (Or first love...)

      Also, I'm not sure about the word "fearful." What is she afraid of? Why does she get the assignment over other warriors?

  7. Thank you for this post, it's really helpful! I always find it hard to answer the question 'So, what's your novel about?' These are a couple of pitches for novels I'm working on.

    Genre: YA fantasy
    Pitch: A boy who can detect lies bargains his way out of prison by agreeing to become the shah's Royal Truthseeker. But when Her Majesty is nearly assassinated, he's tasked with finding the killer - and now he's their next target.

    Genre: YA fantasy
    Pitch: When her beloved convent Mother is killed by spirits, an eighteen-year-old nun must leave the convent for the first time to seal the veil to the spirit world, and prevent more deaths.

    1. Your stories sound very unique and interesting :)

    2. Wow, Kate. I like both of those a lot. Well done. On the second one, the ending is a little vague. "Prevent more deaths" doesn't sound dangerous enough. It is, but for upping the stakes of a story, can you make the stakes someone important like "and prevent the death of her little sister" or "and prevent the spirits from overtaking the convent" or "and prevent the spirits from infiltrating earth."

    3. Thanks, Anonymous!

      And thank you for the feedback, Jill, you're totally right :)

  8. Target Audience: teens.
    Genre: YA fantasy.

    Pitch: In a land where silence is the new song, a half-blind desert girl hears music while trapped in a sandstorm and must then face the decision of who to trust and who to betray before she hurts those around her.

    Any tips? *could gladly use them*

    1. You're off to a good start, Katie. Tell me, what does the music have to do with your girl being forced to make decisions about who to trust. And why would her decisions hurt anyone?

  9. Okay, I've never really done this before but...

    Target Audience: Teens
    Genre: YA Fantasy

    Pitch: A girl can turn some dreams into reality, but not the ones that matter most to her.

    1. Oh, that's interesting, Andrea. What you wrote is enough to intrigue me. If I was an editor or agent, I'd ask you to tell me more. I wonder, are these daydreams or dreams while she is asleep?

    2. Thank you!
      They're dreams from when she is asleep.

  10. Okay here it goes:

    Target Audience: Teens
    Genre: Steampunk/Scifi/Fantasy

    Pitch: A girl and a boy both with high brain activity living in the 2700's are tracked down by the government to create a virtual reality/superweapon which will either drive them mad or kill them in the end.

    1. Interesting, Emma. I like the no-win situation you present. That makes a good pitch. Will also be conflict with them not wanting to do the things the government orders them to do?

  11. Yes, this post is perfect since I had problems last year at NaNo when people asked about my WIP and all I did was sputter. Never done this before, so here goes:

    Target Audience: Middle grade
    Genre: Fantasy retelling
    3) Rupen, a runt of the creatures of the Reden Wald, must steal the son of a princess before his guardian back home exposes his sacred name, making him vulnerable to the control of dark magic.
    4) What if Rumpelstiltskin was the hero?

    I think it would be cool if I could somehow combine the two, but I'm still working on that.


    1. You don't have to combine them to use both. The What if...? can be a great opening hood to your logline.

      Ex: What if Rumpelstiltskin was the hero? Rupen, a runt of the creatures of the Reden Wald, is desperate to keep his sacred name a secret to protect himself from falling under the control of dark magic, but his guardian threatens to expose his name unless he kidnaps the son of a princess.

  12. I'm not all that great at pitches, so here goes.

    A cursed prince makes a bargain with a revenge-minded Faerie in order to prevent her brother from trapping the whole world in their dreams.

    1. That's a good start. Why/how is the brother going to trap the whole world in their dreams? And is the brother the prince's brother or the faerie's brother?

  13. This has been a great post for pinning down the core of my novel—thanks! I've got a few…I tried most of the ways to write a fiction pitch. These are all from the same story.

    1) An impotent prince faces an enemy prophesied to win.

    2.1) When an exiled nation rises to take its inheritance, an impotent prince takes upon himself the power of creation to protect his land and people.

    2.2) An impotent prince takes upon himself the power of creation to face the man prophesied to win.

    3) Who: An impotent prince
    Wants: to protect his people
    Why does he want it: to fulfil his duty
    Why can’t he have it: because the villain is prophesied to win

    An impotent prince struggles to protect his people from a man prophesied to win.

    4) What if the prophecies said the villain would win?

    5) An impotent prince receives the power of creation.

    6) In a world of peace and prosperity, a exiled nation returns from hell on earth.

    1. These are interesting, Dmitri. I have some questions to help me understand the storyworld better before I can offer feedback. Is the exiled nation the one living in peace and prosperity? What is it's inheritance? What is the prophecy about the villain? Why does the prince having the power of creation help him defeat the villain?

    2. The exiled nation (Rhyn) is not in the land of peace and prosperity (Duerin), but is returning to it. I could have phrased No. 6 better. The people of Rhyn are claiming Duerin as their inheritance because of events before their exile three hundred years back.

      The princes, known as Tellers, have always been chosen through visions and prophecy, and the prophecies point strongly to the villain. The impotent prince (Liel) is the Teller's apprentice—I called him a prince because that best communicates his position, though he's never referenced as a prince in-story.

      The power of creation would help Liel defeat the villain because Liel is not a fighter—he shrinks from battle and killing—and he needs a way to at least match the villain in power. I guess the phrase 'power of creation' could be improved. It's the power through which the world was created, and is heavily based around protection, words, and truth.

    3. I'm not sure if all my details are correct, but how about: When an exiled nation rallies around a false prophet to win back its inheritance, an inept prince takes upon himself the power of creation in a desperate attempt to protect his land and people.

    4. I like that! It's almost purely accurate—I don't think "false prophet" would describe my villain, but everything else is exact. Mmm, thanks!

  14. How would I pitch a collection of short stories? The stories basically follow the timeline, which is why I plan to place them in one book. Protagonist 2 marries Protag 1's son, Protag 3 is their daughter, etc.
    I haven't been able to figure this out for quite a while, so if you have an answer, that will be wonderful! :-)

    1. You didn't mention genre, but that's how the Love Comes Softly series works. So you could say something about the family (or something about the town if they all happen in the same place). Something like: The Ó Braonáin series follows the lives of one family through three generations as they emigrate from Ireland to America.

    2. Funny, that's how I "pitched" it to my sisters... "It's kind of like Love Comes Softly meets the Blood of Kings."
      How's this?: "Only" follows the story of six girls who learn that it only takes one person to make a difference.
      (It still seems vague, though.)

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Oh, I like it! It doesn't have to be totally specific, just intriguing enough to perk the interest of an editor or agent. But Only is the series title? Or the book title? The way you said it makes me think it's all in one book.

  15. My general genre is Mythology.
    Pitch: How can you forgive someone who has been wronging you since before you were born?

    1. I like it! Very intriguing. :D


  16. Awesome post!
    My pitches are mostly the setup teaser type: "After the most humiliating incident of his life, a 14-year-old foster teen moves in with a Christian family." and "In a world where all disabled people are arrested, Altered, and drafted into military service, a boy with a bad hand runs to the mysterious Forest People to avoid discovery."
    Thanks for the great post! :D


    1. Great start, Alexa! The second one is really strong. On this one: After the most humiliating incident of his life, a 14-year-old foster teen moves in with a Christian family. (I don't see any conflict here. Is he anti-Christian? Is he imperfect moving in with a perfect family? Try to give a hint at conflict.)

  17. Okay, here goes. . .

    Genre: Contemporary/adventure?

    Audience: Middle Grade

    A high maintenance teenage girl is not looking forward to sharing her birthday with her younger twin sisters, but when a magical locket transports her to a mysterious maze she must use whatever abilities she had to save what she doesn't know she loves.

    Genre: Sci-fi

    Audience: Teen?/middle grade

    What if we, the earth and everything we knew was just an experiment?

    1. Sequel to the first one:

      Time is ticking. . . Unless you can stop it.

  18. I'll give this a go.

    Genre: Historical (Romance -ish)
    Audience: YA

    Pitch: At the rise of the French Revolution a sheltered young lord is forced to turned assassin to rescue his betrothed.