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Perfecting your pitch

If you’re looking for a literary agent or publisher, a compelling pitch could make the difference between success or failure and lead to that elusive request for pages. There are many places you could pitch you book: in a query letter, at an event or even if you chance upon an agent in an elevator.

There has also been a rise in opportunities to pitch books directly to agents or publishers on Twitter—yes, Twitter. The short nature of tweets lend themselves perfectly to pitch-parties for writers around the world. One of the most popular of these is #PitMad which runs several times a year.

PitMad is an opportunity to pitch your book on Twitter and have it seen by agents and publishers in real time. If they like your pitch they’ll request more…that day. The catch is that your pitch can only be 280 characters, including hashtags.

Whether you fancy taking a run at Twitter or not, squeezing your fabulous book into 280 characters is a great idea. It’ll mean you’ll have a memorable pitch ready for any opportunity.

I’m going to share some pitching skills I honed writing Emmy award-winning commercials with taglines that got attention and led to a publisher for my novel.

The pitch

Your pitch needs three things: Set-up + inciting incident + stakes.

Your main character must do something extraordinary to get out of the situation they suddenly find themselves in or suffer the consequences.

It’s the ‘elevator pitch’ on steroids. Shorter, punchier and without your smiling face to deliver it. 

Don’t be generic

Avoid clichéd language such as ‘found happiness’, ‘traded love for honor’, ‘saved the planet’ and so on. If you can apply any of the descriptions and phrases from your pitch to a book on the bookshelves today, it’s too generic.

Think about the tag lines and hooks for TV shows you watch. They paint a specific picture. They’re not promoting themselves as ‘police action on the streets of…’, ‘inside the emergency room of this or that hospital’ or ‘a romantic tale that will have you swooning.’

That certainly wouldn’t get you to tune in.

Don’t do that to your book either.

Take a cue from advertising

Add some sizzle. There is an old adage in sales: ‘Sell the sizzle, not the steak’. Basically, sell the benefits of the product, not the product itself. Think about the commercials for Mercedes that tout the feeling you get driving one. Or those festive John Lewis ads. Adorable. They don’t show you the store, they create a feeling.

Find the right language

Begin by thinking of your book as a work of art, which it is. If you were to paint your novel, what colours would you use? What image would be front and centre?

Go further. What verbs capture the action? Create the mood?

Make a list of all those juicy images and feelings that bubble up. The more outrageous, the better. You can always rein it in, but if you start small and confined, it’s harder to expand. Put everything down. Don’t censor yourself at this stage. There are no wrong thoughts here.

Weave words

Great. You went there. You compared your novel to a sweaty stallion, a lunar flare, a staggering misconception, a loaded SIG Sauer, a lame-duck president, Hawaiian Surf Pantone color, a set of rotting teeth…ah…maybe not that last one.

Now, use this feeling and these images, somewhere in your pitch.

Don’t make it the entire pitch — that would be too obscure.

Work it into your set-up or inciting incident, use it to jazz up the stakes or weave it into a show-stopping first or last line. The pitch is still about your character, goals and obstacles, but now, you’ve added color.

You want to inspire an agent or publisher to say, ‘I like this person’s style.’

When you’ve perfected your pitch, test it on some trusted people and make sure you have everything you need in case an agent or publisher expresses an interest.

Once you’re ready, get pitching!

About Pat Obermeier

Pat Obermeier is an Emmy award-winning writer and producer and author of the political satire, The President Factor, as well as the chick-lit novel, The LoveBeep.

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