Congratulations to all the writers who submitted pitches to The Book Doctors in our World Literary Cafe Online Pitchapalooza! We got so many fabulous pitches, and it was hard to pick one winner. But before we get to the winning pitch, we just wanted to say a word about why in the world a pitch is so important.
Your pitch will be both the backbone and lifeblood of your book, from idea through and past publication. The first time you announce to anyone that you’re going to write a book, there’s an excellent chance their response will be “What’s your book about?” And you will respond with your pitch. When you approach agents, you will have to pitch them your book. When your agent approaches an editor at a publishing house, she will pitch your book. When the editor presents your book at his editorial meeting, he will pitch your book to his editorial colleagues as well as his colleagues in publicity, marketing and sales. If you’re lucky enough to sell your book to a publisher, the sales force will go out to large retailers and small booksellers alike to pitch your book. And the publicity and marketing staff will be pitching your book to the media. If you get on Terry Gross and she asks you, “What your book is about?” you’re going to answer with your pitch. If you self-publish, your pitch has to be so good it’ll bust down the heavily guarded doors of bookstores, distributors, the media, and everyone else you and you alone will have to deal with. And no matter how you publish, if you’re really lucky, your pitch will live on long after you’re dead. A hundred years from now, when a reader in New York is devouring your book on the screen implanted in her wrist while waiting for her molecular transporter to take her to New Shanghai, and the person next to her says, “What’s that book about?” . . . you better hope that reader can give one hell of a pitch!
But what makes for a perfect pitch? Every book makes a promise to its readers: to educate, to challenge, to humor, to romance, to inspire, to entertain. A pitch must take your promise and deliver it lickety-split. The beauty of a major league pitch is that it contains the juicy essence of your book, it’s over in no time at all and it leaves the crowd oohing and aahing in awe. Your pitch should entertain and delight, pique interest or give pause, depending on what kind of promise you need to deliver. Make your tear-jerker jerk some tears. Make the pot boil on your potboiler. And for your work of lyrical, literary fiction, wow your audience with your poetry. At the end of your pitch, you want the person you’re pitching to say, “Wow, I can’t wait to read that book!” or “I can’t believe I never thought of that before!” or “I know someone who would really love that book!” A beautifully crafted pitch is a skeleton key that will open hearts, minds and many doors.
Many pitches will also benefit by saving room for some “comp titles” at the end. “Comp titles” are publishing lingo for comparable books. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “My book is the next Harry Potter”, because no one will believe you and you’ll look like a rank amateur. But do say what books your book will sit next to on the bookshelf. If you display that you know your section of the bookstore well and can reference books that aren’t necessarily household names but which insiders know to be top-notch or backlist sellers, you’ll get extra credit. Good comp titles help agents and editors immediately position your book in the marketplace and understand if your book is a fit for them.
There are actually two kinds of pitches: 1) the elevator pitch, which is over by the time the elevator gets to the next floor, and 2) your long-form pitch. When we say long-form, we’re talking 200 words or less, like you’ve all done here. And if you’re telling someone your pitch, never, ever, let your pitch go longer than a minute. In fact, many long-form pitches can be done in under 30 seconds. Whenever pitches go longer than 200 words or a minute, eyes start to glaze and boredom sets in. Hey, most people are willing to give you a minute, but often not a second longer.
So how do you master the pitch? Read tons and tons of flap copy in the section of the bookstore where your book will live. The backs of paperbacks, where the whole kit and caboodle is limited to a paragraph or two, tops are particularly helpful. You’ll see how concise those copywriters had to be, and how they managed to describe a book–and sell it–in only a few sentences.
Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. If during a certain part of your pitch, people look confused, bored or nonplussed, cut or change those parts. Sometimes it’s as simple as reordering your words or trimming some fat. Get feedback. Keep refining your pitch until it rolls trippingly off your tongue. Until people who hear or read it want to be in business with you and your idea. As Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee’s in San Jose, California, says, “You have to pitch in a way that eliminates the possibility of getting back the word ‘No.’ ”
If you would like individual help with your pitch, we are offering a free 20-minute consult (worth $100) to anyone who purchases a copy of our book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. All you need to do is email us a copy of your receipt and we’ll set up a time to talk.
And now…drum roll…the winning pitch is Wild Flower Fields by Andrea J. Wenger. Check it out:
Karina Fields is a flirty public defender who’s found her dream job helping the indigent. Next on her agenda: romance. Trouble is, her faith in love has been shaken by the breakup of her sister’s marriage. Now, Karina’s ex-brother-in-law, Alex Kent, is moving back home to San Diego. He takes a job alongside Karina at the public defender’s office. Karina’s instinct is to protect her sister from the ex-husband who left town instead of fighting for their marriage.
When a desperate client assaults Karina, Alex subdues him. Karina finds comfort in Alex’s arms. She fights the attraction, knowing an entanglement with Alex could destroy her relationship with her sister. Karina realizes she’s following an old pattern: she’s drawn to men who need fixing. But she won’t find the right man if she keeps falling for the wrong ones.
Wild Flower Fields is an 89,000 word women’s fiction manuscript. An ironic portrayal of how family dynamics from childhood can affect adult relationships, it could be described as Jane Austen meets Legally Blonde. The novel may appeal to readers of Emily Giffin or Karen Joy Fowler.