Secrets of a Great Pitch

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Next week I’m headed out to the ACFW conference (American Christian Fiction Writers) and I’m sure I’ll see some of you there! Rachel’s post yesterday gave some great advice about talking to agents and editors at conferences: It’s Not All About the Pitch. But I know many of you will be pitching, so I wanted to go over some tips.

I think the secret to making a great pitch is to start with a bit of context or background, then tell me about your book. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, considering your time restraints. But take a moment to introduce yourself and your project before pitching.

Too often, people sit down and nervously launch into some kind of story and I find myself dizzy with confusion. I feel like a deer in the headlights and then I say something like, “Let’s back up. What’s your name? And what genre are you writing?”

To me, the best pitches include the following information without me having to ask for it:

Hello, my name is _____ and I wanted to meet with you because _____.

I’m writing ______ (what genre).

My publishing history includes _____(number of books, genres).

Today I want to tell you about my book called _____ .

Then, launch into your pitch. This should beย 1 to 3 minutes long, allowing time for the agent or editor to ask questions. Have a 30-second pitch prepared, too, in case of mealtime or elevator pitches.

Here are some guidelines:

? Don’t try to tell the whole story. Start with the plot catalyst, the event that gets the story started.

? Then give the set-up, i.e. what happens in the first 30 to 50 pages that drives the reader into the rest of the book. Include the pressing story question or the major story conflict.

? Fill out your pitch with any of the following: plot elements, character information, setting, backstory, or theme. You want to include just enough information to really intrigue your listener. Note that your pitch doesn’t have to be all “plot.” If your story is more character driven, then fill out your pitch with interesting character details. If the setting is an important element, talk about that. If the backstory plays heavily, round out your pitch with that. Be intentional in how you structure your pitch.

? Finish by giving an idea of the climactic scenes and the story resolution.

? Try not to tell too much of the story in the pitch. The pitch is supposed to get somebody interested, not tell the whole story. Stick to the high points, but be sure to tell enough that you don’t leave your listener confused.

? Include only a couple of characters.

? Include one plot thread, or two if theyโ€™re closely intertwined. You can hint at the existence of other characters and plot lines.

Be prepared to answer questions that could include things like:
? How does your story end?
? What published author’s style would you compare your writing to?
? Who are your favorite authors in your genre?
? Is this a series? And if so, what are the subsequent books about?
? Have you worked with a critique group or a professional editor?
? Have you pitched this to publishers in the past? If so, what was the response?

Important: Know all the key points of your pitch, but don’t memorize your pitch verbatim. You want to be ready to speak it aloud and sound natural, whether during a planned meeting, a meal, in an elevator or a random encounter. Having your pitches prepared ahead of time (and adjusting them as necessary if you learn new things in workshops) will raise your confidence level.

And most important: To help raise your confidence and lower the nervousness, realize that agents and editors are regular people just like you. We clean our toilets, we change our kids’ poopy diapers, we stress over what to wear and whether we’re having a bad hair day. Also, we REALLY like chocolate. How much more normal could we be?

Have you had any mortifying experiences pitching at conferences? Any great experiences? If you haven’t pitched verbally before, what’s your biggest fear?

58 Responses

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  1. Sheila Siler says:

    Having just finished the first draft of my middle grade fantasy, I am reading everything you post about queries and pitches. Thank you for sharing this knowledge with all of us fledgling writers. it is much appreciated.

    • Lynn Johnston says:

      Thanks for the help. I only wish I accord afford to attend the conference and spring for the airline tickets. Maybe it will come to Atlanta soon. Good luck and have fun.

  2. Jason Joyner says:

    Thanks Rachelle. As someone heading to the ACFW conference next week, this is so helpful.

    – Know my story but act natural. Check
    – Agents are people too. Check
    – Chocolate is a good thing. Double check

  3. Jill Kemerer says:

    This is SO helpful, Rachelle. I prepared a one-line pitch, a 30 second pitch, and a 2 1/2 minute pitch, but when I practiced, I realized I had no idea which one was most appropriate for a session! This helps a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks!

    • Alan Kurland says:

      I went to the SC Writers Conf. worked on my pitch all week, and gave it. One of the best agents out there, who does a lot in my genre(historical military fiction), listened to it, and promptly cut me off by saying “a similar book was done forty years ago, people will get confused.” HUH??

  4. Just as Christians should always be ready to give their testimony, writers should always be prepared with an elevator pitch. At my first writing conference I met editor Nick Harrison. We hit it off, but I felt relaxed around him because I knew Harvest House would never be interested in my novel–they didn’t do medical suspense. Then, on the second morning, Nick and I were waiting for our bagels to toast when he said, “Tell me about your novel.” I stuttered and stammered until finally he said, “Just send me a proposal. And relax.”
    You never know when and by whom you’ll be asked to pitch. Like a short reliever in baseball, be ready!

  5. Thank you so much for this. This post will help me feel more prepared. My eyes get watery when I get nervous, and I’m always afraid editors and agents think I’m about to burst into tears. LOL.

  6. Casey says:

    Biggest fear? I won’t be able to answer the questions and be a stuttering mass of nerves. Which why I’m so obsessed with that, I’m not sure, since I used to memorize speeches and give them to hundreds.

    This post is amazing, thank you so much Rachelle for the great info. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Lori says:

    I’ve never been to a writing conference yet so I have any mortifying pitching experiences, again yet. However, when I do and if I run into you, I will remember to bring the chocolate. (However, it may not be the Canadian chocolate that Jennifer was bragging about yesterday.)

  8. Lori says:

    I meant to say “I don’t have any” not “I have any”.

  9. Jeanne T says:

    This is such a helpful post. This will be my first ACFW conference, and I’m excited and scared. I think my fear is of not being able to remember my pitch when I need to, and blathering on about my story instead of being succinct. ๐Ÿ™‚ Or perhaps worse, not being able to think of anything at all to say. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hee-whooo, okay I’m breathing again. I hope I get to meet you next week. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Thanks a million for this post, Rachelle. It is so helpful. I’ve only pitched face-to-face once. While the agent didn’t request to see the project, she offered fabulous advice on how I could improve the project.

    I’m getting ready to pitch a different project to another agent next month. These tips will definitely help me out.

  11. This is my new favorite blog! It is honest, helpful, cut to the chase information that we (writers) need to succeed. Thank you!

  12. Lisa says:

    Yesterday, I told a little story about going to the Festival of Faith and Writing this fall. A surprise conversation with a gracious editor made the following things not so horrifying. God took care of me despite my lack of experience.

    Here’s your smile for the day, and assurance that you cannot bomb any bigger than I did at my first conference:)

    The first day, I went to the area for editors and agents and walked past all the booths and never talked to one person! I was so nervous, I also realized I had my shirt on backwards, no joke.

    The second day I went to a special meeting for a specific publisher. I asked an editor a question afterwards. Sensing my inexperience, she kindly asked me what my story was about. “Um… um, it’s a coming of age story about a girl…” And that was the only words that would come out of my mouth. I think my face was fire red, I managed to tell her thank you and left as quickly as I possibly could.

    I’m pretty sure she will use me as an example until the end of time:)

    • I did almost exactly the same thing at the FOFW. No shirt on backwards, but a raging headache and absolutely nothing to say. The gracious editor asked me leading questions to get me into the story. But even when I sent her my book the following week, I completely mangled a sentence in my cover letter. Oh, well.

  13. I’ve never verbally pitched before, but have an awesome CP who has, so she’s helped me to craft a pitch. I think my biggest fear is that I’ll blank out and not be able to answer the questions, or that I’ll say “uh” or “like” too much and sound unprofessional.

  14. Tim Klock says:

    Great article! Very helpful and informative. My biggest fear would probably just being nervous, tongue-tied, and sounding like an utter moron in fron of someone whom I really wanted to impress.

  15. Karen dodd says:

    Thanks so much for this; the timing couldn’t be better, as I’m heading to the Surrey International Writers Conference in October and am stressing about how to pitch my book to an agent and a famous author in my 10-minute appointments. This is so helpful!

  16. Roger Floyd says:

    Excellent review of how to do a pitch. I particularly like the list of questions one should be able to answer at a pitch session. One other thing I’ve done is prepare some business cards with the usual contact info on the front, but I tape to the back a short two-paragraph summary of the book I’m pitching. The first paragraph gives the plot arc of the book, though without the ending, while the second paragraph gives the character arc of the main character. That way the person I’m pitching to has a permanent record of the book. It’s a way to keep my name and book in front of the agent/publisher/whoever a little longer.

  17. Linda says:

    Thank you so much. I am stumbling my way through the publishing process. I am a total novice. I’m writing a mystery and have begun thinking about what will happen when I’ve actually completed it.
    Do you recommend one writers conference over another?

  18. Amy Leigh Simpson says:

    Great advice here! I find it’s best to treat your pitch like a conversation instead of a production. Less chance of stage fright! ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for the timely reminders.

  19. Michelle Lim says:

    Fantastic Post, Rachelle! I appreciate the fill in the blank component. A lot of times we work hard to hone our pitch, but forget to introduce ourselves. See you at conference.

  20. Ruth Taylor says:

    I thought I’d be nervous about pitching next week, but more than anything, I’m excited to meet everyone. Of course, when I’m actually there, I might feel a little differently.

    By the way, what kind of chocolate do you like? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  21. Sue Harrison says:

    Have a great time, Rachelle! Wish I could be there. Maybe next year!!

  22. Leah Good says:

    Thank you so much for this helpful advice. I read the beginning part (Hello, my name is _____ and I wanted to meet with you because _____, etc.) on your blog some time ago. When I had a chance to pitch at the 2012 Christian Writer’s Guild Conference (to Rachel!) it really helped to know how to begin the pitching session.

  23. I so much appreciate the fill-in-the-blanks. I would never think to include genre in my nervousness.

  24. Thank you, Rachelle. This post is fantastically helpful.

    Have a safe trip. I hope you enjoy the conference.

  25. Bonnie Doran says:

    Terrific info, Rachelle! I look forward to seeing you at conference and putting your suggestions to work.

    My mortifying experience at pitching was talking with an editor who listened to me for a minute or two and was not interested, period. I didn’t know what else to say, so I left so she could have a break in her appointments.

    I learned the following year that both of her parents were dying at the time of the conference. And before the next conference, she married her high-school sweetheart. Her face glowed.

    My biggest lessons? Be prepared! And yes, editors and agents are human.

  26. V.V. Denman says:

    I’ve never pitched before, but I have many fears about the ACFW conference next week. Besides the possibility that I’ll forget what my story is about, I’m worried I won’t make myself heard. Since childhood, I’ve had a soft voice and sometimes end up sounding insecure. (which may be valid in next week)

  27. This will be my first time to ACFW – and my first writers conference. I decided to go six weeks ago and wasn’t sure if my MS would be ready, so I didn’t schedule formal appointments with agents/editors (I opted for mentor appts. instead). Since then, I was able to finish the book, and I’ve had a group of Beta Readers look it over, so I feel confident to pitch it now. My biggest fear? Becoming so nervous that I forget what to say.

    I loved your tips and perspective and I hope to relax and let my passion for my story shine.

  28. Tedra says:

    Thanks. I was having a really hard time coming up with a pitch for my Norse YA novel; this helps fill in some holes.

    • TEDRA! Norse! I wrote a Viking historical! Look me up–heatherdaygilbert.blogspot.com. We need to chat. Very exciting to find another Norse writer. Michelle Griep and I just KNOW those Vikings are gonna take the world by storm. Just look at Thor…

      • Tedra says:

        You know I said the same thing. I mention Norse and people go, “what?” Then I mention Thor or Odin, sothey’re like, “oh, right” (then they pat my head).

    • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

      I love Norse mythology! Good luck with the book, I’d love to be able to read it some day.

  29. Great post!

    I pitched to Zondervan once, finished my one line, and he said he would look at it. 14 minutes and 30 seconds of scrambling for conversation.

  30. This is GREAT! Thank you!

  31. Amy says:

    Looking forward to the ACFW conference next week!

    Although this is my first time at ACFW, I’ve pitched at many other writing conferences before. The agents and editors have always been really nice. They can’t be any less nice at a Christian conference, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. SOOO helpful, Rachelle! Missing the conference, but I’m still very tempted to do a video blog of my pitch. Just in case any editors are wondering…hee.

    Praying for all attending ACFW!

  33. I hope you will come nearer than Texas sometime. I’m in Ohio and Texas is simply too far. How about the Indiana Christian Writer’s Conference or even the one held at Wheaton?

  34. TNeal says:

    My first pitch was to Miranda Gardner of Kregel at the Minneapolis ACFW conference. She was as gracious toward me as my first congregation in my early pastoral years. She listened to a raw rookie’s pitch and then asked for a proposal. I said, “Sure.” After a moment’s pause, I asked, “What’s a proposal?”

    Despite my obvious ignorance and nervousness, she made me comfortable. She championed my manuscript all the way through committee and gave me the confidence to continue writing despite the many rejections that have followed.

  35. Nichole Hall says:

    Great post! This will be my first ACFW Conference as well. Like so many others I’ll be pitching my book. Thanks for the tips on starting out slow with the basics before launching into the pitch. I see how that can help ease the nervousness and let the conversation flow into the pitch rather than barreling through without even introductions.

  36. Debra Davis says:

    Thanks Rachelle, for the much needed info. I will be giving my very first pitch at Georgia Romance Writers Conference in Oct. I’m excited, but REALLY nervous. I’ve written out what I want to say and it takes 3 minutes. Although no one knows my story the way I do, I worry that because of nerves, everything will come out a jumbled mess. But I’m determined to give it my best shot. Your post has definitely taken some of the edge off.

  37. Since I live in the distant north, I’ve never had the opportunity to personally pitch a book. But should that golden moment ever arrive, I’m ready thanks to you. ๐Ÿ™‚ Many thanks for this great information.

  38. This was so helpful!

    …so…do you prefer Hershey’s or something more elegant? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  39. Laurie Evans says:

    I pitched at a conference for the first time in April. It was the MOST nerve-wracking experience of my life! No mortifying events, thankfully. I can be awkward, so I was worried! lol. It must have gone pretty well, because I was asked for a full! (based also on a 10 page sample). However, it’s not something I look forward to doing again!

  40. Tycie says:

    When are you supposed to come up with a pitch? Before or after y finish your book, rewites and all?

  41. Kathleen Rouser says:

    I won’t be at ACFW this year, but this is great, practical for any time you
    pitch. I can definitely use it!

    I’ve had both harrowing and pretty good pitch experiences. The
    harrowing one involved a lot of stumbling over words and . . . sweating, when I was talking casually with an editor in a hotel lobby and we got to talking about my novel. He was very kind and told me to take a deep breath and relax. After that it got better. Since then I’ve managed to
    be much more composed!

  42. Lizzie Eldridge says:

    Thanks so much for this sounds and down-to-earth advice. Really helpful and I love your very human approach to something that terrifies so many writers. A great and motivating start to my Sunday morning!

  43. brand says:

    I can see you are an expert at your field! I am launching a website soon, and your details will be really fascinating for me.. Thanks for all your assist and wishing you all of the success.

  44. Anna Labno says:

    The best way to pitch is to forget all the rules and be yourself. If you stress about it, it won’t come out natural. Agents tell you not to stress, but their posts make writers afraid. Just prepare a really good proposal, love your story when you talk about it, and let it flow naturally.

  45. Walt Huber says:

    How is this:

    The book is about God and the Bible. Conventional wisdom about the Bible is that God has a magic wand and He just waves it around and all the wonderful stories in the Bible from the creation, the parting of waters, through the healing stories just magically happen.

    As a techno-geek it always felt to me that at the moment of creation God would not only create the Universe and our planet Earth; but He would create all the laws of Chemistry and Physics. These scientific laws are the โ€œglueโ€ that hold it all together. They work all the time, predictable and empirically verifiable. And because God is infinitely wise, He would not violate these wonderful scientific laws He created, because doing so would introduce chaos to the Universe and especially our planet Earth.

    So if God doesnโ€™t violate these laws of physics, could there be a technical explanation for all the wonderful Bible stories that doesnโ€™t violate these laws and does not conflict with the basic tenets of Judaism and Christianity?

    more at: http://www.HowDidGodDoIt.com

  46. Audrey Green says:

    I truly enjoyed this information. It has shown me that the route I was taking with my first-time pitch was not a good pitch.

    Thank you so much for taken time out of your busy schedule to share your knowledge, wisdom and understanding to the world of ‘Pitch’.

    Have a wonderful day.

    Audrey Green