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Perfecting Your Pitch

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 9, 2011

Are you preparing for a conference but your knees get shaky at the thought of an editor/agent appointment? Be prepared, not scared. Begin your ten minute pitch session by offering the editor or agent a handshake along with your name. If you have a business card, so much the better. Sit down and smile and state your story’s category and word count. Mention which imprint at the publishing house you are targeting. Then very briefly, continue with some, if not all, of the following. At least have this material on the tip of your tongue or written on index cards for when the editor or agent asks pertinent questions.              

Do not bring your manuscript. Do not ramble on with plot details. Do have a completed book ready to submit. Do hit these high points and then let the editor do the talking.

LOG LINE: Use key words and hot premises for a one or two line summary. Look at TV Guide for examples of honing your story. Key words might include “cozy mystery”, “legal thriller”, “hot and sexy”, “paranormal erotica” or other popular identifiers. Example from Silver Serenade: “A beautiful assassin and a desperate fugitive join forces to catch a terrorist and prevent an intergalactic war.” Or for my Bad Hair Day series, “I’ve written a cozy mystery series about a hairdresser who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun.” You can also mention a movie tag line: “I’ve written a paranormal series that’s Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings.”

CHARACTERS: Don’t crowd your pitch with too many character names. In a mystery, stick with the sleuth, victim, and killer. In a romance, just the hero and heroine count.

Identify your major characters by means of an adjective and a noun. i.e. studious socialite, inquisitive schoolteacher, reckless ranger, dour detective. You get the idea. Consider using opposites, like the reckless ranger or studious socialite, to raise interest. Marla Shore, my sleuth, would be an “intrepid hairstylist.”

OPENING HOOK: Describe the initial set up or how the story opens. This is a good place to introduce your external conflict.

In a mystery: Hairstylist and salon owner Marla Shore is giving her client a perm when she goes into the back room to get some clean towels. She hears a loud crash, rushes back into the salon, and finds her client dead in the shampoo chair.

In a romance: Rookie assassin Silver Malloy is ready to shoot terrorist leader Tyrone Bluth, when a man knocks into her and throws her aim off target. The stranger is Jace Vernon, a convicted criminal who needs Bluth alive to prove his innocence. Silver is tempted to arrest Jace but teams up with him instead to catch the bad guy. Both Silver and Jace have different goals for what will happen when they succeed. Jace needs Bluth alive and Silver wants him dead. Who will prevail?

MOTIVATION: Why are your characters attracted to each other? What keeps them apart (internal conflict)? In a mystery, what is the personal reason for the sleuth to solve the crime?

RESOLUTION: How will your characters grow and change to bring about the resolution?

UNIQUENESS: How is your book different from others in the genre? What special knowledge or fresh angle do you have to offer? 

SERIES OR SINGLE TITLE: If this is meant to be a series, give the overall series title and a brief summary of the next book.

MARKETING: What is your marketing hook? Do you have a platform? A niche market? How do you plan to promote the book? Be prepared to compare your work to bestselling authors, i.e. “My mysteries are funny and light like Janet Evanovich’s books but with more of a whodunit aspect.”

SELL YOURSELF: Ultimately, it’s your energy and enthusiasm that count. You have to be someone the agent or editor wants to acquire as a client. Be professional and courteous at all times. It may even be that you speak about something else you have in common, i.e. trying new recipes or touring the city sights. Then when you send in your proposal, your cover letter can state: “I enjoyed our discussion at the XYZ conference about low-fat recipes. If you recall, I’d mentioned my book….”  

Confine your pitch to the above essentials. Avoid descriptions of plot details, physical character traits, and your own personal history unless it relates to the story.


Thank the editor or agent for their time. If they request you send them something, ask if they want to see a query letter, proposal, or the full manuscript. Also, do they prefer an email or snail mail submission? Ask for their business card before you shake hands again and depart.

FOLLOW UP: At the editor or agent’s request, mail your work to them afterward. If it’s via snail mail, mark the package “Requested Material.” If it’s an email, be sure to put in the subject line a reference to where you met, i.e. FRW Conference Author. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best!


7 Responses to “Perfecting Your Pitch”

  1. timkeen40 said

    Thanks for the advice. I plan on using it one day.


  2. Good luck to you, Tim.

  3. Excellent post, Nancy. You should pitch this as an article to a writing mag.
    Liz Arnold
    Message to Love
    The Wild Rose Press

  4. Debbie Andrews said

    Ditto to the above comment about this being an excellent post.

    I’ll use it now for my pitch. I even printed a permanent copy for my writing files. Thanks,

  5. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get as tongue tied as the rest of you when approaching an editor or agent. 🙂

  6. Jeanne Meeks said

    Thank you. Thank you. I was stymied by the pitch idea. I am attending Love is Murder in Chicago, but didn’t sign up to pitch my book because I didn’t know how. Now I do. It’s a great post.

  7. Jeanne, I am glad you find this post to be helpful. Please share it with your writer friends! Pitching your work, no matter what stage you’re in as a writer, is still a nerveracking prospect. Good luck at the conference!

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