Monday, April 4, 2016

Perfecting Your Writer's Pitch

By Andrea Merrell

The word pitch can mean different things to different people. And, no, we’re not talking about baseball, your musical aptitude, or the slant of your roof. In this post, we’re talking about the writer's ability to promote and garner interest in a project.

According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, pitch can mean: an often high-pressure sales presentation; advertisement; recommendation; or plug. In this post, we want to eliminate the words high-pressure and concentrate on presentation.

In your career as a writer, there will be many opportunities to pitch your work. I’m not much of a horseshoe player, but the same rules still apply. The game takes setting your eye on the goal and then practicing your technique. Let’s look at some keys to help you hit the target.

The Elevator Pitch
When crafting your elevator pitch, think about the words succinct and concise. What you need is a thirty to sixty-second synopsis of your project, delivered with passion and persuasion. Think of this as an ice-breaker that may lead to a more extensive explanation of your WIP (work in progress). It’s a simple way to get more than your foot in the door.

Back Cover Copy
I find that most authors have a problem when it comes to creating back cover copy for their book. This is a matter of literally putting your book into a tiny nutshell that will let people know what your book is about, what it will do for them, and why they simply must have it. I typically suggest creating your back cover copy first. It helps you see the overall picture more clearly which, in turn, helps you present it more clearly. Some people find it helpful to begin with back cover copy and then develop their shorter elevator pitch.

Subtitles and Taglines
Sometimes your elevator pitch can be something as easy as using your subtitle or tagline. My first book is Murder of a Manuscript. It’s a catchy title but a little illusive. A few people have asked if it’s a novel. The best way I’ve found to explain my book—thus creating an elevator pitch—is to use the subtitle: Writing and Editing Tips to Keep Your Book Out of the Editorial Graveyard. That is my book in a nutshell.

Praying for the Prodigal is about my five-year prodigal journey with both my son and daughter. It includes practical survival tips for parents and guardians, advice from the former prodigals, and thirty days of prayers and Scriptures. The purpose of this book is to restore hope to those going through this fiery trial. But that’s a lot to say in an elevator pitch. Instead, I can use the subtitle: Encouragement and Practical Advice While Waiting for the Prodigal to Return. When someone shows interest and begins asking questions, I can give them more information.

Whatever you decide to use, the goal is to spark enough interest that the person you are pitching to will want to hear more. Once you perfect your elevator pitch, you are well on your way to the next step.

Pitching to an Agent, Editor, or Publisher
Most writing conferences will give you many opportunities to pitch your work. Let’s look at a checklist of items that will be important for you to learn and remember:
  • Don’t be shy, intimidated, or afraid. These professionals are there to help you, not embarrass you or make you feel unqualified. Remember, they were once in your shoes.
  • Do your research. Before you meet with an industry professional, study their background. Be familiar with the genres they represent, and know what they are looking for. (Side note: Don’t try to meet with everyone. Pray for guidance and choose only three or four people to meet with, unless someone else is recommended to you.)
  • Be prepared. Have a business card with your photo and a one-sheet ready. Don’t try to present your entire manuscript. If they want it—or any portion of it—they will request it. Your one-sheet should have your name, contact info, title, short synopsis (think back cover copy), and a short bio. It’s always a good idea to have the first three pages, just in case you’re asked for them.
  • Be yourself. Don’t try to impress by being someone or something you’re not. Always be genuine in your dealings with others. They will admire and respect you for it.
  • Ask questions. Again, these folks are there to help. This might be a good time to throw out a few ideas and brainstorm with someone who can give you direction.
  • Don’t over-spiritualize your writing. Don’t spend your fifteen minutes explaining how God gave you this manuscript, and you know it’s supposed to be published.
  • Don’t monopolize your fifteen minutes. In other words, don’t do all the talking. Be sure to listen for feedback. (Another side note: If you hand someone your one-sheet or pages to read, please sit quietly and allow them to read. Don’t offer comments and try to explain while they are reading.)
  • Be gracious. If you get what you consider to be negative feedback, don’t argue—and don’t take it personally. Most of these professionals have been in the business for years. Take the feedback as constructive, and learn from the opportunity. Always be teachable and it will enable you to improve your writing.
  • Don’t Stalk. Believe it or not, there have been many times when a writer has followed an agent, editor, author, or publisher into a bathroom to get their attention and make a pitch. Don’t pass your manuscript underneath a stall and expect someone to look at it. This goes beyond way bad manners. 

Bottom Line

It’s important to know your work so well you can tell someone about it in a few short sentences. And always be ready. You never know whose life your words may touch or when that opportunity will arise, whether at a writers’ conference or in line at the grocery store. Just as we are instructed to be prepared “in season and out of season” to share the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:2), we should always be ready to share the words He has placed in our heart.

What about you? Do you have anything to add to the checklist? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/marcolm/twobee.)


  1. Great info Andrea. Thank you so much.

    1. My pleasure, Nan. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  2. Thanks, Andrea. There's a lot of information and encouragement in this post.

  3. Thanks Andrea. This information is very valuable. I am forwarding the email I received to a new conference attendee that I am mentoring.

    I would like to add to be prepared for God to move you in a different direction. That is what happened to me. I came to my first conference with preconceived notions of what classes I would take, etc. When I walked in the door, everything changed. My path now is nowhere near what I first thought it would be. Have an open and willing spirit for God to lead. Thanks again!


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