Many aspiring authors have no idea what they are really writing about. You’ll find evidence of this by asking them to answer this question: “What’s your book about?” If it takes them more than a minute to answer the question, they don’t know. These same aspiring authors will have a difficult time writing a book pitch, a description of their book in 50 words or less.
It’s imperative that you know what your blogged book is about prior to writing a word. Yes, your book may morph as you write, and so will your “pitch,” but that initial guiding statement focuses you and the writing of your manuscript post by post.
Writing a pitch, also known as an elevator speech, gives you a wonderful opportunity to figure out:
- how your book’s angle is unique
- how your book will benefit readers
- what unique features your book offers
- how you are targeting your market
Once you know these things and can talk about them succinctly, you can produce a manuscript that is focused and intelligible. Your elevator speech, helps you move through the writing of the “floors”—chapters—of your manuscript successfully just like an elevator helps you travel upward in a building easily and effortlessly with the push of a button.
The Pitch as a Writing Guide
You may think a pitch is meant for use at a writer’s conference in “pitch slam” or “pitchapalooza” sessions where you have 3-10 minutes to tell an agent or editor about your idea. Or maybe you will be lucky enough to get into an elevator with an agent or acquisitions editor and give your “elevator pitch.” You will need a pitch at these times, as well as any time a potential reader or buyer asks, “What’s your book about?” You’ll also need it when the media contacts you. A pitch also becomes part of a query letter or book proposal.
As a nonfiction writer, I discovered the value of writing a pitch before writing my book. I had to have that pitch honed to about 50 words or so for my query and proposal. The proposal itself only contained 25 pages of my manuscript; the rest of the book had not been written yet. Writing a pitch gave me enormous clarity about what I intended to write in my book. It served as a guide—one I could reread every day when I sat down to compose my manuscript—to blog my book or to write it in another manner. I now recommend that both fiction and nonfiction writers have one prior to writing.
Nonfiction writers may need to revisit their pitches as they conceive their table of contents and the content that will be contained in each chapter. Novelists may need to do the same as their story progresses. However, the pitch is a fabulous starting point for conceiving any book.
How to Write a Blogged Book Pitch
I’ve worked with many writers on their pitches. (I help judge the pitch contest at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference annually—I won it one year, and often coach people at the conference on their pitches. Plus, I hone pitches for my clients’ query letters and proposals.) So, let me tell you what I know about how to write a pitch as well as what I’ve learned from some other pitching pros.
To craft a pitch, write a draft of 75 words or so. Then cut this down to under 50 words. I like one great sentence, but that doesn’t always work. Some agents call this a “log line.”
There’s a huge difference in pitching fiction and nonfiction; memoir, while nonfiction, can be pitched more like fiction because it reads like a novel.
Nonfiction writers should focus a pitch on what the book is about, why it is unique, timely or needed and its benefits to readers. Answer these three questions:
- Why this book?
- Why now?
- Why you?
If you can, include information on your market, unique features or a comparison to another best-selling book.
Fiction writers shouldn’t tell the whole story in a pitch but instead provide the narrative arc in the most creative and compelling way possible in a sentence or two.
Katharine Sands, agent and author of Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye, says a pitch should “distill aspects of your work in such a way that it creates alchemy.” When pitching fiction, she suggests you include three elements:
- Place (setting)
- Person (plot)
- Pivot (inciting incident or event)
Chuck Sambuchino, an editor for Writer’s Digest Books and the editor of Guide to Literary Agents, offers a great step-by-step formula for fiction writers who want to compose a pitch:
1. Tell the details first – genre, title, word count (if appropriate), if it is complete.
2. Offer a log line – one sentence (ex. A treasure hunter searches for a lost necklace in the Himalayas.)
3. Pitch using these 6 elements:
- Introduce the main character(s).
- Introduce something interesting or what he/she wants (or both).
- Introduce the inciting incident (that moves the story forward).
- Introduce the hook (plot)–in other words, say what the story is about or repeat the log line.
- Explain the stakes, or complications (ex. innocent people die, they get lost).
- Describe the unclear wrap up.
4. Describe how the character is changing – the character arc.
James Scott Bell, author of Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books, offers a three-sentence formula that can be used to create a pitch.
- Sentence 1: most gripping question + the specific answer
- Sentence 2: In [title of book] + you will learn…..
- Sentence 3: about the author (Who the hell are you?)
- Sentence 1: character name + vocation + initial situation.
- Sentence 2: when + the doorway of no return (inciting incident)
- Sentence 3: now + death overhanging (physical, profession or psychological death)
And Rob Eagar, author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing and Publicity, says, no matter what you do when writing a pitch do not answer the question “What is your book about,” when asked—at least not literally. What they really want to know is, “What’s in it for me?” To answer that question, focus upon the value your blogged book will add to readers’ lives.
Out of all these tips, formulas and bits of advice, you should be able to craft a pitch that will help you figure out what your blogged book is about. When you know this, you will compose your manuscript more easily and with clearer focus—which should produce a more focused and intelligible final product as well. So, what are you waiting for? Push the “up” button! Create your book pitch.
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