Writing Conferences: Writing Your Pitch

Up today, part 2 of the Writing Conferences series, brought to you by my wonderful guest blogger, Maddy!

Check out part 1, Logistics of Pitching, here.


Do it ASAP.

Once you’ve decided to pitch a literary agent, begin prepping your pitch. Summarizing your story early is crucial because your pitch can change your story. You might have 100k written and revised, but sometimes you don’t realize your book isn’t what you had envisioned until you’re forced to sum it up into bite-sized phrases.

Sometimes, you’re showering at a hotel in Dallas, banging your head against the wall because it’s the night before your pitch appointment and you’ve finally come up with a great pitch for your YA fantasy, one that doesn’t sound horrible and clichéd—except for the fact that your lovely pitch is not the book you’ve written.

You know, hypothetically speaking.

But really, I have rewritten WIPs after pitching. Multiple times. Save yourself the trauma and plan your pitch as early on as you can. Putting together an initial version before you start writing or after the first draft isn’t a bad idea—a similar concept goes for query writing, and that is because…

Writing a pitch is similar to writing a query. There are a few key differences, but the starting concept is the same.

When I began to prepare for my first pitch session two years ago, I became frustrated as I tried to scour the internet for articles on pitching. I’ll save you some trouble—there aren’t that many. But there are plenty of resources for query writing.

Here’s a basic guide to preparing your pitch:

  1. Draft your query letter
  2. Read your query letter out loud:
    • Do any parts sound awkward spoken aloud? Is the intro catchy enough?
  3. Shorten, shorten, shorten
    • Length is the biggest difference between an in-person pitch and a query letter. However, since pitches can vary from 5-10 minutes or less, it’s a good idea to have pitches of varying length ready. I recommend: a 2-minute pitch, a 1-minute pitch, and a 30-second pitch.
  4. Extra material
    • Add in the basic info about your book: title, word count, genre, whether it’s a standalone or part of a series, comp titles, etc.
    • Especially work on your comp titles! A lot of people like to start with comp titles during pitches (Ex: Complete at 150K, Eragon is Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars…) because it immediately clues the agent into what you’ve written.
      • Spend as much time as you need figuring yours out. Run them by friends who know your genre and your book until you get them right. Movies/TV are fine for one of your titles, but one should probably be a relatively current, decently known title in your target genre. Avoid esoteric books/movies that agents probably won’t know and, clearly, books/movies that aren’t very similar to your book. Try to avoid Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/other really huge books, aka ones that everyone else is using at the moment.
    • Have questions ready to ask the agent
      • They can be industry related, but also have a few specific to them (What’s your agenting style? Favorite books this year? etc.). You may not have time to ask all/any of these, but they’re very good to have if the conversation lulls.
    • Also, be ready for them to ask you questions—both regarding your MS and outside of it.
      • Decently common ones include:
        • Favorite/recent books you’ve read in your genre?
        • What inspired this book?
        • What other projects are you working on?
        • Have you revised your book?
        • Do you have critique partners?
        • Where do you see your longterm writing career going?
    • Finally, do your genre research and figure out if you’ll have any “sticking points” that the agent will quiz you on. If you have any “genre rule benders” in your MS, the agent will almost certainly ask you about them, so you need to be ready to defend any less than conventional choices with solid reasoning—and be able to accept that even with an explanation, the agent might still not be willing to bend/request your MS.
      • examples: longer than usually acceptable word counts, multiple POVs, older than standard YA characters.
  5. Send to critique partners when possible

Other resources for query writing can be found here.


Now that you have an idea of how to write your pitch, next week we’ll be going over some pitch templates!

If you enjoyed this post or are interested in the rest of this series, you can follow this blog by email or WordPress on the sidebar (or below for mobile), and you can check out Maddy’s site here!

img_8730Madeleine Colis is a YA writer from Chicago who lives in Australia and helps with the Boston Teen Author Festival—so she is perpetually time zone confused. She went to Northwestern University, where she studied English and began her YA fantasy series during her study abroad in Madrid, over espresso and sangria. She now lives in Melbourne: writing, learning martial arts, and failing to resist pretty foreign edition books.
Find her online: Twitter | Website

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