When moving toward the publication of your book, one of the most important elements is developing a pitch for it. Your pitch can come in many forms, like a sales hook (a 1-3 sentence description of the plot) or an elevator pitch (a 15-30 second explanation of the story and themes). You may need a pitch to sell the book to an agent, a publisher, a sales rep, a bookseller, a media rep, or a reader. It is essential in crafting the book’s image.
So, what makes for a strong pitch?
You need to be able to explain the book in as few words as possible. Under 50 words is essential, but some industry pros actually recommend less than 25 words—in fact, the strongest pitches are around 17 words. Author and former co-president of ITW, Kathleen Antrim, recommends using the “What if… So What?” pitching method. It starts with the words “What if…” and answers the question “so what?” in on sentence. (Thrillerfest.com)
Getting to this point means throwing out just about everything about the book. You need to isolate what is special about the book: Is it the plot twist? The setting? The premise? The goal is to get someone who hears that one sentence to say, “tell me more!” It needs to be unique, striking, fresh, and compelling. (JerichoWriters)
This does not mean that your pitch has to be devoid of personality. Use your narrative voice—your writing style could make the pitch. You just need to cut the fluff. (TCKPublishing)
Once you’ve answered the “what” question, you have to also cover the “why.” Why should I (the reader or agent or publisher or bookseller or media rep) care? Jon Land, author and screenwriter, recommends using the MacDonald Rule. Legend has it that John Dann MacDonald was once asked by a young writer what a story is.
“Stuff happens to people you care about,” was his reply. Using that rule, make your pitch a story. (Thrillerfest.com)
Now, how? Describe the driving character, their goal or task, and what they risk. Let’s try a few examples with well-known books.
If we were to use the MacDonald rule to craft a pitch for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it might look something like this:
“An orphan boy must stop the wizard who killed his parents from achieving eternal life.”
Whereas a pitch for Fahrenheit 451 might look like this:
“In the future, books are outlawed and firemen must burn them. Guy Montag, a fireman, has no qualms about this—until he meets Clarisse.”
Another way to make the book relevant is to emphasize who it would appeal to. Signal phrases like “for the child in all of us,” “teen romance,” or “guide for recently divorced moms” indicating audience and/or genre will help industry professionals find a market to sell into. If it’s a longer pitch, you may want to note what the takeaway from the book should be. (Bookbub)
Obviously, take all of this with a grain of salt. You don’t have to use the “What if… So What?” method or the MadcDonald rule or some combination thereof. Just keep it short, snappy, and relevant. And if you’re planning on pitching it aloud—practice.