Saturday, January 15, 2011

Top 5 Pitch Tips for Writers

Recently, I was asked to provide some examples of successful pitches for the upcoming Writer's Digest Conference in New York City. Instead of just focusing on that one event though, I'm going to focus on pitching in general. This advice should help as much at live events as in query letters.

Here are my top 5 pitch tips:
  1. Focus on the story. Don't start off your pitch by describing the characters and the setting and the big ideas involved and themes of your story. Start off by telling the story and relaying the main obstacle(s) that must be overcome. For instance, "John Doe returns home from work to find a letter that will change his life and ultimately lead him from Minnesota to Madagascar. Dear John is the story of one man's search for true love." (Note: This story could still be nonfiction or fiction.) If you're writing nonfiction that doesn't have a "story," then...
  2. Focus on the idea of your article or book. Start off by selling your idea; do NOT start off by discussing who you are or why you're pitching me. While experience and platform are important down the road, your first goal in a pitch is to get the editor or agent excited about the idea.
  3. Keep your pitch short. Think the back of a DVD case or the cover of a book. If you're writing a query letter, it should definitely be no longer than one page. A pitch does not go into great detail; it's a tool for getting someone excited about your project.
  4. Find the right person to pitch. If you're pitching a book on science nonfiction to an editor of fantasy fiction, then you're odds for success are pretty much zero. Don't laugh. I get pitched articles every month that have nothing to do with my field.
  5. Pay attention to feedback. If you receive feedback from an editor or agent (even if it's on a rejection), use that as motivation. You have to decide whether or not to follow their advice, but feedback often signifies that you're getting close.

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