The Novel Pitcher’s Playbook

Baseball pitchers rarely rely on a single pitch. They mix things up with fast balls, changeups, curve balls, knuckle balls, sliders, sinkers, and cutters. They consider who they are pitching to, how many strikes they have, how many outs, how many base runners, and the score.

Pitching a novel isn’t so different. You need to master the logline, elevator pitch, Twitter pitch, short summary, query letter, and synopsis. You must know which pitch to throw, when to throw it, and how fast. And, most importantly, you must be ready switch it up without getting flustered.

But delivering the perfect pitch is just the beginning. What if your pitch works? What if an agent asks for your query? Another agent might ask for a two-page synopsis and the first five pages, and a third agent could request a one-page synopsis and your first fifty pages.

That’s great news! You could rush home and write a query, pound out two different versions of your synopsis, and format documents to fulfill the five-page and fifty-page requests. Better yet, have those documents ready ahead of time so you can fire them off as soon as you get a request.

Just like athletes, novel pitchers need playbooks so they can be prepared, be nimble, and cover all their bases—before they throw the first pitch. To build your own playbook, create two new digital folders called Pitches to Practice and Documents on Deck.

Folder Number One: Pitches to Practice

These are different versions of your in-person pitch. You don’t need to memorize them word for word, but you do need to deliver them with confidence and without any notes. Practice pitching to your friends, your partner, or your dog. Record yourself so you can critique your own delivery. If you sound like a robot reading off of cue cards, mix up the language and give yourself some room to improvise.

Create a separate document for each of the following:

  1. Logline: This is the single, all-important sentence that conveys what your book is about and why it’s different and irresistible. (Go here for hints about writing a logline.)
  2. Elevator Pitch: This can be a little more detailed than the logline. Include the genre and comp titles to give the agent a broader sense of where your book belongs on a bookstore shelf. Keep it to a few sentences. Elevator rides don’t last long, so neither should your elevator pitch. (Here are 5 Steps to Writing a Killer Elevator Pitch for Your Book.)
  3. Summary Paragraph: What if you deliver that perfect elevator pitch and the elevator gets stuck? Just you and that agent, trapped! She might ask for more details about your book. The summary paragraph is basically the same as the summary in your query letter. Introduce your protagonist, antagonist (or antagonistic forces), the conflict, and the stakes. Provide a general sense of the story arc, and a hint about the resolution.
  4. Comp Titles: If an agent asks for comparable book titles, be ready to list a few relevant and recent books. Did you select these titles based on voice, style, plot, structure, or theme? Be prepared to explain why you chose these specific books. Demonstrate that you know your genre and the market. (Here are some tips on Selecting the Right Comp Titles.)
  5. Author Bio: This is the response when an agent says, “So, tell me about yourself.” Limit your bio to relevant information. Skydiving is an interesting hobby, but if you’re writing about puppies, your skydiving expertise does not matter. Succinctly describe your writing experience, education, publishing credits, and areas of expertise that are relevant to your book. If you are a dog trainer writing a book about puppies, then absolutely include that info.
  6. The Twitter Pitch: (You don’t need to memorize this one.) From large Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad, to genre-specific pitch sessions such as #SFFpit (for science fiction and fantasy writers), to events run by a single literary agency, these online pitch parties allow you to bypass the slush pile and connect directly with agents who want to read your pages. Although tweets can be 140 characters, limit your Twitter pitch to about 128 characters to leave room for hashtags, such as the name of the pitch party and your genre (#PitMad #YA). Prepare three different versions of your Twitter pitch, as some contests allow you to pitch multiple times. Contests often pop up with little notice. Be ready. (Here are some tips on crafting a Twitter pitch.)

Folder Number Two: Documents on Deck

When you successfully pitch your book in that elevator or at a conference, an agent may ask for your query, synopsis, pages, or even the whole manuscript. Hooray! You need to have all your documents ready to send off as soon as possible.

Create a separate document for each of the following:

  1. Query letter: Include your logline, a personalized intro explaining why you are querying a particular agent, market basics (word count, genre, comp titles), a short summary of your book, and a brief bio. (For query tips, go to: AgentQuery.com, or Jane Friedman’s The Complete Guide to Query Letters)
  2. One-page Synopsis, single spaced. The synopsis is a detailed play-by-play account of what happens in your book, including the super-secret twist at the end. Don’t be coy or cute. And definitely don’t suggest “if you want to find out what happens, you will have to read the book.” Nope. Give it all away in the synopsis. (For synopsis tips, go to: How To Write A Book Synopsis or How to Write a Novel Synopsis)
  3. Two-page Synopsis, single spaced. The rules are the same for a one- and two-page synopsis. The two-pager includes more details and plot points. Some agents ask for one page, some ask for two. Be prepared. Have them both ready.
  4. First Five Pages of your manuscript: Agents ask for varying numbers of pages. What if the big cliff hanger is on page six, but the agent only wants five pages? I suggest having documents with the first five, ten, and fifty pages ready to send. Try to make these pages end in a satisfying place. Leave a dramatic question or fear in the agent’s mind. You don’t need to end at the close of chapter or a scene, but leave off in a place that makes an agent need to read page six, eleven, or fifty-one. This might require editing your manuscript slightly to fit these parameters. Of course, there will always be agents who request thirty pages or some other odd denomination, but by now, you are nimble and can adapt as needed.
  5. First Ten pages of your manuscript
  6. First Fifty pages of your manuscript
  7. Full Manuscript: Check out these Guidelines for Formatting a Manuscript.

Pitching a book is stressful, no matter how prepared you are, so give yourself the best chance possible. Get your playbook ready. Practice your different pitches and you will feel more confident when you meet an agent. When you nail your delivery and get requests, your polished documents will be waiting.

Are you ready to throw that first pitch?

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