{Coffee with Kara} What’s in a Pitch?

Recently on Twitter, there has been #FaithPitch and #PitMad, which are popular events in which authors can pitch their books in 280-characters or less for agents and/or editors to see. It’s a fun way to “skip the slush pile.” It can also be daunting to condense an entire novel into one or two sentences, especially when you need to leave room for the appropriate hashtags.

Now, as someone who has participated as both a pitching editor and an acquiring editor, I’ve seen a lot of pitches. Some are fantastic. Some…not so much. So, what makes a good pitch? What makes me stop and take notice? And better yet, what makes me smash that little heart on Twitter so fast it makes my head spin? One word:


That’s right. I need to know what is at stake for the characters. Nothing else really matters when I’m looking at pitches. So, let’s take a look at a couple totally made-up pitches and compare them. (Okay, full disclosure: They’re not completely made up. They are pitches I’ve used in the past for my books.)

PITCH #1 — Investigative journalist Nicole Andrews must fight a serial killer for her life and a bodyguard for her heart.

In this one, I know immediately that the heroine is in some serious danger and that there’s a romance, too. And without being told, I can infer that if she doesn’t get away from the serial killer, she’s going to die–those are some pretty hefty stakes. Also, this pitch garnered quite a bit of attention when I used it, and it is ultimately what led to me signing with my agent.

PITCH #2 Afraid of becoming an alcoholic like Mom, Isabelle plans every aspect of her life. Grayson swore he’d never be an adulterous liar like his mom, but then he falls for the girl w/ a boyfriend. Are they destined to repeat the sins of their parents?

Now, in this one, we get a hint of the conflict — two teens dealing with the sins of their parents and the fear of following in their footsteps. But we don’t really know much about what their stakes are. What happens if Grayson falls for the girl with the boyfriend? What will he lose in the process? This specific tweet garnered quite a few retweets from fellow writers, but absolutely no interest from agents or editors.

There are two things I see in a lot of pitches that I want to address: Comp titles and rhetorical questions.

Comp Titles: Don’t those help? Yes and no. Yes, they can certainly help set the tone for the story you’re pitching, but if you happen to use an obscure book or show, you risk the agent/editor not knowing it, and then it doesn’t really help at all. Or, if you use a book or show comp that the agent/editor dislikes, the chances of them liking your pitch are less. Personally, I tend to skip over comp titles because they don’t “sell me” on the concept one way or another.

If you are going to use comp titles, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
1. Make sure they’re current. Don’t use anything that’s more than 3 or 4 years old, and definitely nothing older than 5 years.

2. Try to avoid the big blockbuster titles, such as Twilight or Left Behind. They are often over used, and they’re extremely hard to live up to.

Rhetorical questions: There’s a lot of querying advice online, and one of the things I see most often is to avoid using rhetorical questions. Why? Well, what if the agent / editor answers your question the wrong way? You’ve then made them disengage, and the chances of capturing their interest is significantly less.

Have you written a Twitter pitch that resulted in an offer of representation or publication? Share it in the comments! Got any other helpful tips for creating an eye-catching pitch? Share it in the comments!

One thought on “{Coffee with Kara} What’s in a Pitch?

  1. I contracted my debut novel Hidden Danger during #Pitmad.

    One for sorrow. Can Cody and Maggie find who’s responsible before the nursery rhyme ends. And maybe her life.

    My advice, step away from your book as an author. Put your pride, well deserved for finishing a novel, away. You’re just a reader scrolling through Twitter looking at thousands of pitches. Would your pitch make you want to read the book?

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