You’ve finished your manuscript and now everyone wants to know what it’s about. Much has been written about how to pitch in query letters, but it is an entirely different art to talk about your book. Whether you are sharing with friends and family, or discussing with publishing professionals at a conference, it is important to learn how to strike the right balance of giving just enough to interest, and not boring your audience or confusing them.
What you want to avoid is going too far with the description or talking so much that people’s eyes glaze over. The audience doesn’t need to know about every character, all their names and relationships to one another, and each plot twist in the manuscript. You need to give your audience just enough so that they want to know more. But resist the urge to give more! (Hard to accomplish, we know.) A long, rambling description sounds much like listening to someone’s dream—extremely boring, nonsensical, and only of interest to the speaker.
If you are pitching to agents/editors at a conference, and you get the standard 10-15 minutes, you are better off discussing more about your inspiration, how long you have been working on this project, what writing accolades you may have (and if there are none, expand on how you are studying the craft). Build a little personal connection, ask them questions about themselves. Don’t make the common mistake of being afraid that you “need to pack it all in” and just talk and talk about the manuscript. That is like attending a book club meeting where only one of you has read the book. The oft used metaphor of an “elevator pitch” works because those twenty to thirty seconds of an elevator ride is the appropriate amount of time to discuss virtually any project when the primary objective is to get the recipient excited to see more. An agent/editor will ask to look at some pages if your description sounds intriguing but remember it is the writing that needs to do the work of keeping their attention in the end. I’ve heard some phenomenal pitches, requested the manuscript, but was disappointed in reading. Your pitch needs to sell the work to get the reader, but it is your writing that needs to keep them.
When building your short pitch think about the theme, the setting, the protagonist’s moral struggle. For example: “A classic doomed love story set in tsarist Russia, between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer. The evocative setting of late-nineteenth-century Russian society is almost a character in its own right.” Well, I do believe that’s a pretty enticing picture of Anna Karenina that you have just painted!
If you want to hear how the pitch is done well, ask a bookseller to tell you about a few of their favorite titles. They have mastered the short pitch and tested it on numerous readers. Do make sure to buy those recommendations, as a thank you for showcasing their skills. Practise doing the same when you are talking about books you are reading. And have fun with it.
Need more feedback and coaching? Consider taking our workshop on query letter writing which includes pitch practice. Let’s make yours the most dynamic pitch of all!