When you write a book, it needs to be about something. When someone asks what your book is about, how do respond? Do you stumble over your words trying to describe your book? Time to pin down your premise. The perfect pitch means you need to hone your premise statement.
Premise: The central idea, situation, or set-up which provides the foundation and pushes the narrative forward. What happens as a result of actions is another way of describing the premise. If point A is where the conflict or problem arises and point B is the outcome, then the premise is A leads to B. Perhaps another way to get a handle on the premise of your book is to determine its main point or take-away lesson. What’s the moral of your story?
A premise is usually one sentence. “When Dorothy is caught up in a Kansan tornado, she visits a magical place called Oz, only to discover there’s no place like home.”
Expressing your premise — your driving idea — helps you while you write. It keeps you from wandering too far astray from the organizing concept and your narrative arc on a steady path. Consider your opening scenario, central characters, the inciting incident and how the stakes are raised. Your premise may be stated in the form of a question. “What if a group of school boys stranded on a desert island work to govern themselves?”
A premise should be brief, provocative, and include the central characters, a conflict, and a hook. The premise should pull the reader into the story and leave them begging for more. The premise should reveal a larger world and contain universal appeal. Write your premise statement in present tense and with clarity.
The premise is the most important thing to a perfect pitch, but it’s not the only thing.
Once you communicate effectively what your book is about, then you need to identify the audience, the genre, the niche in the market, and your book’s unique marketing features. What does your book do that the others don’t that readers want?
You need to explain why you are the best person to write this book. Establish your authority as the author. Have you been previously published or how long have you been investigating the subject or your qualifications, background, and experience. Not your resume. In less than 50 words.
Finally, you need to know who you are pitching. I mean more than the correct spelling of their name. Who are you pitching? What are you asking for? A book, a short story, a poem, a work-in-progress? A juried writing workshop or fellowship? An editor of a literary journal seeking publication of an excerpt or an agent asking for representation? An acquisition editor of a publisher, and if so, do they acquire works in your genre or subject?
If you are pitching your work, you need to know where your writing fits with others on their client list and/or back list of publications. Has the person you pitched recently acquired a new writer? Did you hear them speak at a conference? Why are you pitching to this person?
Do your homework on the person you are pitching. Then pitch. Be ready to hit the ball out of the park.
Manuscript specifications in a pitch are important. Is the full manuscript available upon request? Are there chapter summaries or an overview? Do you have a writing sample and/or a written proposal to send them or give them? How many words/pages in full manuscript? Will you be at the conference they are attending next week? Contact info. If this is a face-to-face pitch, then have your business card ready and hard copies of your proposal and writing sample.
Thank you. Don’t forget to say it. Then relax and listen.
The most important part of any pitch session is feedback. A reality test of your book concept for the marketplace. Listen to what the response is to your pitch and learn from it. If you were not encouraged by an agent or an acquisition editor to submit your work, don’t. Move on and find the right person who understands and appreciates your writing and works with the kind of publishing projects you have to offer.
Be boring. Be vague. Be general.
Don’t pitch to an author in a book-signing line or at a public presentation.
Don’t pitch to an agent or publisher until you have a proposal ready to send as follow-up.
Don’t get their name wrong or misspell it.
Be hip. Be fast. Be provocative.
Hook ’em with relevance, currency, significance, and import.
Relevance – reader-friendly, relatable characters or subjects, pertains to reader’s circumstances
Currency – newsworthy, worth-sharing, audience interest
Significance – what is the take-away for a reader, what does it represent or what are the implications, the moral of the story, the message or meaning
Import – the value or importance or weight of the book. Why is it important? Value statement. If you read this book, what will happen to the reader?
Tell ’em the answers to “so what” and “who cares” questions.
Remember, rejection is to be expected. And taking rejection the right way is important. If there isn’t a match, then it means they didn’t find a fit in their catalog for this project. Publishers curate catalogs of book offerings and cultivate certain audiences for certain genres. If you auditioned for a role in a play and it were given to another actor, it doesn’t mean you can’t act. Instead you recognize there are many great actors and not all of them can play the one role as part of an ensemble production. Publishing is a group effort not a solo adventure. It’s also a business. And most of the risk taken is by publishers on the author’s unknown new product.
Pitching a project to a publisher or agent is like going to a bank for a loan to build a house. Will they invest in building this book? Will they get their investment back and make a small profit from the venture? What is the author willing to invest in their project to show the publisher a willingness to invest in its success? You’re introducing a new product into the marketplace. Can you demonstrate market demand? Have you beta-tested the manuscript with readers?
Make sure you are ready to pitch before you do. If you don’t have a proposal in hand, you’re not ready to pitch agents or acquisition editors. Instead make a personal connection and explain you have a work-in-progress and have at least your premise statement at the tip of your tongue.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…