Thursday, September 30, 2010


This weekend I attended the annual SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference. I learned lots of amazing things and came away with a head full of new knowledge and a muse loaded with ideas. But there is one thing that has been nagging at me and I thought I’d like to share.

The amazingly talented marketing guru and writer, Shelli Johannes-Wells hosted a workshop Sunday morning called DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE M WORD. It was a very insightful lesson on the ins and outs of branding for authors. One thing she said that stuck with me was, “Know your pitch!” She said most people tend to zone out after the first ten words!

Wow, really? It got me thinking about the pitch for my novel, BLOOD TIES. This is my next “big” work. This is the piece of heart and soul that I hope to catch an agent with. And until Sunday, I wasn’t worried about my pitch. I had it. It was done. Heck you may have read it here on my blog. It was short (45 words), it was simple and to the point. So what was the problem? It didn’t seem natural. Shelli said your pitch should simply start like this: “My book is about. . .”

Instead, mine was more formal. It read much like a book flap or query letter. Take a gander:

His Dad is in jail, his mother is an alcoholic and his little brother is a pint-sized Goth freak. Life isn’t easy for Talon Cooley,
so when Dad calls from prison looking for another hand-out to save his worthless life, what's a guy to do?

Not bad. I mean, it didn’t suck and you got the gist. My problem was that it didn’t flow easily in conversation. If someone says to me, “So, what’s your book about?” I will look like a total dork if I suddenly turn on my James Earl Jones narrator voice and spout the above pitch. So I decided to make it more personal, more easily accessible and likely to hold up in conversation. Here’s my attempt:

My book is about . . . a teenage boy stuck in the shadow of his father’s jailhouse rep. So when neighborhood pets start
disappearing and an arson roams the area, fingers automatically point toward “that Cooey boy.” Talon’s struggle to clear
his name initiates a risky game with a dangerous drug dealer and leads to a discovery that just might give him a new outlook
on the man he calls Dad.

Whew! It went from 45 to 72 words. I’ve heard a pitch should never go above 150-200 words and I’ve managed to stay below that. Although it would never fit on Twitter. Does it still need work? Hell yeah. But my novel is still a work in progress and I’m thinking I might have a better handle on it once it is complete. In the meantime, It’ll still be rolling around my brain looking for improvement.

Now let’s talk about you. How’s your pitch? Is it formal like mine or can you tell me about it in casual conversation? Do you know it by heart? Will it fit on Twitter? (There are agents/editors who sometimes take pitches there and also sponsor contests.)

Let’s see what you’ve got. Pretend I’m Joan Q. Editor. We’re together at a social gathering and I look at you point blank and say, “So, what’s your book about?”

Share your best pitch in the comments section below.


  1. Dear Niki,
    I enjoy reading your blogs. Each of them is thought provoking. What a way to look at a pitch as a casual response to an editor! I'm still working on my pitches. I like the way you've got your available manuscripts with pitches on your blog. Hmm. I might try that.
    Good luck with publishing all of your work.

  2. My book is about Mattie, a teenager growing up in rural middle Georgia during the Great Depression. Mattie has dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher until her Mama dies leaving her to assume Mama's place taking care of their home and Mattie's five siblings and Pa. Must Mattie choose between her duty and her dreams? Or can she find a way to be true to both?

    How's that?


  3. My (picture) book is about a girl named Paprika Picante who has outrageously huge hiccups. AND they're contagious! She, along with the rest of the town, try every imaginable solution, until Paprika figures out a new, never-before tried idea.

  4. Niki,

    I love this idea of making the pitch conversational. How logical and yet not what I've heard recommended earlier. Thanks for sharing.

    As for my pitch...I'm still in the wind-up.

  5. hey niki - glad you liked the workshop.

    First, your original pitch is a good start for a written query. You're right. This pitch you are working on is for a conversation so people get the jist immediately.

    Yes I think it is important to get it down into 1 or 2 sentences that you can easily say to someone without sounding like its rehearsed.

    so for yours - maybe something like this...

    "Talon is tired of being blamed for the neighborhood crime because of his jail-bird dad. When the arson begins, Talon decides to clear his name. Instead, he starts a dangerous game with a drug lord and discovers more about the man he calls dad."

    Now I dont know the whole story - but I hope this helps.

    keep working at it :)

  6. Jean, Great work. I think I'd try to shorten it up a little. Actually, tighten it. I think you can say it with fewer words.
    Christie, That sounds hilarious. Good job. Have you read A BAD CASE OF STRIPES?
    Shelli, Thanks so much. You managed to convey in your 1st sentence what I've been battling with in my own mind for months. It was so simple I couldn't even see it! Thanks for the help. Your professional opinion means lots. Especially as I make my way to Rutgers this weekend. Thanks everyone for sharing and for your kind comments. Wish me luck!

  7. Ooooh! I like this idea! I've come to enjoy writing pitches, but have always made mine sound more like a jacketflap. I'll have revise some of mine to make them more conversational.


  8. Okay, so I need to work on my pitch. But I'd love to hear your James Earl Jones voice!


Thanks for joining in and posting your comments. I hope that by networking together we'll become better at our craft.