11 Questions for Crafting a Pitch

This weekend I taught at a writers’ conference and my topic was “Selling Your Stuff,” creating those all important sales materials for your book:

The one-sentence summary.
The query.
The pitch paragraph.
The elevator pitch.
The proposal.

I was talking to a room full of novelists, so I focused on fiction. I told them that the main elements of a pitch for a novel are:

Character
Their choice, conflict, or goal
What’s at stake (may be implied)
Action
Setting

But I know it’s still hard figuring out exactly the right way to pitch. You have to simplify your story and pitch a single plot thread and as few characters as possible. You have to be precise, and use specific (not vague) language. And you have to make it interesting, which means you need to find the most unique and special aspect of your story and make sure it’s covered in the pitch.

So I’ve come up with a set of 11 questions that I recommend novelists work through before even starting to craft a pitch or summary. If you think about the answers to these questions, and write them down, you’ll be more equipped to find the right elements of your story to include in the pitch.

The 11 Questions

1. What’s the genre of your book?

2. What’s the hook, or what’s most unique or special about your book?

3. Who is the protagonist and what’s the most interesting thing about him or her?

4. Who is the antagonist and how is he/she standing in the way of the protagonist’s goal?

5. What conflict, dilemma or choice does the protagonist face? (Central story question.)

6. What is at stake? What are the consequences of the choice or conflict?

7. What is the catalyst, or the main event that gets the story started?

8. What are the main points of action that drive the plot?

9. What is the setting of the story?

10. What is the interesting backstory that affects your characters in the current story?

11. What is the book’s theme?

The point of these questions is for you to identify the crucial elements that would make for a good pitch, and it’s best to figure it out before you get started rather than in the middle of trying to write your pitch paragraph or 1-sentence summary. Let me know if you find these helpful.

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Anonymous

    >Very helpful! I’ve heard that the theme was implied, not stated? Is it good to also include recent popular movies or TV shows with similar plots or settings (e.g. the “X meets Y” pitch)? Seems to be a favorite among some agents. What do you think?

  • T. Anne

    >Yay! This helps me tons. I’ll be working on the pitch summary and the synopsis for two of my novels this week. I’ll print this out and use it. Thanks!

  • Aimee L Salter

    >More please! This practical stuff is gold!

  • Shayda Bakhshi

    >So, so helpful! Bookmarking.

  • Athena Hernandez

    >This is very helpful information; thanks for sharing. I am writing children’s stories, but all of this is applicable across genres. Thanks, again!

  • Christine

    >This is extremely helpful! Thank you!

  • Liberty Speidel

    >Very helpful! Especially since I've been writing and rewriting my query letter. :) I imagine that these questions are just as important to a query as they are to an in-person pitch.

  • Gospel Girly

    >Thanks. It's quite useful … More stuff on fiction writing pretty please :-)))

  • Rick Barry

    >Rachelle, I didn't get to pitch to you at the conference (did you notice your schedule fills up rather quickly?), but I used your points to pitch to an editor the next day. The result? A wonderful interview and a request for my full suspense manuscript. Thanks!

    P.S. It was a pleasure driving you to the hotel. My wife and I enjoyed the chat!

  • Em-Musing

    >Once again, spot on info. thanks

  • Michael K. Reynolds

    >I'm sorry I missed your class. I'm hoping to be at the conference next year.

    I believe the elements of a pitch are not only fundamental for getting a book sold, but for having a book that's sellable in the first place. This is an important exercise for writers to go through at all development stages of their novels.

  • Sarah Collins Honenberger

    >Single most important question to ask : Does this story need to be told? MEANING has it been told before? Why is it different from everything else out there?

  • Becky Avella

    >Very helpful. Thank you!

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >Loved these questions 24 hours ago in class. Still love them.

    Here’s to getting some solid sleep tonight.

    Enjoyed meeting you, Rachelle.
    ~ Wendy

  • Brock S. Henning

    >I like number 8 (main points of action driving the plot). I might've guessed a few of the others (just a few…grin), but number 8 made me think hard about what gears really crank the story forward.

    Thanks for the advice!

  • Anonymous

    >I also liked number 8. Got others covered, I think, but that's worth considering.

  • Laura Pauling

    >These are terrific and not just for developing a pitch. But a good checklist while plotting your novel and/or doing macro revisions. Thanks!

  • Carol J. Garvin

    >This is the most thorough and concise information I've seen and is perfectly timed for me. I'm registered for the SiWC conference next month and am busy organizing everything I'm going to need so will print this post out as a checklist. Thanks so much!

  • l_carter

    >I attended your workshop and was one of the ones to stand and practice delivering my pitch to the class. You offered a helpful suggestion which I immediately incorporated into the pitch I presented an hour later to an editor. She requested a full manuscript. Thanks again for your advice and wonderful blog.
    Lisa Carter
    Sweet Tea with a Slice of Murder

  • Judith Robl

    >Not only for crafting a pitch, the answers to these questions are critical in crafting the story in the first place.

    Wish I could have been in class — but perhaps next year.

    Thank you for all your good advice and sharing your knowledge so willingly.

  • Juli

    >Great stuff, but I only write non-fiction. Any chance we could pick your brain for a similar list for non-fiction?

    Thanks!

  • Julie Lindsey

    >Wow! Talk about timely! I am headed to my first writers conference in less than 2 weeks and I have been so stressed about my pitch! I needed this HUGELY!!! Woot!

  • Joanne M. Lozar Glenn

    >Great info. How would the questions change, if at all, for pitching a memoir or nonfiction book?

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Thanks Rachelle,

    I am in the process of refocusing one of my stories and this list will help me.

  • Nath Jones

    >Thanks so much~! Answering these questions about two novel manuscripts gave me a lot of confidence. Now I can go into the proposal writing process with a sense of resolve.

  • Snacks from the cruise buffet

    >Very helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. Don't know what you get out of it but it's a help to many.

  • Brandon Daubs

    >Thanks, Rachelle! This simple guide has helped me single out the most important points in my story, and consequently, will tame the wild ramblings of my synopsis paragraph(s). I appreciate your help.

  • http://www.leliachealey.com Lelia Chealey

    So helpful. I have learned so much from this blog. Thank you,Rachelle.

  • Pingback: How To Write A Query Letter | Rachelle Gardner

  • http://bbwomenswrites.blogspot.com/ Beth Browne

    Thanks, Rachelle, this is great stuff and I’m using it right now!!

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