'What is a pitch?' and 'Why is a pitch important?' are questions often asked by writers as they embark on putting documents together to submit to literary agents. In this extract from Writers' & Artists' Guide To How To Hook an Agent — a quick-fire introduction to the process of gaining literary agent representation — James Rennoldson considers how important your book pitch actually is within the process of gaining literary agent representation, and also your book going on to be acquired by a publisher...
Pitching is a part of life. Approaching your boss with a request or an idea is pitching. Trying to convince your friends which film to watch is pitching. Why should approaching an agent, who has dozens of other writers vying for their attention, to represent you be any different?
What’s more, your pitch – a snappy sentence or two that encapsulates your book, and similar to the sort of thing you’d find on the back cover of a book – isn’t just some sort of test to pass as part of the submission process. If your book is to go on and get published, it’s something that’s going to be used throughout that entire journey: from hooking an agent through to piquing the interest of a new reader. In short, a memorable pitch can help a book go a long way in a crowded marketplace. Go back to the last time you were browsing in a bookshop, for example, and the things that might have led you to picking up a book. Maybe an author’s name in a window display took you back to a conversation with friends about what they’ve enjoyed reading of late. Maybe you were drawn in by a book’s cover. Maybe it was down to store placement and a book being surrounded by other titles you recognise. Maybe there was a short review of the book written by one of the bookshop staff. Or were you simply intrigued by the title (arguably the very first pitch of your book)?
The title aside, none of the above is available to you when sending off your work to an agent. The pitch is, though. It’s the one thing you can draw on in these early stages of trying to get published that can have a huge influence. Can you succinctly tell people what’s at the heart of your book, hint at who it’s for, and make them want to dive in? When someone asks ‘What’s your book about?’ does your reply make them say ‘Interesting! When can I read it?’?
What is a pitch?
It’s a concise, memorable sentence or two used to sell your book. It very succinctly conveys what the book is trying to be, giving a potential reader a flavour of what they're about to invest their time and (hopefully) money in. In fiction and memoir, the pitch needs to introduce the world of the book, the lead protagonist(s), and the conflict that drives the narrative forward. In non-narrative non-fiction, the pitch should give an idea of the concept of the book, the key information it contains and from what source. Remember to spell out the benefits of the book, too.
If your pitch does its job, then it will tell people what the book is about in a memorable but matter-of-fact way. Imagine someone you don't know asking you about what you do for a living at a party. For fear of boring them, you find the words to summarise what you do in the most relatable way. Can you apply the same skills to describing your book?
Why is a pitch important?
First, it’s not as important as the book. It might do a good job in bringing attention to a book that’s not yet at a publishable standard, but if your aim is to secure the representation of an agent and then to be published, a pitch will only help you so far.
Assuming you’ve written a book that’s a real contender, though, a good pitch can actually end up having a significant impact. It can make your book memorable, understandable and intriguing in one fell swoop. Its effectiveness doesn’t just stop at grabbing the attention of an agent, either; books have to be ‘sold’ an awful lot of times before they end up in the hands of a reader.
Written in Q&A format, the Writers' & Artists' Guide To How To Hook an Agent is an introduction to the process of submitting a manuscript to literary agents, and is directly inspired by popular questions asked by writers that have attended our long-running series of events of the same name. If you're looking for a literary agent to represent your manuscript order your copy here, or to find out about our latest events click here.