With thousands of pitches set to pour through Twitter’s #Pitmad feed for literary agent and indie publisher perusal on Thursday, it’s time to tell you everything I know about crafting a quality pitch (illustrated with tweet pitch examples, though advice here also applies to query letter pitches). If you’re writing a pitch as promotional material for your book or a back cover blurb, this post will help you, but also bear in mind that this post is talking about pitches aimed at literary agents and publishers and in ‘pitching’ to readers, you have more flexibility.
Pitch vs. Blurb vs. Log lines
On Twitter, you will see people use ‘pitch’ and ‘blurb’ interchangeably. A pitch is NOT a blurb. A pitch aimed at literary agents or publishers will not get you requests if it doesn’t include very specific ingredients and address them clearly and well (see below). Pitches often conform to particular formulas, like ‘Character is X, but when Y happens character must A or else incur terrible C and D.’ There are variations, which all include essential pitch ingredients (see below). Whereas, a back-of-book blurb may or may not include all the essential ingredients of a pitch. A blurb may also include bonus details to appeal to readers, like thematic statements (these are mostly NOT included in pitches because they take up limited space and are usually not what sells a book to industry professionals, picture books being a possible exception).
You may also see people advising, ‘Don’t name characters in pitches. Just state their role or what makes them unique in the character intro.’ Definitely state what makes your main character unique, but I suspect this advice is confusing log lines -the kind of single sentence pitch you get at the movies- with a pitch. A log line is generally telling the audience -or reader- that they’re in for a wild ride or fun journey. It’s not trying to get a literary agent or publisher to care about or take interest in a main character. Its not trying to persuade busy agents and editors that they like this character so much or relate to them so well that they want to spend some of their very limited time reading pages about this character. ‘Little Timmy’ is more likely to generate sympathy or to be relatable than ‘little no-name’. So I advise against using a log line in your Twitter pitch (in a query letter pitch it may work), and for either, I say Name Your Main Character!
Over the past year, I have critiqued an estimated 100+ tweet pitches for various parties (not including revised pitches), which has helped me note patterns in essential ingredients and maximising opportunities to hook a reader. However, quality ingredients don’t guarantee a quality end product, so I won’t just list ingredients, I’ll explain why it’s important to address them well, then give advice on how to do so.
Essential Pitch Ingredients
–Inciting event, central conflict & stakes
–Character growth that must occur for the MC to resolve conflict and avoid stakes or impossible choice the MC must make
Before we dive in
Remember that your pitch isn’t just saying ‘this is a great novel’. You’re telling an industry professional why they want to represent your novel. So how does your novel differ from others in your genre? What is unique about your character, inciting event, conflict, stakes & character growth? As you draft and revise your pitch, keep checking that it highlights what is most unique and compelling about your novel and try to be as specific as you can in your pitch.
Note For SFF & Multiple POV Writers
It’s tempting to write an opening which introduces the wonderful world you have created -but don’t. In a tweet pitch and possibly even in a query letter pitch, you aren’t selling your fantasy or scifi setting -you’re selling an intriguing character, with a compelling personal role to play in a conflict involving significant personal stakes. This is why it’s so hard to pitch multiple points of view and why, if your novel has multiple points of view, I recommend giving the main characters a pitch to themselves, to do justice to each character’s arc. You may also write like to attempt a 2 pov pitch, with a sentence to introduce each character and a third sentence explaining their roles and stakes in the conflict.
Your main character is your hook. In introducing them, you are trying to show or describe something interesting and relatable about your character, which invites a literary agent or publisher to connect with them. (Do name your MC- that provides a mental hook for details about them to be hung upon, as well as making them relatable and more sympathetic than say ‘random, unamed office worker’.)
A character description could be a single adjective, or a job title. Ideally, it will show or state what your character draws upon to help them confront the conflict and be unique/ specific to your character. Eg. her fear of swimming from near drowning as a child, where her story of personal growth climaxes when she sees a child drowning off the shores of a deserted beach. However you describe or show something about your character, consider: what is the most unique thing about my character, what helps them resolve the conflict and what are the most engaging word choices to show or describe that?
Character Intro Examples
“17 YO Jorden’s specialties are baking apple pie, hand to hand combat and leaping before he looks.” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad @debbieiancu.
“Elective mute Ashari remembers nothing before the void in her mind.” -Halla Williams @hallawilliams1.
If you’re struggling to find space for an engaging character introduction, you could use the inciting event as your hook instead and frame your introduction with your inciting event, as I have done here. “Thrust to power by death in the family, peace-born Ruarnon…” -Elise Carlson.
Inciting Event and Tension
You might like to frame your character introduction with ‘when’ to lead into the inciting event. ‘When’ is a good opening to lead into a collision of worlds, desires or wills etc. It amplifies the fact that the character we’ve just met and connected with is about to have their world turned upside-down and leaves us wondering how and what the outcome will be. (Try not to use the phrase ‘turned upside-down’, as it’s common to many stories and can sound generic. If you use it, highlight the way in which that character’s life is changed and or their emotional response/ reaction to keep the focus on what is ‘unique’ about your story). Ending this sentence with a clash of wills/ interests with another character or a clash of morals between the character’s beliefs and what they are about to do -an obstacle to their goal and or resolution of the conflict- is a good way to get tension into your opening sentence.
Inciting Event Examples
“His suicide mission: Build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world.” -Debbie Haddad.
“Having lost her memory in a storm, she chooses the unlikely safety of becoming a mercenary for the enigmatic Captain Westorr.” -Halla Williams.
“Monsters live under beds, but Julie is sure there’s one in her ceiling.” -mine.
An important thing to note with conflict is that in a pitch you don’t create conflict by saying ‘there’s a war on.’ Conflict here doesn’t refer to external plot events, it refers to your main character’s personal struggles within those events, and or struggles in relationships necessary to achieve story goals, or moral or ethical dilemma’s your main character faces. Again, inclusion of these personal elements creates opportunity for readers to connect emotionally to your character and story and for your pitch to hook them.
Of pitches I’ve critiqued, I would estimate that half do not clearly state the external conflict and or the main character’s role in it. Author bias really kicks in here -you know your story so well that your subconscious fills holes in your pitch, but critical readers can point them out, so you can fill holes and clarify that pitch for industry professionals. This is where I highly recommend trading pitch feedback with other writers.
“But falling in love wasn’t part of the plan…” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad.
“There’s only one way to find out and stop being scared -climb the tree beside the house and meet the THING!” -my picture book pitch.
Once you have introduced a character and conflict which has hooked our interest, we need to know not only the external stakes, but the personal stakes your character faces. A pitch in which the stakes are ‘or the world will be destroyed’ is generic and ‘the world/ fantasy kingdom x’ is an anonymous entity the reader knows nothing about, so it has little impact on us. A character however, is someone we can connect with, so when you threaten that character, we feel something. If external conflict is key to your story, be sure to state the character’s role in it and the personal stakes their role entails.
(Conflict and) Stakes Examples
“…completing his mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.” -Debbie Haddad.
“But ‘safe’ is a relative term. For both of them.” -Halla Williams.
Character Growth and Impossible Choice/ More Tension
Perhaps the greatest place to hook a reader into your pitch emotionally is when you state how your character must grow or develop in order to overcome the conflict. If main character Jane hates estranged uncle Tom, but his knowledge is crucial to preventing granny’s murder and Jane must learn to forgive Tom his past mistakes to enlist his help in saving Granny -that adds tension to the conflict.
Specific demons from your character’s past (or other obstacles or shortcomings) they must overcome to resolve the conflict are often the thing that makes me lament your book not being in print yet, because I want to read it. Think about how your character must change to overcome the conflict they face and try to include it in your pitch. If you struggle to identify how your character changes (I did in my first Pitmad), this may be a sign that your novel isn’t ready to query and that your main character’s arc needs another structural edit (as mine did.)
Impossible Choice Example
“…she must use her voice or let her captain perish.” -Halla Williams.
But Wait, There’s More
The Save the Cat Formula features an addition that may be difficult to fit in a pitch, but can make a pitch highly engaging to read. This final ingredient to kick your pitch up a level is adding a complication to your character’s ability to resolve the conflict and indicating how this complication raises the stakes. What factor makes it even harder for your MC to achieve their goal? Does a friend betray them? Do they lose an asset crucial to success at the eleventh hour? Can you jam this complication and an indication of how it raises the stakes into your pitch?
“When a monster army invades…” (the second conflict in my novel).
Tweet Pitch Examples which got Agent Likes
The above pitch elements may seem like a lot, and you may only fit some of them into each pitch -which is why it’s great you get 3- so you can highlight different elements in each one. Here’s the pitches I’ve referenced above -each reference is often sections of 2 different pitches.
Late June update: Halla is now agented -congrats Halla!
My (Elise Carlson’s) pitch.
How Do I Achieve All This On My Own?
You don’t. Whether you’re writing tweet pitches or a query letter pitch: tweet on #AmQuerying and #WritingCommunity asking who’s happy to trade pitch feedback. Offer to give others feedback in exchange. Most of what I’ve learnt about pitch craft came not from reading blogs like this, but from reading MANY tweet pitches and query letters -critically- and providing feedback to help other writers strengthen their pitches. Not all of this knowledge applied directly to my own pitches (to date), but all of it has given me valuable insights.
If you’d like to join a Discord Server focused on querying and including tweet pitch and query and synopsis feedback channels, let me know by replying to this tweet or using my contact page.
Another way to learn from other writers is to enter ‘#Pitmad’ (or whichever pitch party you’re doing’s tag), and the genre tags you will pitch on into the twitter search bar, to read pitches from previous parties. Some will unfortunately be rough and in need of editing, but many will be jaw dropping and great mentor pitches to learn from.
I’ve listed the pitch parties I’m aware of, which months they’re held in and links to Pitch Party websites here.
You’ll find resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding and Communicating with Literary Agents, in this post.
If you’re new to Twitter, the bottom section of my Social Media For Writer’s is full of advice to help you get started, and I’ve cataloged other #WritingCommunity hashtags to help you navigate the community in this Guide.