So, you have written a book. You think it’s good. You think it has potential. Your friends think so, too. First off, great job! You just demonstrated a lot of determination and tenacity. You didn’t give up. That’s great because you need those exact traits even more in this next step toward publishing. Now that you have written a story, you need to learn how to pitch a book idea to a literary agent. In this article, we’ll take you through the process of writing a book pitch. We’ll give you guidelines that will make your book proposal most likely to catch a literary agent’s attention and ultimately secure you both a literary agent and a book deal.
Before we begin though, let’s take a quick look at the how and why behind book pitches. In the book industry, it is hard to find anyone who wants to read a manuscript cold turkey. Instead, literary agents will search for potential talent by reading book pitches and, if interested, ask for more information. If the literary agent likes what they are seeing, they will get to work on creating a book deal for you.
That said, it’s important to talk about literary agents. How do you find one? Doing your homework here will save you time down the road. Research literary agency websites and read agent profiles. Also, see if you have any personal connections or recommendations through author friends.
Through your research, identify agents who have identified interest in the genre and type of book you want to pitch. If you skip this step, and mass mail your book idea to a list of “agents” you are going to waste your time and theirs. Don’t shoot in the dark, do your homework. Once you have a list of potential literary agents, it’s time to master your elevator book pitch.
How to Pitch a Book Idea – a Good One
Wait a moment, I can hear you saying. “Elevator book pitch” “book proposal” what do all these phrases mean —I just want to know how to pitch a book idea! Take a breath, here’s the secret . . . they all mean about the same thing. Back before covid, and hopefully after covid passes, one of the ways to meet a potential literary agent was at writing conferences. There, you could meet an agent face to face and give a verbal pitch. (Hence the term “elevator book pitch”) Nowadays you might call it a Zoom book pitch! Honestly though, this idea of an elevator (or Zoom) book pitch is a great one to keep in mind as you begin writing your book pitch.
So, what is a book pitch, and what does it look like? A book pitch is only a few hundred words and, if spoken, would last 60-90 seconds. The goal of a pitch is to summarize your story, compare it to others within the industry, and catch an agent’s attention. Not sure where to begin?
First off, is your book nonfiction or fiction? If it’s nonfiction, a book pitch will be much more practical and pragmatic. Historically, nonfiction book proposals were made before the book itself was written. That trend seems to be changing, but some things die hard, so the nonfiction book pitch remains focused more on pragmatics, while a pitch for fiction focuses on story. There is one exception to the nonfiction rule though —if you are writing a memoir, then structure it like a fiction pitch and focus on its story.
Still not sure where to begin? That’s okay. We’re here to help. Let’s imagine a scenario for a moment. You’ve got a fiction book proposal. It’s fantasy, and you’ve found an agent who likes fantasy, according to their online profile. Think about your story. What is the plot? Who is the protagonist? What is the conflict? You’ll want to articulate the big picture as concisely yet interestingly as possible. (Here’s one great prompt: how would it be described if it were on a back book cover?)
Once you’ve mastered putting your book idea into an interesting little nutshell, there’s one more thing you must know. Ready? What other books in the industry could it be compared to? Your literary agent needs to convince publishing investors that your book can succeed, so do your homework and know the industry.
Also, one word of warning: don’t claim to be the next fill-in-the-blank best-selling author. Could you be? Absolutely. But show that you know the industry enough to name some of the respectable, middle-of-the road successes with which the literary agent could compare your book.
Once you’ve written your book pitch, revise it ruthlessly. You want each sentence as close to perfect as possible — make all your words count! Think about it, this is the first time a literary agent is seeing your writing. If you don’t write a pitch well, how does that reflect on your writing? Ouch, right? So, keep working on that pitch.
How to score a book deal?
All right. You are tracking. You get the idea of how to pitch a book idea. But how are you going to succeed? Here’s the bottom line. You will need to be your own advocate. Do your homework. Research. Read website profiles. Make lists of potential literary agents. Write and rewrite your book pitch. If need be, tailor your pitch personally for each individual agent. Don’t forget to be ready to ask and answer questions confidently when a literary agent responds to your pitch.
With the rise of Amazon, if you have an entrepreneurial bent, you might decide that you want to go the self-publish route. If so, take a look at “How to Self Publish a Book in 2021“. However, self-publishing is hard work, so if you think the traditional route is for you….
Master the Elevator Pitch
I know, I know. We talked about this earlier, but have you realized how important it is? Let’s take one more look before we conclude. Let’s say (true book example) you have a book with dragons set in the Regency era and strongly influenced by Jane Austen’s bestselling classic. How are you going to connect all of that? I’ll give you a hint, “Imagine Pride & Prejudice with dragons.” Boom. You’ve caught someone’s attention with a few snappy, well-placed words and an amazing comparison.
To succeed, you are going to stoke your listener’s imagination and help them see connections between your story and some published books and authors. After all, if they succeeded, then you can, too!
Whew. That was a lot, wasn’t it? You just took a whistle-stop tour on learning how to pitch a book idea to publishers. There’s a lot to learn and remember, isn’t there? In fact, you could research the “how” of writing a book pitch for days and days and . . . well, you get the idea. (Not to mention researching the many literary agents out there) But, here’s a hint. Anyone can research and learn about book pitches or literary agents, but only you can pitch your book idea. You know your story, and you believe in it. You’re passionate and excited by your story.
Put that all together; it should be no surprise that you’re the best person to advocate and pitch your book? You can do this. It will take work, but you know all about work. After all, you just wrote a book and a pitch!