The only thing holding back your book is your pitch

Getting an agent is a massive hurdle for unpublished writers. But I’m here to tell you that you’re the only one preventing yourself from getting representation.

I define your pitch as both your elevator pitch and your query letter as a whole. This is the ultimate package that will set you apart from the crowd, set your reader up for expectations for what’s to come, and can absolutely set you up for the utmost success.

Starting Your Pitch

Provided you’ve done the leg work crafting your premise and writing (& editing!) your breakout book now you’ve got to write your query letter and fine tune your pitch. (Need more explanation on pitch vs. synopsis? See here.)

When you write your pitch you need to take off your author hat and put on your copywriter hat. There are no excuses for writers who can’t do this. In 2012 authors are brands, they’re social media marketers, and they’re expected to help in the promotion process. If you aren’t ready to do that you aren’t ready to be published in such a competitive market. Publishing is a business and while everyone in the industry loves books, they’re also in it to make it a successful venture for all parties involved.

What am I ‘pitching’?

You’ve got your copywriter hat on? Great. So what are you selling today?

You need to convey why an agent and/or editor needs to request your full manuscript and push it to the top of the pile. That’s the job of your query letter.

What if I’m stumped about how to pitch my book?

Well, you wrote it, so you’re the best person to pitch it.

Elevator Pitch: Who is your main character? What is their situation? What are they trying to overcome? How are they going to do it? What are the themes that are important to the main character and to us as readers? What is the essence of your book?

Readers first and foremost care about themselves, so how are you going to convey that by picking up your book we’ll learn more about ourselves?

Three Little Pigs Pitch: With his brothers already devoured by a serial killer known only as The Big Bad Wolf, the third pig fights for his life with just a pile of bricks between him and certain death.

Pitch complete, now to the query letter

Here’s a formula. Each paragraph below denotes a separate paragraph in your query. (To read more see this previous post.)

Dear [name of agent, no sir/madam]

Elevator Pitch in one paragraph

My book is called [your book’s title in italics]. It is complete and consists of [word count e.g. 80,000 words]. My book fits firmly into [your book’s genre – pick one genre only]. Readers of my book would also read [list three books that are in the same genre as your book and would be read by readers of your book. This will show that you understand the genre and will reassure the agent that your book is in a genre that they represent].

Very short description of your book’s plot.

Author biography [published books, writing experience, whatever you think might set you apart from the crowd]

See how easy that was?

Now you can never say you don’t know how to pitch, or you don’t know how to write a query letter. It’s up to you to craft a query and pitch that reflects all the great work you’ve put into your novel.

I know a sales pitch is the last thing writers think about, but it’s the first thing that gets agent and editor attention. You are the only one responsible for your success. So take it into your hands and do your best. Don’t let us push your query to the bottom of our list.

[With information from]

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

5 thoughts on “The only thing holding back your book is your pitch

  1. So I’ve been mulling something in this post over since I read it this morning – what if your book doesn’t have a clear genre? Is ‘literary fiction’ too broad? I’m writing a travel story, but it’s not really about travel so much ex-pats and people who get lost when they go searching for themselves. I might put it in line with something like ‘On the Road’ but I’m honestly not that keen on that book (does it matter if I like the books I’m referencing?), or maybe ‘The Sun Also Rises’ or Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Suttree’ which I do like. What would you call that genre? What does an author do about being a difficult genre-zone?


    1. Literary fiction is not too broad. But you can say ‘In the tradition of [book title]’ or ‘[Book title] meets [Book title]’ to show some comparison.

      Be very careful with which books you are comparing yourself to. Pick something that fits your historical time period, tone, writing style and overall themes. The Sun Also Rises is not a great choice because it seems presumptuous. Don’t pick books that you just ‘like’ to reference yourself to, but think very hard about what those comps say about you and your writing in your query.

      Does that help?


  2. Hi Carly,
    I think I am among the many who love writing but are terrified at the idea of trying to pitch it. I will be sending you a query letter very soon, and was so grateful that you shared your insight on this!


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