Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pitch Perfect

This week I had a moment of extreme bravery (or insanity) and pitched in public. Talk about walk out the house with your skirt tucked into your knickers!

But that’s exactly what I did when I joined YA LitChat’s “An Agent for the Holidays” pitch event.

Luckily for me, I’ve had a few nibbles, so it was definitely worth doing. (It’s running until December 12, by the way, so get on to it!). But wow, was it nerve wracking!

Later, as the pages of pitches mounted up and curiosity got the better of me, I started reading through all the pitches from dozens of writers. Some stories really appealed to me, others weren’t my kind of thing.

Reading the pitches gave me an insight into how an agent might feel when they open their emails. Some stories are going to give them a thrill of delight and they’ll want more, others will have them shaking their heads, trying to make sense of it.

I can tell you, after reading a few pages of pitches, I started skimming the ones that didn’t grab me right away. Isn’t that horrible of me to admit that? Yep. But, guess what? I’m human. After a while, there’s only so much I can take in. I bet this happens to agents as well. (Plus, I noticed someone else had a similar idea to mine, which is always going to happen because there’s no such thing as a new idea, just a different way of telling an old story.

Six sentences can’t possibly do your novel justice, but it is enough in some cases to give an agent the flavor of your book. Plus, even if you’re not looking for an agent, putting the essence of your novel into six sentences is a terrific way to keep the focus.

BUT - if you’ve never written a pitch, and you’ve never read what other writers do, where the heck do you even start?

Read through the pages on An Agent for the Holidays and take note of the pitches appeal to you. Break down what they've done. Have they explained everything? Most likely not. Instead, they've explained enough to give you the general idea.

Plus, what appeals to you (mysteries, suspense, revenge) will not appeal to everyone. There will be pitches there that make you wonder why an agent hasn't asked for more, while others are getting lots of attention. Ultimately this comes down to personal taste, and as we all know, publishing is so subjective.

Also, find agents who blog, and read their archives. They will often post examples of pitches that have piqued their interest.

Kristin Nelson at is a prime example. Scroll down the side bar of her blog and you’ll see a whole swag of queries that worked for her.

The more examples you read of successful pitches, the more tuned in you will become. You’ll start to see a pattern developing. The inciting incident, for example (sometimes called the ‘plot catalyst’ for without that moment, the rest of the story cannot happen). The basic needs and goals of the main character. What’s stopping them or what's in their way?

So, now you know how to get started, what’s stopping you?

~Ebony McKenna author of the Ondine series. The Ondine books are a sparkling combination of romance and magic – perfect for teen girls. Written with genuine humour and unique eccentricity, the series is an obvious choice for fans of The Princess Bride and Ella Enchanted.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I meant to edit that, but it would only let me delete.
    What I meant to say was, even if you're not ready to pitch, reading a whole lot of them in one go is a great way to see how it's done.

  3. Hi Ebony,

    Thanks for the info. :-)

    I would be terrified to post my pitch but I guess if you can't put your pitch out to the world how will that work when it comes time to have your baby - sorry book out there?

    I loved your post and enjoyed the Ondine books they were so full of sparkle and humour.


  4. Hi Margaret,
    thank you so much!
    Going public isn't normally my thing either! But I am so grateful to all the other writers who have pitched, because they have set an amazing example.

    It also gives me a little insight into what it must be like for agents, seeing so many pitches/queries day after day.

  5. Reading other people's writing - in whatever form - is always useful, but I agree that reading what an agent or editor reads daily gives amazing perspective. When I was interning at Allen and Unwin I learnt so much from reading MSs they were considering or revising. A lot of the "writing rules" we learn went out the window and it all came back to powerful voice or powerful concept. You realise all over again that all anyone wants is a story that grabs them.

  6. I've never had the nerve to do an online pitch so congratulations, Ebony! And great that there have been requests. Pitching is always hard - how to condense your story down to the crucial elements, give indication as to tone and voice etc. within a few sentences is truly a black art.

  7. Anna, this is spot on. At the end of the day, a strong story that grabs your interest beats all the other clever things we try to 'learn' about writing.

  8. Hi Louise,
    It absolutely is a black art, and I don't think I've nailed it yet. BUT, I think I'm getting better (or at least not sucking as much as I used to, lol!)