11 Questions for Crafting a Pitch

This weekend I taught at a writers’ conference and my topic was “Selling Your Stuff,” creating those all important sales materials for your book:

The one-sentence summary.
The query.
The pitch paragraph.
The elevator pitch.
The proposal.

I was talking to a room full of novelists, so I focused on fiction. I told them that the main elements of a pitch for a novel are:

Their choice, conflict, or goal
What’s at stake (may be implied)

But I know it’s still hard figuring out exactly the right way to pitch. You have to simplify your story and pitch a single plot thread and as few characters as possible. You have to be precise, and use specific (not vague) language. And you have to make it interesting, which means you need to find the most unique and special aspect of your story and make sure it’s covered in the pitch.

So I’ve come up with a set of 11 questions that I recommend novelists work through before even starting to craft a pitch or summary. If you think about the answers to these questions, and write them down, you’ll be more equipped to find the right elements of your story to include in the pitch.

The 11 Questions

1. What’s the genre of your book?

2. What’s the hook, or what’s most unique or special about your book?

3. Who is the protagonist and what’s the most interesting thing about him or her?

4. Who is the antagonist and how is he/she standing in the way of the protagonist’s goal?

5. What conflict, dilemma or choice does the protagonist face? (Central story question.)

6. What is at stake? What are the consequences of the choice or conflict?

7. What is the catalyst, or the main event that gets the story started?

8. What are the main points of action that drive the plot?

9. What is the setting of the story?

10. What is the interesting backstory that affects your characters in the current story?

11. What is the book’s theme?

The point of these questions is for you to identify the crucial elements that would make for a good pitch, and it’s best to figure it out before you get started rather than in the middle of trying to write your pitch paragraph or 1-sentence summary. Let me know if you find these helpful.

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  4. Beth Browne on August 5, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle, this is great stuff and I’m using it right now!!

  5. How To Write A Query Letter | Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    […] set of instructions for queries. Other places you can find specific information such as how to write a strong pitch for your book, or how to write an author bio. Here are the basics. Queries should include the following three […]

  6. Lelia Chealey on July 17, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    So helpful. I have learned so much from this blog. Thank you,Rachelle.

  7. Brandon Daubs on October 16, 2010 at 10:02 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle! This simple guide has helped me single out the most important points in my story, and consequently, will tame the wild ramblings of my synopsis paragraph(s). I appreciate your help.

  8. Snacks from the cruise buffet on October 1, 2010 at 5:59 AM

    >Very helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. Don't know what you get out of it but it's a help to many.

  9. Nath Jones on September 26, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    >Thanks so much~! Answering these questions about two novel manuscripts gave me a lot of confidence. Now I can go into the proposal writing process with a sense of resolve.

  10. Sharon A. Lavy on September 23, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    >Thanks Rachelle,

    I am in the process of refocusing one of my stories and this list will help me.

  11. Joanne M. Lozar Glenn on September 22, 2010 at 7:50 AM

    >Great info. How would the questions change, if at all, for pitching a memoir or nonfiction book?

  12. Julie Lindsey on September 21, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    >Wow! Talk about timely! I am headed to my first writers conference in less than 2 weeks and I have been so stressed about my pitch! I needed this HUGELY!!! Woot!

  13. Juli on September 21, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    >Great stuff, but I only write non-fiction. Any chance we could pick your brain for a similar list for non-fiction?


  14. Judith Robl on September 21, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    >Not only for crafting a pitch, the answers to these questions are critical in crafting the story in the first place.

    Wish I could have been in class — but perhaps next year.

    Thank you for all your good advice and sharing your knowledge so willingly.

  15. l_carter on September 21, 2010 at 6:29 AM

    >I attended your workshop and was one of the ones to stand and practice delivering my pitch to the class. You offered a helpful suggestion which I immediately incorporated into the pitch I presented an hour later to an editor. She requested a full manuscript. Thanks again for your advice and wonderful blog.
    Lisa Carter
    Sweet Tea with a Slice of Murder

  16. Carol J. Garvin on September 21, 2010 at 12:27 AM

    >This is the most thorough and concise information I've seen and is perfectly timed for me. I'm registered for the SiWC conference next month and am busy organizing everything I'm going to need so will print this post out as a checklist. Thanks so much!

  17. Laura Pauling on September 20, 2010 at 8:26 PM

    >These are terrific and not just for developing a pitch. But a good checklist while plotting your novel and/or doing macro revisions. Thanks!

  18. Anonymous on September 20, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    >I also liked number 8. Got others covered, I think, but that's worth considering.

  19. Brock S. Henning on September 20, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    >I like number 8 (main points of action driving the plot). I might've guessed a few of the others (just a few…grin), but number 8 made me think hard about what gears really crank the story forward.

    Thanks for the advice!

  20. Wendy Paine Miller on September 20, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    >Loved these questions 24 hours ago in class. Still love them.

    Here’s to getting some solid sleep tonight.

    Enjoyed meeting you, Rachelle.
    ~ Wendy

  21. Becky Avella on September 20, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    >Very helpful. Thank you!

  22. Sarah Collins Honenberger on September 20, 2010 at 12:51 PM

    >Single most important question to ask : Does this story need to be told? MEANING has it been told before? Why is it different from everything else out there?

  23. Michael K. Reynolds on September 20, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    >I'm sorry I missed your class. I'm hoping to be at the conference next year.

    I believe the elements of a pitch are not only fundamental for getting a book sold, but for having a book that's sellable in the first place. This is an important exercise for writers to go through at all development stages of their novels.

  24. Em-Musing on September 20, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    >Once again, spot on info. thanks

  25. Rick Barry on September 20, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    >Rachelle, I didn't get to pitch to you at the conference (did you notice your schedule fills up rather quickly?), but I used your points to pitch to an editor the next day. The result? A wonderful interview and a request for my full suspense manuscript. Thanks!

    P.S. It was a pleasure driving you to the hotel. My wife and I enjoyed the chat!

  26. Gospel Girly on September 20, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    >Thanks. It's quite useful … More stuff on fiction writing pretty please :-)))

  27. Liberty Speidel on September 20, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    >Very helpful! Especially since I've been writing and rewriting my query letter. 🙂 I imagine that these questions are just as important to a query as they are to an in-person pitch.

  28. Christine on September 20, 2010 at 8:08 AM

    >This is extremely helpful! Thank you!

  29. Athena Hernandez on September 20, 2010 at 6:52 AM

    >This is very helpful information; thanks for sharing. I am writing children’s stories, but all of this is applicable across genres. Thanks, again!

  30. Shayda Bakhshi on September 20, 2010 at 2:07 AM

    >So, so helpful! Bookmarking.

  31. Aimee L Salter on September 20, 2010 at 2:02 AM

    >More please! This practical stuff is gold!

  32. T. Anne on September 20, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    >Yay! This helps me tons. I’ll be working on the pitch summary and the synopsis for two of my novels this week. I’ll print this out and use it. Thanks!

  33. Anonymous on September 20, 2010 at 1:33 AM

    >Very helpful! I’ve heard that the theme was implied, not stated? Is it good to also include recent popular movies or TV shows with similar plots or settings (e.g. the “X meets Y” pitch)? Seems to be a favorite among some agents. What do you think?