Sharon Mignerey on Pitching Your Book

Every writer out there needs to learn to pitch a project. Whether you're participating in a formal pitch session at a conference, asked what you're working on by an agent at a mixer, or on the phone with your editor when she says, "So tell me what you're writing next," you have to be able to boil down your idea into something concise, appealing, and hopefully marketable. Even if you're not great at thinking on your feet, a well-written nugget can be tucked into a query letter or an e-mail and used to great effect.

Recently, author Sharon Mignerey, who's also an amazing writing teacher, wrote an article so terrific on the topic for the Happily Ever After, the newsletter of the West Houston Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, that I asked for her permission to reprint it here, in two parts. She'll also be stopping by the blog the next two days to answer your questions on the topic.

The Pitch . . . Formula or Free-for-all?
by Sharon Mignerey

You’re on your way to the RWA conference in July, and you’ve taken that leap--made an appointment to meet with an editor or an agent.

Editors and agents are looking for new writers and new material. That’s why they attend conferences. That face to face contact with a person is as important to them as it is to you, but remember: it’s only an appointment. Important as the time may seem to you, world peace and your career as a writer do not hang in the balance on that ten or fifteen minutes. . . time that will simultaneously seem like forever and will also seem like trying to explain the plots of Kerrelyn Sparks’ Vampire series in two seconds flat.

Michael Hauge, author of Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds has this sage advice: Your only goal is to get an editor or agent to read your story. That’s all. Sounds simple enough, right? Except I know what you’re thinking. That elevator pitch you keep hearing about is a bit like trying to stuff a size 22 woman into a size 2 bikini. And you’re right. It can’t be done, not without things flopping out all over the place that should never, ever flop.

The following pointers will help you.

First, relax! Though you may view editors and agents as god-like creatures who hold your future in their hands, they do spit when they brush their teeth, and they do want the same thing you do – a good book (hopefully yours) in print. Editors, especially new ones, are often just as nervous as you are and just as anxious as you to make a good impression. Agents may be more extroverted, but they, too, want to make a good impression. When you put them at ease, you’ll be doing the same for yourself.

Second, be prepared. Your appointment will go more smoothly if you know what you want to talk about before you arrive. Whether you’re talking to an editor or an agent, they want to know about your work and about you. So, to prepare for that appointment . . .

Figure out what your story is about.

So how, exactly, are we supposed to do that? Stay tuned for tomorrow's post containing a terrific "formula," helpful examples, and some more of Sharon's excellent tips.

If you have questions about pitching fiction project, please feel free to ask away, and we'll do our best to help.

Guest Blogger bio: Sharon Mignerey can personally attest that she gets just as nervous pitching to editors and agents now as she did as an unpublished author. As the saying goes, feel the fear and do it anyway. Sharon’s most recent book is The Good Neighbor(November 2008) from Love Inspired Suspense. She’s closing in on the end of her Masters program at Seton Hill University and expects to graduate in January 2010.


A media consultant once suggested thinking of sound bites as well-worn stories to friends. The first time you tell a story or joke to a friend, it may wander clunkily to the conclusion. With each telling, you find the words that make it clear and engaging, and that amplifies the humor, pathos, whatever effect you want to create.

Since we all do this in our everyday lives, I found it a useful tip.

With hope, Wendy
Anonymous said…
Sharon, I can not wait for your how-tos. :) And I love your book recommendation.

Here's one of my own: Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques that Ensure a Great First Draft.

This book has a chapter on writing jacket flap copy (which is not the same as back copy) as a tool to keep you focused. It taught me a whole lot about my book, and offered me a different way to distill my story.

Wendy -- Good comment on sound bites!

jennymilch said…
Sharon already began to condense the complicated art of pitching into a single blog entry, so I imagine she'll be great at teaching how to do it for novels.

Two resources helped me with this. The first is Elizabeth Lyons' THE SELL YOUR NOVEL TOOLKIT, and the second is a pitch conference jointly sponsored by the New York Writers Workshop and the Algonkian people. They taught us their approach to pitching on Day 1, and on Days 2, 3, and 4 we sat down with editors and went to town.

By this point--don't throw tomatoes at me--I almost like the whole thing. My agent's out there doing it now, and oh, how I wish I were a fly on the wall...

Can't wait to hear what Sharon has to say!
Sharon said…
Wendy, I couldn't agree more. There's nothing better than a well-told joke or a well told story that pulls at the heart strings. A pitch shares in common getting to the punch line so that it has ... well ... punch!

Diane and Jenny, thanks for sharing your resources. (grin!) I see have more books to add to my library.

... Sharon

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