February 22nd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Writers Conferences:  More on Pitching

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Original Idea and Pitching

The original idea is also critical when it comes to pitching your manuscript. Guess what the opening line of your pitch is?  In fact, we think it might well be your entire pitch.  This is also the basis for your query letter and will most likely be the first thing an editor or agents reads.

The goal of a one-on-one with an agent or editor is to get them excited and asking you questions.

There are good questions and bad questions.  Good questions are:  That’s really interesting, tell me more about X?  A bad question is:  I don’t get it.  Tell me what you really mean?

We understand you may think this is terribly unfair. You may feel that taking four hundred pages of brilliant manuscript and trying to sell it on the basis of just a sentence or two is a travesty, but here is something to consider–how do you buy a book? Most people buy because they know the author and like reading him or her. But if you are a new writer, then you don’t have this option. So how do you buy a book from an author you never heard of? Do you stand in the bookstore, read the entire book, then go and pay for it?

Go to your local bookstore or even better, local supermarket. Stand near the paperback racks. Watch how long each person peruses the books on the shelves. How many seconds do they give to each book? Then, when they pick a book up, how long do they spend looking at it?
 Why should it be any different for agents and editors?

You have even less time to grab the attention of a reader during the on-line shopping experience.

Remember, this is just our collective opinion and experience, which is also what you are getting when you pitch an editor or agent, plus we try to take their additional issue of not only do I like it, but “Can I sell this?”

Tips for the Elevator Pitch

Have an anomaly for your protagonist

Often we give clichés.  You’ll see where we point this out below.  Give us something we don’t expect from that type of character.  Regardless of what you think of Twilight (Bob only saw first movie, sorry but Jennifer read all four books and she liked them) it worked.

The first book had two anomalies:  no sex despite intense desire, and sunlight doesn’t kill, it makes them sparkle.

Russell Crowe in LA Confidential is a thug.  But he always protects women in peril.  You want to know why.

Writing Series, Pitch First Book

We recommend you focus your energy on the first book.

TNWIFConference(6)You should know your common concept (for Bob—West Point, for Brockmann—SEAL teams, for Susan Wiggs—a town, etc) and common theme (for Bob—Honor vs Loyalty).  And roughly what the follow on books are going to be (for Bob’s Duty, Honor, Country, 1st book 1840 to Battle of Shiloh, Book 2 Shiloh to Vicksburg, Book Three Vicksburg to Gettysburg, etc).  Also, writing the second book in a series when the first hasn’t sold could be fruitless if the second book relies on the first book to have been sold.


In 45 books, Bob had only one title changed without his consent.  Jennifer was asked twice to change a title. The first one had been because the publisher had another title come out the same week with a similar name. The second time the editor just didn’t like the title.

Bob also changed three titles after discussing it with his editor.  Bob secretly wishes he had changed a lot more following this advice:

  • Title should do one (or both) of two things:  Invite readers into the book by giving them have an idea what the book is about.  Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy.  Area 51 (by Bob—which was originally titled Dreamland which means nothing) has sold over 1 million copies with the Area 51 title, but would have died a quiet midlist death with original title.
  • Or the title should be a juxtaposition of words that don’t belong together and intrigues you:  Lovely Bones.  Bottom line, when your book is spine out in store, the title must make the casual buyer reach out and want to see what the heck this is about.

Don’t be a Secret Keeper

We sometimes believe that by withholding something we’re intriguing the agent/editor and making them want to know more.  Nope.  We’re just irritating them.  Flat out tell them the secret.  Let them know what’s at stake.  What’s at the core of the book.

Never tell an editor or agent they will have to read the book to find out what happens.

Focus on Protagonist Goals

What does your protagonist want to achieve?  A goal is an external concrete thing.  Motivation is why they are trying to achieve that goal.   You want to steer away from a protagonist goal where they are escaping, surviving or running awayFirefly was interesting, but failed ultimately because the people on the spaceship had no goal other than survival.  It wears on the reader/watcher after a while, because there’s never an end in sight.

Say Something about Character

Names mean little during a pitch session. Give the editor or agent something tangible about your character. Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? Remember the pitch should say something about your characters goal and their conflict.

Perfect the Pitch

A disjointed pitch is a problem.  If words are so far out of synch it jars the reader in a negative way, you’re disjointed.  The example, “love, mayhem, and possibly the apocalypse.”  The third is so out of the league of the first two, you might as well forget about them.

Book Goal

What goal is pulling the train?  Sometimes in the pitch there is a laundry list of goals.  You have ONE goal for your protagonist.  That’s the key.  Everything else is subplot so focus on the one main goal. Ask yourself who is your story about, what do they want and why can’t they have it? That should help keep you focused on main goal for your main character.

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2 comments to “Writers Conferences: More on Pitching”

  1. Heather Marsten
     · February 23rd, 2012 at 3:56 pm · Link

    Thanks for these helpful pitch ideas – I’m doing a re-write of my first draft, so pitching is getting closer. Regarding forgetting the day – all too often. My husband and I are constantly mixing up the days (we joke that between us we have almost a whole, functioning brain.) Recently, on a Monday, I was talking with a friend at a meeting that occurs every second Monday. I drove up when I saw the cars in the parking lot and three or four times I said, I’ll have to remember to get here on the second Tuesday – they kept saying “Monday.” LOL, they must think I am sacked.
    Have a blessed day.

  2. mindy halleck
     · July 27th, 2012 at 10:10 am · Link

    Good article on pitching and conferences – I linked to it in an article on my blog. Thanks, Mindy mindyhalleck. blogspot. com 😛


  1. Idea (the heart of your story) and Conflict (the fuel of your story) | Bob Mayer's Blog

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