The Art of the Pitch

This blog is called “Ask the Agent”. But I haven’t been dispensing much agently advice yet. There are some excellent books out on how to write book proposals, how to find an agent and how to get published. But I am here to give some tips as well. It is a tough world out there. And if you aren’t a disgraced ex-governor of Alaska, it is pretty hard to get a book contract. So here are some tips and examples of weak and strong pitches to make in your book proposal.

Weak: I am willing to go on an 8 city tour (they probably won’t send you, and this indicates  that you might have unrealistic expectations. They used to let you travel first class and stay at the Ritz Carlton. They’re hard up now, so expect to go by Greyhound.)

 Strong: I am willing to schedule an 8 city tour at my expense (or  any other ideas that include:  “at my expense” are always popular with publishers)

Weak: This would be a great story on Oprah (uh-huh. It’s also the oldest story in the book. Similarly unrealistic)

Strong: I am sleeping with Oprah’s hairdresser. ( If you are going to pitch media connections, they should  be concrete and have reasonable expectations of results. But don’t oversell yourself. They can smell bull shit.)

Weak: I am willing to go  to book signings at my local bookstore (They know that anyway. And this won’t sell books).

Strong: I have arranged presentations with the staff at Google. Steve Jobs loves my book and has agreed to purchase 5000 copies to give to the key employees at Christmas time. They are also interested in purchasing non-verbatim electronic multi-media rights as an app for the I-pod. (This is too good to be true, so you better get Steve to write a letter to that effect. Publishers love sales outside of bookstores. It is like extra money.)

Weak: I will reluctantly agree to be on Fresh Air, schedule permitting.  (If you are not going to aggressively flog the product, this will not be well received. )

Weak: This will make a great movie (see Oprah above).

Strong: Film rights for this product have been optioned to Stephen Spielberg (there might be a possibility here, but there are many options out with few movies ever made).

Very Strong: Film Rights have been sold to Stephen Spielberg.  Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are signed up. Currently being filmed on location in Montana. (This pitch doesn’t happen very often).

Strong: I am the extremely charismatic and controversial governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate. (Don’t worry that she is inarticulate, has nothing to say, and can’t write).

Almost as strong: I am the extremely charismatic and controversial governor of Alaska who has quit with disgrace and lack of dignity. (Hey, it’s all about celebrity).

Weak: My neighbor will host a publication  party. (See booksigning above)

Strong: My neighbor is Barack Obama, and he will give a publication party at the White House (nuff said)

Weak: My friends loved this book. (Your friends won’t tell you the truth).

Strong:  My friend, Bill O’Reilly (Rachel Maddow) loved this book. (Connections, connections connections).

Weak: My mother and spouse loved this book. (Oh, come on!)

Strong: My mother is the disgraced former governor of Alaska and she loved this book. My former boyfriend hated this book and will go public and tell tawdry and salacious tales about me. (In this business, there is no such thing as bad publicity.)

 Weak: I’ll set up a blog and a website (whoopee!)

 Very Weak: I have a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day and will promote my new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My blog is called (All blogs are not equal. All successful blogs are not equal).
Strong: I have a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day and will promote my new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My blog is called

Weak: Your  readers are going to love this book. It is like Petrarch meets Robespierre. (Although publishers are infatuated with pitches premised on dubious and glib equivalencies, the pitch must be based on subjects that are readily recognized – usually in the Safeway checkout line.)

Strong: Your readers are going to love this book. It is like the Bronte sisters meet the Olson Twins.

 We welcome examples of Good pitch / Bad pitch from our readers


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6 Responses to “The Art of the Pitch”

  1. Chris Wolfgang Says:

    Oh ouch. Basically, focus on living, not being published. One’s best shot seems to lie in living the most interesting life one can.

  2. andyrossagency Says:

    Chris, that is a healthy attitude.

  3. how to write a book Says:

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  4. Courtney Says:

    Hello, I tried to follow your blog but my blog site shows an error, so I will try again later. I thought this article was very-well written and even funny! I also love your post “How to Write a Great Marketing Plan For Your Book Proposal”. Keep up the great work!

  5. Mel Says:

    Basically you’re saying, if you’re an unknown writer without previous writing credentials and don’t have famous, newsworthy, or otherwise beneficial contacts, don’t bother pitching anything other than “Here’s my story about (insert sentence-long summary).”

    You welcome good/bad pitches from your readers? How about good/bad advice? Because pitches should just be straight forward and to the point. Listing redundant examples isn’t really all that helpful for aspiring writers.

    Agents/editors don’t have time to read through sensationalized marketing pitches or self aggrandizing elevator pitches. They want all the facts within a matter of seconds. The story itself should be hook enough. If the writer can’t provoke interest when describing their story, there’s either something wrong with their description or something wrong the story.

    *My* advice would be to research the individual agents or editors directly. Many have blogs or their own websites. They tend to comment on their pet peeves and the do’s/don’ts of their trade, including specifics about querying to them.

    People interested in querying them should tailor their query to each individual agent/editor to meet their specifications rather than writing a boiler plate, mass-mailed query letter for all agents/editors. Because, after all, they are all different and have widely varying preferences.

    It goes a long way to show the agent/editor that you followed directions and read their blogs because it demonstrates your professionalism and astute observations. They’re more likely to see you as a favorable candidate to work with rather than someone too lazy to research the details, (not unlike writers who fail to format their manuscripts to the editor’s specifications).

    But first and foremost, a query should only preface a marketable, already-written, and polished product. If the story is deficient, it won’t matter how many blog posts you’ve read or how many friends you have.

    And when it comes to credentials, just mention those that are applicable. If you published in a literary magazine within your genre, mention that. If you have 30,000 Facebook followers and generate a lot of traffic on your website to help drive sales, mention that as well. If you haven’t published, leave it out, they’ll assume as much anyway.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this more likely to impress you as an agent than someone who tries to “dress-up” their queries or schmooze you with praise and self-confidence?

    Just my two cents, adjusted for inflation. 😉

  6. andyrossagency Says:

    Mel, that’s good advice. I don’t think you really need to customize your pitch to every agent, though. It would be better to research each agent and develop a list of ones who are interested in the subject you are writing about. I agree with you about not wasting your time schmoozing up agents. It doesn’t really help.

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