How to Create a Standout Pitch for Your Novel

Thanks to our Undiscovered Voices founders, Sara Grant and Sara O’Connor, who put together this guide, you can figure out the best approach to writing your pitch.

This year, the elevator pitch for UV submissions is 35 words. You don’t have to use all these words – sometimes, the shorter and snappier, the better.

There are several different approaches to use when writing a great pitch. You have to choose the one that best encapsulates your story. The overall purpose of any pitch is to grab attention and make the agent or editor want to read more.

What’s the objective of a great pitch?

If you can help agents easily and quickly understand your idea, then you can help them sell it to editors, acquisition team members, booksellers and ultimately, readers. We’re going to give you a few ways to pitch your novel to make it stand out.

Practical pitching ideas

Distilling what has taken you months and possibly years to create into a short pitch isn’t easy. We advise you to craft several pitches. Try them out on writer friends. Learn them in a conversational fashion – not an actor reciting lines.

We also suggest developing your pitch in increments. Create a very short pitch – one or two lines. For example, ‘A funny middle-grade fantasy that’s Game of Thrones meets Captain Underpants.’ You could leave it here or add a line or two more. ‘When two, 12-year-old practical jokers lead warring Year 6 classrooms for the rule of the school playground.’ And finish with something emotional – why you wrote it, what is the heart of the story. This would use the full 35-word submission limit. Equally, though, the strapline, if strong, could be enough.

Some pitfalls to watch out for

Be careful that your pitch accurately represents your work. You are setting an expectation that you must live up to. Is your story really Harry Potter meets the Hunger Games? Also, make your references current and well-known. Once Sara G created the perfect pitch, which included a reference to one of her favourite 1980s TV shows Quantum Leap. It perfectly encapsulated what her book was about. So why did the two twenty-something editors look confused? They’d never heard of Quantum Leap. They weren’t even born when it first aired. Needless to say, that pitch didn’t work.

Here are some top-pitch tips to try out.

There are many ways to pitch your novel. Here are four different pitch techniques to try out, or to use in combination with each other:

  1. X is Y until Z*

X = Character

Y = Circumstances

Z = Inciting Incident

*technique from via

An example from a well-known book: Stanley Yelnats is being forced by the Warden to dig holes in the desert as a punishment for a crime he didn’t commit, until the curses of the past catch up to Stanley… and the Warden.

Another example for the series My Sister the Vampire: Cheerleader Olivia is nervous at her new school until she bumps into a gothy vampire girl who turns out to be the twin sister she never knew she had.

  • The Movie Pitch: X meets Y

Combine well-known references – books or TV shows but most often movies, but not overused ones. Know who you will be pitching to and pick points of references they will know and understand. Sara G’s editor at Little, Brown pitched her debut novel Dark Parties as 1984 meets Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also effective to compare two unexpected references. For example, “Bake Off meets Pokémon Go”. But you’ll have to follow up with a quick sentence to show why that comparison makes sense for your story.

  • The ‘For’ Pitch

With this pitching style, you find a book, movie or TV series reference that is similar to your book, but you have put your unique spin on the idea for the age range of your targeted readers. For example, Sara G pitched her book series Chasing Danger as “Charlie’s Angels for tweens.” It perfectly captured the ‘girl power’ and ‘action-adventure’ vibe in the series. Be careful that the age groups are contrasting enough to make sense, but not be too unbelievable. For example, 50 Shades of Grey for 5 to 8-year-olds would certainly get an agent’s attention, but not for the right reasons.

  • The Core Problem/Idea

This type of pitch is the most difficult because it can easily get bogged down in the plot, and you can end up summarizing what happens in your story instead of pitching. If the idea —or concept – is so amazing that you have to have it in your pitch, it MUST be brief. A good example of this type of pitch is Patrick Ness’s Knife of Never Letting Go: His story is set in a world where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts all the time. Here’s another example for Dinosaur Cove, a series for young readers: “Two young boys find a secret cave that leads to a world of real, live dinosaurs.”

We wish you great success with your pitching!