You’ve just typed ‘The End’ and you know that this story or article is hands down the best thing you have ever written. I believe you. I do.
But before you go attaching your work and bashing out an email where you will tell the recipient that this story will take the world by storm, let’s take a little time to concentrate on arguably the most important part of your road to publication: Your story pitch.
With submissions in publishing at an all-time high, with most agents receiving around forty to fifty submissions a day, the job of your story pitch is to (as quickly as possible) make your story stand out from the crowd.
In this guide we will look at how to grab the attention of your pitch reviewer from the minute they open your email. In just the opening line, we are going to make your reader sit up and take notice of your submission. Not only that, but we’re also going to tell them why it will sell, why they should pick your story above all the other submissions, using the example below of a story pitch template.
So, before you go hitting that send button, let’s talk about why getting your story pitch right is important and what you need to do to get it right the first time.
What is a Story Pitch?
A story pitch is a succinct way of explaining what your story is about, what makes it right for the person you are pitching it to, and why it will sell.
Pitches are used throughout the publishing industry, be it journalists pitching to newspapers and magazines, screenwriters wanting the next hit on Netflix, or authors hoping to grab an agent’s attention with a view to bagging that all important publishing deal.
Regardless of where in the industry you are aiming to see your work, a good story pitch is vital if you’re hoping to break into this highly competitive market.
Why is it Important to Know How to Pitch Your Story?
As a new writer, the question I most dreaded was, ‘What’s your story about?’ I would describe what happens at the beginning of the book, waffle on using words like, ‘oh and then’ and ‘meanwhile,’ and after five minutes I would see the person’s eyes glaze over. Publishers, agents, and booksellers do not have that time.
Not only do you need to be able to pitch your idea quickly, but they will also need to when they try to sell it to publishers or bookshops.
The good news is that if you can show them how easily your story will grab a reader’s attention from the onset, then you’ve just made their job a whole lot easier.
How to Pitch a Story
Right, so you have this killer story, you know it’s something special, so how on earth do you describe this masterpiece in just one line or, at best, a short paragraph?
The easiest way is to focus on the key elements of your story (for novel submissions, forget about your side characters and subplots for now, that will all become apparent in your synopsis). To hone your pitch, you need to concentrate on the key elements of your story, why it will fit that publishing establishment and why they need you.
So, what does a good story pitch include?
- A hooky first line
- A short paragraph describing your story by focusing on the key elements. For fiction these will be your protagonist – the event that upsets their world; what they hope to achieve and what is getting in their way
- A popular comparison to explain genre, setting, theme
- A reason why your work will fit that establishment
- Credentials explaining why they should work with you
Simple right? But what if you’re not sure of the answers to these questions?
Know Your Story
Before you begin writing your pitch, you must be able to identify the key elements of your story.
For a novel submission, here are five key components you must highlight when writing a good story pitch.
1. Your Protagonist
The first thing a pitch reviewer will be asking is who is your protagonist and most importantly why should we be rooting for them? You might know the answer to this, but to pitch successfully, you need to tell that agent/publisher why your readers are going to want them to succeed. Unless we are rooting for them, why should we care what happens to them? Why would we keep turning the pages?
Your explanation of your protagonist can be as simple as a bubbly hard-working woman called Helen who has never caught a break, or on the other end of the spectrum, we could have Rob, a grieving father who has tracked down the person who killed his daughter.
2. The Event That Upsets Their World
Now we know and are championing your protagonist, what happens to push them out of their comfort zone and into a new world?
This is very important because this is often where you will find the hook of your novel, the reason that a reader will have picked up your story from the shelf, the thing that screams out from the blurb.
So, does Helen, the bubbly hardworking woman suddenly get offered the job of a lifetime? Or does Rob the grieving father kill the wrong person?
3. What do they eventually want to achieve? What is their goal?
Now we have your lovable protagonist thrown into a new world, what is it they want? Does Helen now want to leave the new high-pressure job? Does Rob want to atone for his mistake?
4. What is standing in their way?
Next, what is stopping your protagonist from getting what they want? Has Helen become tangled up in some dodgy dealings with her new employer? Does Rob’s victim’s family come after him?
Now you know these answers, it’s time to show where your story fits in the market.
5. Compare Your Story
Finally, and very importantly, what book can your story be compared to?
Not sure? No problem, these comparisons can be a mix of literature, film or simply an author. It’s all about highlighting the story and the style of writing. Feel free to mix them up! The above examples could be ‘If Sophie Kinsella had written The Firm’ or ‘Dexter meets Gone Girl.’
Take some time to think about comparisons, your examples should reflect your genre, protagonist, and style.
Do Your Research
Congratulations, you can now identify the key elements to your story and you have your comparisons ready – so what now?
The first thing is to research the organisation you are targeting. Take some time to look at the novels on their lists, or if you’re pitching a magazine or newspaper check if they have published similar articles and when?
Follow Submission Guidelines
I know you’re chomping at the bit to get your story out there, but a word of caution. Check the submission guidelines. If the agent/editor/magazine asks for a one-page synopsis, do not send them three. If they only accept email submissions, do not send them a hard copy.
If you can’t find submission guidelines on their website, then contact them for clarification.
Ensure A Clear Subject Line for Email Pitches
Once again, make sure you comply with the submission guidelines. Often an agency will have an email address specifically for submissions; the most common format in this case would be to have your book title followed by your name in the subject line. Check what they are looking for.
Engage with a Strong Opening Line
Right then, here we go. You’ve checked who you are sending your submission to and you have stuck to the guidelines – so now it’s time to grab their attention.
Remember that first impressions count, so before you explain your idea in more detail, grab your pitch reviewer’s attention with the very first line.
A good way to do this is by using the words ‘what if’ or ‘imagine’: ‘What if you landed your dream job only to find out that you couldn’t escape it?’ or ‘Imagine if your daughter was murdered and you knew where her killer lived.’
Within your first line you have grabbed their attention, pitched your hook, genre and shown your protagonist.
Construct the pitch
Now is the time to expand your story pitch in a short paragraph revealing those all-important key elements:
‘Imagine if Sophie Kinsella had written The Firm, this is what you get in my romantic comedy THE DREAM JOB where we meet Helen who…’ or ‘With shades of Gone Girl and Dexter, my psychological thriller I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE follows Robert Green, a grieving father who is set on a path of revenge when he finds out where his daughter’s killer lives…’
Provide Compelling Reasons to Publish
You have their attention, they like your idea, so why should they consider your story for publication as opposed to the other pitches in their submission pile?
Easy, you tell them!
You tell them where it sits in the market, which titles are similar but what makes your story stand out: Do you have an unusual protagonist? Is it set over the course of just one week? Or in a village during a power cut?
This is your chance to show them you know what you’re talking about and how this book is going to make them (and you!) a lot of money.
Tell Them About Yourself
You’ve done it, you’ve intrigued them – now they need to know about you.
Tell them about your qualifications, your credentials and background but keep it brief. If you haven’t got any qualifications, explain why you’ve decided to become a writer.
If you have been published before, mention this and provide a link to any relevant online resources or profiles.
Thank Them for Their Attention
Last, but not least, thank the pitch reviewer for their time and attention. Always be polite and professional. If you have established a positive professional relationship already, they may keep you in mind for future projects.
Story Pitch Template
Excited? I am!
You now have all the tools to pitch your story – so here is a basic story pitch template to help you along the way:
- Subject line: Follow the guidelines for story pitches to agents/publishers. This will often be your book title followed by your name.
- Salutation: Be sure to address this to the correct person. If you are unsure who will read your submission, a simple ‘Hi!’ will suffice.
- Headline and Introduction: Start with a simple and brief ‘I hope this email finds you well’ then get straight to your one-line story pitch or headline, if you are approaching magazines/newspapers. Make this as engaging and grabby as you can! For fiction, here is where you can use your ‘Imagine’ and ‘What if…’ sentence starters.
- Story Summary: Make this a short, concise paragraph where you focus on the key elements to your story.
- Story Relevance: Explain who this story will appeal to, why it stands out from the crowd, why it will sell.
- Author Bio: Add your credentials, background, qualifications, or if this is your first foray into the publishing world, explain why; be passionate about your decision.
- Contact Details: Give details of how you wish to be contacted. Make sure this is all correct. One typo in an email or missing number in your phone number could mean all the difference.
- Thanks: Thank them for reading your pitch, be polite, friendly and professional at all times (especially if you are rejected).
Writing a Story Pitch
And there we have it! I hope that this guide helps you understand the importance of your story pitch and what is needed to pitch successfully.
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