The Basic Pitch Formula for Novelists

Midwest Writers Workshop

At the Midwest Writers Workshop, an agent panel gave some wonderful, straightforward advice about how to construct your pitch. You could use this formula as part of a query letter or in a live pitch. Brilliant!

Option 1

I have a completed [word count][genre] titled [title] about [protagonist name + small description] who [conflict].

Option 2

(1) What does your character want?
(2) Why does he want it?
(3) What keeps him from getting it?

Option 3

(1) Character name/description
(2) The conflict they’re going through
(3) The choices they have to make

4 best resources on query letter writing + identifying agents to query

  1. QueryShark (opportunity to get your query critiqued + read others critiqued)
  2. AgentQuery
  3. PublishersMarketplace (for in-depth info on agents + publishing deals, costs $20/year)
  4. Agency websites (as you begin to select and customize your queries and submissions for each agent appropriate for your work)

Other tips

  • Think of your query letter to the agent/editor as the first step in the SEDUCTION process.
  • Never say: “Let me start by telling you the backstory.” Your story doesn’t start in the right place if that’s necessary.
  • If you must mention 4+ characters in your pitch for it to make sense, you probably have some problems with the story.
  • The voice in the pitch should match the mood of the story.
  • Only start querying when you’d be comfortable with your manuscript appearing as-is (and being sold) between covers on major chain bookstore shelf.
  • It’s better to pitch a standalone novel “with series potential” (rather than pitching it as a series).
  • Looking for more? Check out Ortiz’s synopsis advice.


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