Why Your Book Pitch Matters (Even If You Don't Want an Agent)
by Joel Friedlander
Imagine for a moment that you've hopped into an elevator on your way somewhere. You're carrying the proof of your book that just arrived from the printer. A gentleman sharing the elevator notices your book and says, "Hey, that looks interesting. What's it about?"
What's your response? Do you fumble, start in one direction then go in another? Do you find yourself just getting started when the elevator reaches the floor where this fellow has to get off? Have you made the most of this opportunity?
As an independent author, you will be asked many times what your book is about. Sometimes these inquiries are idle elevator chatter, but sometimes you'll be asked the question by people crucial to your book's success.
At a trade show, for example, you might get asked the same question and have about the same amount of time to answer. Talking to a bookstore buyer falls into the same category.
Recently, I met an author who was asked about his book at the airport. Before he left, he had an order for 1,000 copies of his book. His talk with the person who asked about his book lasted a lot longer than an elevator ride, but those first 30 seconds are critical.
Will your pitch draw people in, make them curious about your book, and let them know right away whether or not it's for them?
Where the Pitch Came From
It's customary in traditional publishing for authors to be encouraged to work on their "pitch." What is a book pitch exactly?
A pitch, sometimes referred to as an "elevator pitch" because it takes about as much time to deliver as an elevator ride to the upper floors of one of those big buildings on Sixth Avenue in New York, is a short sales pitch for your book.
But it's not just any sales pitch. Your book pitch has to accomplish a number of things at the same time, and do them quickly and efficiently.
It has to give a good idea of:
the book’s genre
its main hook or distinctive angle
the qualifications of the author
other comparable books
and why it's different, exciting, or groundbreaking in some way.
Consider that all this information must be delivered in 40 to 60 seconds, and you can see why crafting a great pitch is a bit of an art form.
But why, you ask, do I need to do this if I'm not pitching any agents or editors? After all, we're publishing our own books now, so who is there to pitch?
Lifetime of Your Pitch
The sole purpose of a pitch is to create interest in your book. It has to make people want to know more.
Creating this quick summary can have lots of other ramifications. Here are some ways you'll find your pitch being useful in other areas of your book promotion and marketing:
When writing sales copy for flyers or ads, your pitch can be the basis of a great introduction to your book.
Talking to prospective book buyers, your pitch is a handy way to quickly determine which people are more apt to be interested.
Creating descriptive copy for book retailers or distributors can be much easier if you've already refined your pitch.
Wondering how to lead off your press release for the launch of your book? Your pitch has all the elements you'll need in a brief form, making it easy to get your media release organized.
When writing to peer reviewers or approaching people for testimonials, you'll want a short but punchy way to tell people what the book is about. Your pitch will fill the bill.
What about the back cover of your book? This can be crucial sales copy for someone considering whether or not to buy it. It's a great place to use the elements of your pitch to show the value of the book.
Crafting Your Pitch
Years ago, I heard a quote attributed to the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He wrote to a friend and started his letter by saying something to the effect of, "I'm sorry to send you such a long letter. I didn't have time to send you a short one."
And it's so true. It's challenging to create a summary of your book that highlights exactly why it would be of interest, gives an idea of the type of book it is in terms of other books that might be more familiar, and distills the author's experience and qualifications to write the book. Combining this with clear benefits for the reader makes it even more difficult.
Here are some suggestions:
Be specific. It's much more interesting to state specifics rather than to speak in generalities.
Be appropriate. If your book is a comedy, your pitch should be funny too. If it's a thriller, make your pitch thrilling.
Try not to compare yourself to mega-selling authors. "Better than Harry Potter" won't help your credibility.
Do use specific comparisons where they work.
Paring your pitch to its essentials will force you to focus on your book, its positioning, and its benefits to potential readers. If you can also communicate this with some excitement, you'll have a winner.
Try it with your own book and see what you come up with. This can be a valuable experience, and I predict that you'll be using the pitch you develop for years to come.