In the movie business, scripts are sold by way of the pitch. This is also a tool for writers in other genres, like creative non-fiction and fiction. The Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents offers this advice about the pitch — the most essential part of a query letter. And the advice is pitched with examples of movies.

When you’re composing a fiction query for a novel, the pitch will be the most important part of your letter. Typically, the pitch is the second part of the query and involves “hooking” agents by quickly explaining the premise or concept of the story. Here are some tips when composing the pitch:

DO:

  • Do start with a logline if you wish. Give a one-sentence description of the story to present your hook upfront, before getting into some details. “It’s a story about three men facing midlife crises who decide to start a fraternity.” (Old School)
  • Do focus on the hook. What makes your story different? After all, we’re all telling the same basic archetype stories over and over. What makes yours different? Is it Romeo & Juliet except it’s a werewolf and a vampire? (That’s Underworld.) Is it High Noon set in deep space? (That’s Outland.)
  • Do talk about publicity and platform if you are writing nonfiction.

DON’T:

  • Don’t let your pitch run wild. Seven sentences is pretty long. Aim for five.
  • Don’t spend time on the main characters or tell every character’s name. If you can pitch without even saying the name of the antagonist or love interest, it’s less confusing.
  • Don’t give away the end. Pique; do no more.
  • Don’t pitch agents about poetry or magazine articles.
  • Don’t use gimmicky stuff such as singing your pitch or presenting your pitch “in character.”
  • Don’t pitch if the work is unfinished.
  • Don’t hand the agent anything. They will request more if interested, and they will give directions on how to send your sample.

GLA also takes apart a query letter that goes wrong on the GLA blog. It’s worth a look to see what not to do in a pitch and query. But that next to last DON’T is important. There’s no point in a pitch for a novel if the work is unfinished.

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