The 5 C’s of a Novel Pitch

So. One of the most alluring aspect of a writers’ conference, particularly for the unpublished novelist like me, is the opportunity to speak with a literary agent. Sure, the years you’ve spent slaving away at the keyboard have come down to a 90-second speed-dating novel pitch session, but that’s nothing to worry about. Right?

Pitching to a Literary Agent is all about preparation.

When you’re pitching an agent, you have a limited amount of time to persuade this stranger seated across from you that your story is worth a closer look. But for those of us more afraid of public speaking than death, it’s important to remember that, at its core, a pitch is basically a conversational version of your query letter.

Like a query letter, your novel pitch has some very specific elements it needs to touch on. The type of pitch you’re participating in may vary (60-seconds, 90-seconds, 3-minutes, 10-minutes), but no matter the length, it’s job is essentially the same. Here’s a quick look at the 5 C’s of a Novel Pitch.

5 C’s of a Novel Pitch

No. 1: Character

While your novel pitch won’t actually start with your main character, it’s important to anchor your talk on your protagonist. Your pitch will begin with the brief basics of your book (length, genre, title), but the “lede” is your main character.

Who is this person? What’s interesting about them? What do he or she want? You’ve centered your entire narrative around this individual, so it only makes sense that your pitch is similarly dependent on them.

No. 2: Choice

Early in your narrative, your main character is going to be faced with an important choice. That decision is going to determine the trajectory of their life in your story. So, what choice does your main character have to make?

Another way to look at this element: you’re describing your inciting incident. What’s the moment that draws your main character, and thus the reader, into the action? What jumpstarts the plot? How does your character react to this moment? Think of this like a hook.

No. 3: Consequences

The choices your character makes plot their movement through the world you’ve built. Those choices, though, need to have consequences. More to the point, the choices made by the main character reveal the stakes of the story. Without stakes, there’s no story.

It’s integral to outline the stakes at play in your story because literary agents want to know what you’re discussing can keep readers engaged. High stakes keep the plot moving, and demonstrate the character’s growth and (a free “c” here:) Change.

5 Cs of a novel pitch graphicNo. 4: Complications

You spent years meticulously assembling all of the dastardly obstacles for your main character to leap over on their journey. Each obstacle is bigger and more daunting than the last. Articulate this to the agent.

How does Conflict (another free “c”) continue to evolve? How does it become more complicated for your main character? And finally, how do these complications impact your character? Conflict is the key to any story, so it needs to be part of your pitch.

No. 5: (Un)Certainty

Like any good sales pitch, you need to leave your listener wanting more. Pick up any book you have nearby. (If you’re writing stories, I’m willing to bet you’re surrounded by them right now!) The back-cover copy of any novel is its primary ad. After the title and front cover, it’s the next thing a reader will look to.

In addition to some personal info, your pitch is really the back-cover copy for your story, and you can’t give away the ending for free! Introduce uncertainty to the point where the literary agent MUST request pages from you to know how it’ll end.

The 5 C’s of a Novel Pitch are simply a guide to preparing your talk. It might help you to remember your pitch is a conversational version of your query letter. Sure, they’re nerve-wracking, but pitch sessions at conferences are a great way to avoid the slush pile.

A few other things to consider before you sit down to pitch:

  • Human interaction is the difference between a query letter and a novel pitch. You’re seated across a table from a real-life human being. They’re a book-person, just like you. Smile, project enthusiasm, have confidence in your work.
  • Demonstrate openness to feedback. Don’t hog up all the time you’re allotted talking. Take some time, as much as half of what you have available, to hear from the agent. They might have questions. They might have insight to provide.
  • Remember appearance and etiquette. Look and act the part. The agent is searching for a business partner after all.
  • Don’t pass pages. Leave your query letter, synopsis and sample chapters at home. If they ask for anything, it’ll be a business card.

99% of agents DO NOT want to take any material with them. We will usually not accept bookmarks or query letters. Please always follow up via email.                 ~Carly Watters, VP and Senior Literary Agent at the P.S. Literary Agency

Summertime can be conference time for many writers out there, myself included. Because I’m a teacher, I can dedicate far more of my time to writing during the summers. And it’s definitely the best time for me to plan on attending a conference, be it nearby (like the one I’m headed to this weekend in Tampa) or across the country.

Check out my post on the Do’s & Don’ts for a Writers’ Conference and if you’re going to make a novel pitch, good luck! Feel free to share your experience in a comment below.


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