Pitching Mistakes to Fix Right Now

Taking your pitch to the next level

Creating a sales pitch for your novel is difficult. It’s a completely different type of writing, closer to writing copy for a sales brochure or a catalog. A pitch must portray two things: this is my product and here’s why it’s awesome. For the novel writer, this doesn’t always come naturally. We are used to having huge space to paint a complete picture, but a pitch must distil that entire scene into one easy to repeat line.

Last week I watched the #pitmad feed, searching for friends, former clients, and to study trends in the current pitching world. I noticed a few problems that kept creeping up.

Pitch is too generic:

Making your pitch stand out in a sea of submissions takes more than plugging words into a formula. You must find your manuscript’s “it” factor and make that your point of sale. Otherwise, and agent/editor will never see the element that makes your story special.

I noticed many of them still used the basic formula:

_______ must do ________ or _________

It’s a great starting point for anyone trying to craft a Twitter pitch or a query hook, But it’s only a starting point.


Tainted by her ancestor’s evil magic, 17yo____must overcome her heritage and betray her family before her friends become their next victims

The results are ok, but the real problem is that this exact pitch would work for two of the manuscripts I shredded last week. The plot line: girl must choose between family or friends isn’t unique enough to stand on its own. That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with these manuscripts having the same plot. The reality is many books have the same plot. (And if you believe Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic possibilities.)

While their queries made them sound like nearly the same, these were two very distinct novels. One was a Wonderland scenario with grandma as the Queen of Hearts, and the other had a darker Sarah J. Mass feel to it, but from the pitch above they would have been indistinguishable.

This is where voice and specific details will carry your pitch. When these two authors pitch their novels they need to focus on the details that make their novel unique. The Wonderland novel could focus on the awkwardness of having the same person who just sent you a batch of Christmas cookies also has your bestie in a cage under the floor. The evil she has to betray is very immediate. She might have memories good memories of grandma. It’s harder to turn your back on someone who raised you. Another difference between the two was in the nature of the evil. In the first, the MC begins as a good character and the evil part of her tries to assert itself. In the second novel, the evil blood has already completely taken over the character and she must make a transformation to good. Using these specific details will make their novels sound unique.

Pitch is too specific

On the opposite side, pitches that had details, i.e. creatures, settings, etc. that were unique to that story and weren’t properly explained also didn’t work.

A good rule: if a person off the street won’t know what _____ is, don’t use it in your pitch.

I see this in queries constantly. I don’t need to know the name of the fairytale kingdom. I want to know that it’s ruled by an evil queen. I don’t need to know the name of your monster. I want to know that it regenerates by absorbing sunlight.

Don’t leave an editor/agent guessing what a Naruta is. The mystery is frustrating, not intriguing.

Commonly known creatures like vampires or werewolves don’t need explanation, so feel free to use these. There is a gray area. Most people will know who Zeus is, but they might not know Baldr. Don’t assume. If you aren’t sure if yours works or not, get a fellow writer who isn’t familiar with your story to read your pitch.

The logic doesn’t flow

I see this one when people try to plug in words into a formula.


17yo Bill learns he has alien blood when he trips in a banana field.

Wait, what?

In the author’s mind, she sees the connection because she knows Bill tripped and fell on a machete causing a serious injury, and when he went to the hospital they tested his blood for the transfusion and discovered he was part alien.

But to anyone else the connection isn’t clear. From the pitch, we know that ‘learning he had alien blood’ is the important discovery, but rather than tell us how he discovered this, tell us why it’s important.


When 17yo Bill discovers he has alien blood, it has dire implications for his work as a human supremacist.

The editor/agent will assume you will explain how Bill made this discovery. What she needs to know is why this discovery changes everything for Bill.

If the connection between the two parts of your pitch isn’t clear, your pitch won’t work. Make sure we know why the instigating incident makes a difference in your MC’s life.

Pitching your work is one of the most difficult aspects of being a writer. Many of the queries that cross my desk show one, or all of these three problems. Avoiding these common mistakes will help put you and your story ahead of the pack.

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M.L. Keller is a freelance writer and editor. Her blog "The Manuscript Shredder" is focused on helping emerging writers hone their craft.


  • Rebecca Conroy (@RebConroy)

    THANK YOU for pointing out generic pitches. Formulas for a pitch are such a good starting point, but so few people focus on what’s unique about their manuscript. Which is hard. It takes so much practice. (I’m also terrible at “selling myself”? If you know what I mean. I’m just like, “There’s a girl and ghosts and some witches it’s terrible never read it stop looking at me”)

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