Are you ready to Pitch your novel? A 7 question LITMUS test!

Are you ready to pitch your story?

With the ACFW Conference just a month away, many authors are polishing their pitches, proposals and pitch sheets. But…are they truly ready to pitch?  The fact is, you only get one shot to pitch your story to a particular editor/agent.

Here’s a quick litmus test to see if you’re ready to pitch your novel:

1. Is your novel finished?  First time novelists should have their novel completed before they pitch for two reasons.

  • It tells the editor/agent that YES, you can finish a novel.  And then, when you pitch an entire series of 3 novels, they have the confidence you can fnished #2 and #3.
  • It helps you understand the true external pitch of your story (and the internal storyquestion). Sometimes it takes the finished novel to take a good look at your story and understand the sellabe elements.
  • It allows you to send the novel off immediately to an editor/agent should they ask to see more (yay!)

2. Have you done your research to know with which publishing house your novel is a good fit?  Houses like to publish books similiar (but not the same) to novels they’ve had success with before.  Don’t try to sell your dystopian suspense to a house that only publishes Amish romances.  Know what other books they have published that are similar to yours, and know how yours are different, also. But you need to have some answer as to why your book would be a good fit in that publishing house. An agent might even ask you where you see this book being published. Do your homework and give them an informed answer.

3.  Do you know what is at STAKE in your story? Why does your story, your character’s external and internal journey matter?  Understanding this is essential for crafting the PITCH, the PREMISE and the Story Question.

4. have an external PITCH for your story?  This takes a bit of creativity, but you should have something you can easily rattle off in an elevator, in the food line, or when you sit down at the table.  In one quick sentence…what is your story ABOUT?

5.  Do you know the PREMISE of your story? This is a bit longer, and the follow up to your novel.  It gives the bigger picture, stirs the interest of the editor/agent and gives them a better picture of the marketing angle to your story.

6. What is the reader takeaway?  This can often be found in the Story Question – the internal journey of your character.  We’re not crafting message-driven novels, but we do want to ask big questions that work well for reader groups.  If you don’t know the Story Question of your novel, you’ll want to dig deep and ask: What is the answer your character is seeking? What do they learn at the end?  Or, what is the controversial topic in the story? (controversy sells novels!)

7. Do you have a PITCH SHEET?  This is a one-page overview of your story.  It contains your bio, your pitch, your premise, your storyquestion and contact information.  And, it should look professional – you might even want to hook up with someone like Matt Jones with to help you craft it.

Now…how do you pitch successfully?  Here’s a sample scenario:

Then, if you are in a pitching appointment, go in, shake their hand, introduce yourself, smile and hand them your one sheet.

They’ll probably look at it and say “how are you today?” or something to break the ice. Go ahead and make friends briefly, and then segue into your pitch.

“I’m great, Mr. Anderson. I enjoyed your class, Writing the Bestseller. Intriguing. I’ve written a contemporary romance that I hope fits your best-seller category….A story about a talk show host to the lovelorn who has never had a date. Why? Because she is waiting for the perfect man. But when he moves in next door, will she recognize him? It’s set in small town Minnesota and is a story about being trapped by our fears and perfect love setting us free.”

“Interesting. Why hasn’t she had a date?”

“Good question – She’s agoraphobic – trapped in her house after she survived a tragic car accident that killed her mother.  She’s tried to escape through her a national talk show – broadcast from her home. But no one knows her true identity, including the new football coach who’s moved in next door – someone who drives her crazy. See, he’s got his own scars and secrets after being wounded in Iraq, and he’s hiding something too. When he starts calling the show, in need of help to befriend the neighbor, they begin to fall for each other online without realizing they are neighbors. But will their love last when they discover the truth? And what will their secrets cost them?”

“Interesting. Why would this make a sellable story?”

“Think You’ve Got Mail, set in small town America with a little of Friday Night Lights thrown in. It’s something I could see trade size at Tyndale or Waterbrook Multnomah.”

Now, here’s where they’ll pause. They might ask you more questions. They might ask how long you’ve been writing. Or if this is a stand-alone or part of three part series. They might ask you where you got your idea. They might offer ideas to tweak it. They might ask to have you send them a proposal.

Sometimes they might even say…”How can I help you with this?” Obviously, we WISH they’d say, “Hey I love this,” and pull out a contract right there. Not gonna happen. It’s wise to arm yourself with some sort of feedback question for that situation.

Be armed with an answer, something that allows them to give you real, usable feedback: “How can I make the story more compelling?” “How could I tweak this to make it more sellable?”

The key is to use this time to talk about your story. There is nothing worse for an agent/editor than to have an author pitch their story, then sit back and smile, and make the agent/editor fill in the blank space. You have fifteen minutes to communicate your vision for this book – use it!

And here’s a hint – don’t memorize your premise word by word. It feels canned. Let the story come out on its own, with enthusiasm. You know your story – just tell it.

If they ask for a sample proposal, then thank them, take their card and follow up in a week with the proposal package. For sure, regardless of their feedback, send them a thank you note for their time (email will be fine).

I talked to a couple agent buddies of mine about pitching recently. Here’s what they said:

Steve Laube (and you should read his blog on pitching!) said: “On the one hand is the person who tries to tell their entire novel with excruciating detail. That is either a case of nerves or a case of failing to practice ahead of time.

On the other hand is the person who is so precise that they sit down, smile, and hit me with their 25 word blurb. Then they close their mouth and expectantly wait for my reaction. As if that is considered a conversation!  That “interview” lasted for all of two minutes at that point…. and the silence is rather awkward.

The key is a strong balance between being over eager and talkative and the sterile precision of a practiced speaker. Remember, this is a conversation. I am not only listening to your pitch, I’m also listening to you. I am meeting you.”

Chip MacGregor had a great thought: “The one thing I wish they’d do is to have an experienced editor look it over BEFORE they pitch me. The majority of projects I see at conferences aren’t ready to show yet, and a good editor (even an edit by an experienced writer friend) would help most projects immensely.”

So…come prepared, polished, professional…and then woo them with your story.

Go! Write something BRILLIANT!

Susie May


PS – can I offer a suggestion?  My Book Therapy is offering their Pitch and Promotion seminar ONLINE and OFFLINE this year.  ONLINE this weekend – Saturday, August 23rd, 9-NOON.  Attend the webinar, get personal help and walk away with the tools you need to prepare your pitch, proposal and PITCH sheet.

Then, join us at ACFW Thursday, September 25th, 2-2:24 pm to PRACTICE your pitch and get the last-minute encouragement you need from your coach.  It’s time for you to get published…and stay published.  Check out the seminar HERE! 

Crazy Reindeer Specials from My Book Therapy!

Santa’s Reindeer have taken over My Book Therapy!
It finally happened.
The Reindeer have had it with Santa getting all the glory. We all knew the inevitability of the revolt after Dasher demanded his own Sugar Cookie break over Finland. And then Vixen said she absolutely, “wouldn’t fly over Prague without a mint-hot cocoa.”

The source of their discontent?  Santa’s sack of goodies.

“We’re the ones pulling the sleigh.  Why does he get to distribute all the gifts?”  Prancer said on the eve of the takeover.

The Reindeer assumed control of the MBT Warehouse during Thanksgiving, sneaking in under cover of night, cloaked as Moose.  (“After all, people confuse us all the time,” Comet said in an cell-phone conversation from inside the MBT HQ)

And now, they’re offering MBT Bundles of Reindeer Specials at CRAZY prices.


And giving away FREE STUFF! 

With these kinds of deals, it’s clear the Reindeer have lost their minds!

But, until MBT re-assumes control of inventory, it’s your chance to take advantage of these Crazy Reindeer Specials for Writers.

The culprits and their bundle offers are listed below…

(and Visit the MBT Marketplace to catch all their latest craziness!)

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Get everything you need to go from idea to finished book, and beyond!


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Can’t decide…and want it all?  Then it’s time to think about really investing in your writing journey with this amazing “Get the entire Sleigh-full” bundle!

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A Marketer’s look at Synopsis

This section is based on my book, “Silent Danger: A Training Novel” that was released by WCC Press earlier this month.

Susie and the My Book Therapy team do an amazing job of explaining craft and the synopsis, so if you’ve ever read their lessons and you think you don’t need this, keep reading.  What I’m trying to show here is how a synopsis is about more than summarizing your story. It also gets you in the marketing mindset and helps you start to think of unique angles you can take………….

Excerpted for “Silent Danger” Published by Writing Career Coach Press. Permission for one-time use granted.


In a synopsis you have typically between 1-3 pages to do a bunch of things. You have to:

• Set up the scene

• Introduce the characters

• Tell the main plot points.

• Show the resolution

That can be a daunting task. Thankfully, editors know that and they don’t expect the summary to be as exciting as the manuscript itself, but you still need to show you have engaging craft.

Keeping in mind you only have about 300 words to describe a 60,000 word manuscript, look for ways you’d write a synopsis to better articulate the story and to also get the editors attention. To practice, try doing it on a book you read recently. Follow these exercises.


You need to introduce the main characters right at the start. Keeping in mind the character arc, how can you best describe the way the characters start in this book?

What are the key plot points during the course of the story? What is the primary plot? How do all of these things play out in the character arc?

Are there any specific requirements for the publishing house? How can you show that your book meets those requirements?



If you have any questions on the book list or you would like to suggest some great books to read, contact use through our website at

— Tiffany Colter, Writing

Quick Skills: Ways to get your Story Summary onto the page

I know that people panic about writing a synopsis.  The fact is, there are many different synopsis styles and deliveries.  There is no one right way – but there are few principles.

Let’s start with Delivery:

You can write the synopsis a couple different ways.

First, you can tell it is if you are the narrator – telling yourself the story.

e.g. This story is about Maggie, a former Red Cross nurse who lives in World War 2 New York City.  More than anything she wants to get over the grief of losing her fiancé during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but her life seemed to stop the day she got the news and she doesn’t know how to start it again.  Until, one day, she runs – literally – into a man named Peter.  Peter is a sailor who received a medical discharge after nearly losing his leg during the Pearl Harbor attack.  He is bitter and angry – but not at his injuries, but at the fact that he let his best mate die.  More than anything, he’d like to go back and save his friend.  But there is no way to atone for his mistakes.  Except, there is.  Because Peter’s friend was Maggie’s fiancé, and there might be a miracle at work that night when they meet…..etc.

See, you’re simply telling the story from a bird’s eye view.

The second way to tell the story is to convey it as what I call a “Police Report.”

Think of the POV players as the eye-witnesses to the story, and that you have to file a report as to what happened.

You’ll start with a bio of each of them, and then let them each have their turn telling the story, each interjecting their motivations and decisions for each action as the story progresses… Let’s pick up our story and continue it with this method:

e.g. Peter can’t believe that a beautiful woman has nearly plowed him over on New year’s eve – and he’s even more horrified when she sees his injury. Probably he shouldn’t have been so rude to her – especially when he spies her later, crying. What’s a guy to do?  He reintroduces himself and discovers that she’s crying over a lost love.  He understands that kind of grief, and in an effort to comfort her, invites her to Times Square to celebrate the New Year.  Maggie calls herself a little crazy when she agrees to leave the New Year’s Eve party with a virtual stranger.  But somehow Peter doesn’t feel like a stranger. There’s something about him she finds familiar and it’s this feeling that woos her into a cab to Times Square. Maybe it’s a sign that yes, she can start over…

With this method, you are going back and forth in POV, still keeping it third person, but letting each player tell ‘their side of the story’.

Regardless of which method you use, you must always consider this:  For every Action, there is a ReAction, which leads to a new Action.  We’ll develop this more when we talk about scene construction, but for now, always ask:  Is there a good reason (motivation) why my character reacts this way?  A good reason (motivation) for his decision as he proceeds to the next action?  Whether or not you have solid motivation for your characters actions will become evident as you tell yourself the story.

Now, let’s talk about tone:

You  can write it in third person, past tense, third person present tense, or even first person (although this is much more rare, I’ve seen it done successfully).  Regardless, the key is to keep it at a Bird’s Eye View – you’re taking a pass over the story, resisting the urge to “land” and explore key moments.  Don’t skim over everything and then slow it down and tell us how the hero caresses the heroine’s face before he kisses her and declares his love.  Keep the bird flying overhead and say, “Jeremy declares his love.”  And keep flying.  The synopsis is not a place to showcase your elegant wordsmithing (although yes, you want to make it interesting…).

So, let’s talk about wordsmithing:

After you have the synopsis written, and you’re ready to submit, now it’s time to smooth it out.  Go through and add in “color” words – powerful nouns and verbs that add an emotional element to your story. Use active verbs instead of passive. Tighten sentences. Search for overwriting and delete.

Finally, if you need a roadmap, MBT uses what we call the Lindy Hop:  The Three Acts simplified.  You can find the PDF. HERE: Lindy Hop diagram.  Sometimes it helps to fill out these elements (for every POV character), as a rough draft to putting  the synopsis on the page.

Most of all, don’t panic.  Get yourself a cup of coffee and settle down to hear  a great story…yours.

Quick Skills:  Sketch out the Three Acts Structure, then tell yourself the story, making sure you have a motivation for every action your character takes (and every lesson they learn). You’ll use your Synopsis to help you write your novel.

Happy Writing!

Susie May