Imagine that you have just bumped into an agent – at a dinner party (it does happen) or at the school gates – or an editor is introduced to you via a friend in the pub. What happens? Do you bore them senseless with too many details about your book, tying yourself in knots, and blow your chance of actually ‘selling’ your book – or do you pitch them your three-sentence pitch? Having a three-sentence pitch (TSP) is essential for word of mouth but also for your promotional material. Your TSP will become your friend, so make sure you know exactly what it is, work at it, hone it and repeat it. It will be the pitch you include in a submission letter/ email and it will be the way you describe your book to friends and colleagues. Ensure that it is bright, bold and memorable.
Every book is about one of two things – either a stranger enters the room or the protagonist goes on a journey. We need to know what makes your book different, so your pitch must say more than ‘it’s about love and friendship’, which is the subject matter. Take it further until you have something as powerful as ‘love conquers all’ – but less clichéd.
Five Steps to a winning TSP
1 Do some research. Look at some examples of how things are pitched. Look at film trailers and book blurbs, and read TV listings to see how programmes are described. Take down your five favourite books from your shelves and practise writing TSPs for those books.
2 Know your book. This may sound obvious, but you really do need to know the underlying themes and what you are saying about your themes. If your book is about love, what are you saying about love? What is your take on it? And who is the main character? What is their journey? What are the beginning, middle and end of the book? What is the framework you have used to hang your story on – the timeline and location? Really know these details well and you can use these to build a great pitch.
3 Tell the story. Your TSP is a description of what actually happens – it is the plot, the story, the narrative arc. Don’t use up valuable pitching time or space by telling the agent, your book is about love and friendship. Tell the story. So begin with the main character: ‘it’s when x’, faces the conflict/obstacle, ‘it’s when x faces y’ and then the ‘journey’, ‘it’s when x faces y and goes from A to B’. The journey can be a physical or an interior journey.
4 Work out the ‘what ifs’. Build a pitch around the ‘ifs’ in your book – or in other words – the questions in your book. A book – fiction or non-fiction – should always ask questions and should set a premise up at the start. So for example: ‘What if a girl had two imaginary friends and one day, the friends went missing?’ (Pobby and Dingan written by Ben Rice), work out the ‘what ifs’ in your book.
5 Add a twist. Finally, sprinkle some gold dust on the pitch by adding a bit of a twist, a bit of uniqueness and ‘you-ness’. What is the tone of your book? What’s unusual about the main character? How did you write it? Why did you write it? Is it frightening or funny? Which genre is it in?
Write a three-sentence pitch
Prepare your own three-sentence pitch. You won’t necessarily get it right straight away as it is different writing skill needing practice, so experiment with a few different ways of doing it. You may write a page or even two when you first try this, but slowly and surely you’ll whittle it down to three sentences. Keep refining it and it will evolve into something strong and useful.
The truth is that there are no guarantees, nor is there a hard and fast-rule or format that will get you a commission. Some authors have had offers based on few sentences scrawled on a napkin while others have produced the perfect proposal and still received rejections. Nevertheless it is always best to produce a solid proposal, based on all the advice in this chapter, and show an agent that: • you can write the book • your backstory demonstrates that you’re ‘qualified’ to write the book • your book is worth investing in • you are professional and businesslike and will work hard with the agent to ensure your own success.