Discoveries, Writer's Toolkit

How to pitch your novel to agents

Read all of the top tips from our incredible event with New Writing North, as part of our Discoveries new writers’ programme, and learn how to pitch your novel to agents.

The event was hosted by Tinder Press Publisher Mary-Anne Harrington and included authors Monique Roffey and Sairish Hussain, Curtis Brown literary agent Lucy Morris, and Kadija Sesay, Publications Manager for Inscribe, an imprint of Peepal Tree Press.

What is a pitch and why is it so important?

Lucy Morris: When I receive a submission the first thing I will look at the is the pitch, in the covering letter. The pitch is so important because it is that first impression. As a writer you are looking for the perfect agent for your book, not just any agent but the one who will amplify your vision for that story. Be as specific as you can be when you pitch, and how you see the book, this gives the agent reading it the right perspective. The best pitches are succinct and unique. The really excellent ones will make me want to cancel my day, curl up in a chair and read the whole manuscript!

A pitch should be two or three lines that get to the concept or question at the heart of the novel, is there a particular issue that it interrogates.

Is it easy to pitch your own work?

“Authorship starts with the pitch”

Monique Roffey: I have been writing for 20 years so it has been a while since I have had to sell my myself. My agent has to sell my work, no matter what I end up writing. Any ideas I have are kicked around between us and it is her job to sell me. However, I would advise to think in images when pitching. Be time and place specific and give the agent a wrong idea of the genre, what you don’t want is for something to get your book wrong. The authorship starts with the pitch.

Sairish Hussain: You have to be brave and put yourself out there in a way you might not have done before or been comfortable with. Writing a pitch helps you realise as a writer what it is you are trying to say. Focus on the characters and the story when you’re pitching, not the big themes. Ask yourself, who’s story is this and where is it set?

Kadija Sesay: You don’t want to encourage the reader, editor or agent to think about other people’s work whilst they are reading yours. If you make mention another author and the work doesn’t match up the reader will question who’s voice it is they are reading. If you are pressed for space in your pitch you can mention a book instead that is thematically or tonally similar. This can be a shorthand for the agent as to what genre the book might be.

Mary-Anne Harrington: Don’t waste word count talking about other authors, you need to be persuasive and concise.

How much plot do you want to give away in the pitch?

Monique Roffey: Go for place, plot, character. You can even pitch the opening line. ‘What if…’ or ‘One day…’ Don’t be too precious about it, experiment with different ways in. Practice with your friends!

Lucy Morris: If it’s a crime novel, don’t say who did it in the pitch, save that for the longer synopsis! Include any unique structural elements, and he bits you are proudest of. Don’t waste any space with vague cliches, every word has to work really hard.

Is a pitch different to a synopsis?

Lucy Morris: Yes. Your agent submission should be in three parts. You’ll have a query letter, your pitch and bio and then your synopsis. That’s where you reveal everything about the novel, it should be about one or two pages and cover all the main beats of the story.

How do you pitch a book that isn’t high octane or has high stakes plot and is more about emotional development and intricacies of character relationships?

Lucy Morris: I would say introduce the voice of the character and make us root for them in the pitch. You can even appeal directly to the reader and ask them the questions, ‘what would you do if you found if…’ you want to appeal to the universality of the concept. ‘How would you react…’ Ask yourself, what does the character want but not have? What is the tension between the character and the rest of their life?

Sairish Hussain: Decide what the most important thing is you want to say about each character. You will eventually discover that is the defining thing about them and lead with that in your pitch.

If you don’t have writing credits to your name, what should you put in my bio that is relevant?

Lucy Morris: I am always interested in the inspiration behind the book. What is it that’s driven the author to spend so long writing it?You don’t need writing credentials to interest someone in what you have written.

Kadija Sesay: Write about any writing experience you have, agents and publishers want to see you are serious about writing and working on your craft. Demonstrate you have done your research as well.

Inspired? Find out more about how to enter Discoveries here >

New Writing North supports writing and reading in the North of England. They commission new work, create development opportunities, nurture talent and make connections. They also run the Northern Writers Awards, which are open until 17th February 2022.

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