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WORDS FOR WRITERS: Pitch Packages – Updated

It’s been half a decade since I last posted about pitch packages, and what you need to do to make your novel query-ready, so it’s time to update my advice!

What is a Pitch Package?

Also called a Query Package, or a Pitch Doc, this is a collection of very specific documents and write ups. You’ll need to have these documents along with you as you quest through the query trenches, and adventure along the publishing and marketing journey. But why?

Because agents, editors, publishers, and marketers are going to ask for it.

The documents that you create for this package will help a publisher or agent decide whether they’d like to take you or your book on. But after you land an agent and publisher, these documents will also have a second life in supporting the work done by your publicist, marketing team, and even yourself when it comes time to hype your book sales.  It can even have a third life as being the basis for a pitches used by your foreign rights agents and / or dramatic rights agents, and if you snag a dramatic adaptation option, as a part of the film / TV Bible or Pitch Doc.

In short, they’re dead useful, if… extremely involved to create. But trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll thank me later when someone asks for something specific, and you can just reach into your folder and offer it up with a smile.

Things You Will Absolutely Need

  • The manuscript

The totally complete (betaed, edited, polished) manuscript. If you’re not done writing the book, don’t bother pitching or querying it. You never know when someone is going to ask for the full within hours of you submitting the query, and if you don’t have it ready, you’re not going to look very professional, and thus worth taking on.

You only get to make a first impression once, so make sure that first impression is impeccable.

Manuscripts should generally be formatted as:

-Title Page with Title of book, your name, your address, phone number and email address, the wordcount
-Headers which include your Surname, the title of the book, and the page number. (I format it as FREY | BOOK TITLE | ##)
-In a very widely used font, like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman. Courier New is also okay, but unnecessary if you don’t prefer it.
-1″ margins all around the page.
-Double spaced.
-Bolds in Bold, Italtics in Italics, Underlines in Underlines. (no need to * word * or _ word _ like in the olden typewriter days).
-If you’re feeling fancy, you can set up an Outline or Bookmark chapter headings in Word/your writing program to make it easier to navigate between chapters, but it’s not necessary.
-No need to include dedications, acknowledgements, maps, or character lists in this version – the point is to let the book speak for itself. You can, however, add that stuff to the end of the book if you think it will make it easier to read.

  • Manuscript Samples

Some agents / publishers ask for writing samples instead of asking for the whole novel all at once. Make sure you have a few files separated out of:

–just the first chapter
– just the first three chapters
– just the first five chapters
–just the first five pages (double-spaced)
–just the first fifty pages (double-spaced)
– and just the first hundred pages (double-spaced)

Ensure they are super-polished. These are the chapters that will speak for the whole of your novel, so make sure they’re on their best behavior. Generally speaking, I find you can start straight at Chapter One, with no Title page so long as you ensure your Name / Title of the Book / Page # are in the header of the document.

  • Synopsis 

I’ve already covered how to write a synopsis pretty extensively in this post here, so go have a look-see at that article when you’re ready to write your Synopsis. Make sure you write one in all three lengths (single spaced 5 pages, 3 pages, 1 page) as you’ll want to have them prepared for whatever size is requested. It’s very important that you include how the book ends in the synopsis–surprise the readers, not your agent.

  • Back Cover Copy

This is the one-paragraph description of the book that is simultaneously a sales pitch and a way to hook the person holding your book (or reading the description on a website), and entices them to buy it. It should be in the voice of the book, snappy, easy to understand without leaning too heavily on tired cliché, and leave the reader wanting more. For examples of cover copy for my books, check out my store. Sometimes I write this before I finish the novel, sometimes I write it after, but always make sure you really work this item to make sure it’s polished, intriguing, and accurately describes the book as it is, not as you intended to write it.

I would also suggest writing a long version of the pitch (5-7 paragraphs), a medium version (3 paragraphs, the most common length), and a short version (1 paragraph). You’ll use the medium length version the most often, especially in the query letter, but I’ve found it really useful to have all three lengths. I use the one paragraph version on my website bookstore, and the long version when I’m providing media kits to press, libraries and librarians, or students.

  • Elevator pitch

Now that you have your hooky pitch paragraph, condense it down into a single sentence. I know, brutal, but so dang useful.

This is called an elevator pitch because it’s what you would use if you had the length of exactly one elevator ride with a high-level executive to get their buy-in. An example of this would be (from a graphic novel I’m pitching): “Bridget Jones’ Diary meets The Avengers in a graphic novel about a blogger who goes on dates and imagines her beaus as various superheroes based on their quirks and failings. But when her dating blog becomes viral-popular, our heroine must face the consequences of fame at the expense of others.”

Even better, if you can get it down to a Tweet-able size, there are Twitter Pitch Contests that allow you to pitch agents visa social media. I would recommend having four or five versions, as the contests allow you to post more than once per contest, and it’s a good way to highlight different aspects of your novel.

  • Comparable titles

Everyone will ask for this. It is your “[TITLE] meets [TITLE] in an amazing adventures / sweeping love story / unputdownable thriller” comparison. You want to pick books that are well known enough in the category / genre / age range you’re writing in, but not so overblown famous that it comes across as a bit silly and a bit ignorant of where your book sits to cite it. For example, if you’re writing a fantasy court politics epic, don’t use Game of Thrones. See what else out there fits the tone and mood of your book more narrowly, and cite that.

This is a hard thing to pin down, and will shift every few months, based on what you’ve read recently, what’s just come out, and how people react to your

Feel free to cite books outside of your age range or genre if they replicate the tone, mood, or themes, but make it clear in a  list that this is the reason you’re citing them.

If you want to be very nerdy about it, you can make a list of books like yours, who wrote them, when they were published, and if that title is good to use in marketing because it was a hit, or if it’s too obscure, dated, or flopped. Separate the list out into age range, genre, and non-book comparisons. (For example, “Middle grade” is the age range, “episodic adventure” is the genre, and non-book comparisons for a Middle grade adventure (such as Adrienne Kress’ The Explorers series) would be The GooniesKim Possible, and Spy Kids. 

Keep this to one page or less and pick out your favorite, most apt two for use in your query letter.

  • Query paragraph

This is the paragraph you put in your query letter to introduce the book to an agent/publisher/editor. This paragraph should include: the word count, the genre, the age-range, the comparable titles, whether it’s a stand-alone or has series potential, and why you think the agent/publisher in particular should consider it.

For example, this is the QP for my current novel is:

NINE-TENTHS is a 128k grounded romantic fantasy that combines the subtle magic of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (V. E. Schwab) with the queer-romance-with-world-stage-stakes of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance (Foz Meadows), and the quirky tone and direct-address of She-Hulk (Disney+). It’s a stand-alone novel with potential for other novels set in the same world, which don’t necessarily need to be direct sequels. It’s also timely, as it deals with the death of monarchs and the dissolution of an empire that no longer serves the people it commands. I’m particularly excited to send this book to you, [DEAREST AGENT], as you mention in your wish-list that you have a soft spot for mouthy bi disasters; both my main character and I are just that.

  • Target Market

Write an overview of who your target demographic of readers is. Imagine where in the book store your book will be shelved, or what kind of end-table display it may be on, and describe the other books and authors that may be on that display with you. Be clear about the age range, the genre(s), as well as the tone and the mood. Think about the tropes you’ve used that might lure readers to your work (like fanfiction tags). Think about the kinds of TV shows or films your ideal readership would be into, and what kind of hobbies they might have.

For example, if you were writing a novel about a contemporary teenaged boy who wins a contest to marry a prince, but doesn’t actually want to upend his life, and ends up in love with the prince anyway, it might be: “YA market, fans of contemporary queer romance, fans of enemies-to-lovers and sunshine/grumpy tropes, fans of TV shows like Heartstopper and Young Royals, fans of Casey McQuiston and TJ Klune, instagram ‘royalcore-vibe-influencers'”

You can be as detailed as you like, but most agents want it 500 characters or less.

  • Biography

Write a 100 word, a 150 word, a 300 word, and a 500 word version of this. Cite any previous awards or achievements that relate to writing (Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, or Watty Award for Best Romance, or High Honors at the Pop Culture Conference, or even Over Five Thousand Reads on AO3, or Best Angst Story in the Good Omens Fanfiction Awards), and any other completed writing works (“has self-published three novels, and completed a PhD thesis in astroradiology”, or “writer of a weekly advice column in the local newspaper”, etc.).  Include a reference to why you are the only person who can tell this story this way – for example, if this is a story about a doctor, and you are a doctor, say so. I wrote my MA Thesis on Mary Sue Fan-Fiction and amateur portal fantasy, so when I talk about my meta portal-fantasy series The Accidental Turn, I always talk about that thesis – I’m uniquely qualified to write this book I did because I wrote that thesis.

You’ll use the 300-500 word versions the most, but it’s great to have the shorter versions on hand if you’re asked by press or media for a snappier version.

  • Other Questions

If you’re using QueryManager/Tracker to submit your query to agents, consider starting a document of “Other Commonly Asked Questions”. Agents generally request the above info on that site, but they also sometimes ask for:

-If you’ve self-published a novel, how many copies did it sell in the first year?
-Why are you the right person to tell this story?
-If you are not a member of the marginalized community you’re writing from/about, why are you the one to tell this story?
-Do you have playlist or favorite song for this novel?
-Do you have a mood board or aesthetic image for this novel?
-If you had a literary agent, why did you leave them?
-What do you love the most about this novel?
-What was the inspiration for writing this novel?
-If you could pick the perfect publisher for this novel, which one would it be and why?
-What is your book about?
-What is the hook for your book?
-List the Trigger Warnings/Content Warnings for this book

I’ve had to provide answers to the above questions at least three times each, which is why I added a “random other questions” section to my tracking documents.

Things You May or May Not Need

  • Character breakdown (with pronunciation guide if they’re not contemporary names)

This is a list of the major characters in the book, and a small paragraph about each of them including their name, age-range, and possibly their gender and/or sexual orientation if it’s important to the story. I would avoid including images, unless this is a graphic novel you’re pitching; let the reader imagine what the characters look like based on your descriptions in the prose. Talk about the character’s role in the story, their driving desires, and why this story has to happen to them, specifically, and not another character. This would be something like the way I describe the main character from my novel Triptych:

“Kalp: An alien from a broken world, he as elected to identify as male on Earth. A refugee grateful what meagre aide the people of this world can offer, Kalp takes on a job as a translator for The Institute, working with humans Gwen and Basil to reverse engineer technologies from his homeworld to help solve climate and social crises on this new one. Close proximity breeds affection, though, and Kalp can’t help his growing attraction and tender feelings toward his colleagues. He worries that that his feelings are only born of pathetic gratitude, and struggles with whether he should declare himself and risk his position at the Institute, and the belonging he so desperately craves.”

  • Marketing ideas

Do not send this with your initial pitch / query.

Firstly, only ever send what the agent / publisher / editor asks for, and send all of what they ask for.

Secondly, this isn’t something that you should really send to anyone until someone on the marketing team says “Do you have any marketing ideas?”.

Why?

Because you job is to write the book. It’s everyone else’s job to sell it, and swerving into their lane may come off as arrogant or unprofessional. Having said that, when they do ask if you have ideas, it looks great if you really do!

Consider keeping a “Swipe File” – that is, a folder of cool ideas you’ve seen other authors or artists use – and a list of “Things it may be neat to do”, so that when it does come time to discuss marketing, you a have some awesome ideas to bring to the table. Also, put things on this list of varying price points, and be aware that pretty much everything costs money or time, though always varying amounts of both. (Book displayed face-out in a major bookstore chain = $$$; setting up an ebook review blog tour = ⏰; creating and printing bookmarks = $ & ⏰)

  • Personal reach

It sounds crass, but this section is basically a list of who you know and which relationships you can exploit to market your book. Know some chat show TV producers, or someone who does a podcast that would let you come on to talk about your work, or still in touch with your MFA prof and have the ability to go in and do a guest lecture? Say so.

Also list your social media follower count and explain how you engage with them, and what the main topics of conversation are. Talk about your newsletter reach (if you have one). If you’ve self-published anything, share how many units you’ve sold and what kind of reader engagement it’s produced. Include reads and votes for previous novels and stories on fiction sharing sites such as Wattpad, Tapas, Tappy Toon, Radish, etc., as this counts as an audience you could market your novel to.

  • Additional materials

Again, don’t send this unless you are explicitly asked for it, or you’ve developed enough of a relationship with your editor / agent that you know it will be welcome, but do absolutely keep a folder of “stuff” that doesn’t fall into any of the categories above, such as:

-maps you may have hand-drawn or computer-generated
-some cover art ideas, or a collection of covers for other books that you think are a good example of what you were thinking
-character sketches or commissioned art
-stock images, moodboards, or aesthetics posts
-deleted scenes or alternate endings/moments (these are a marketing goldmine)
-playlists

Things You May Want To Do But Don’t Have To

  • Screenplay Treatment

I’m gonna put a big fat caveat on this one, and say that as a novelist this isn’t actually your job. If your novel gets picked up for a dramatic adaptation, you may be asked to write a treatment then, but honestly it’s the screenwriter who should be writing the treatment, as it’s the map to the screenplay itself.

Having said that, I did once have an agent ask me to write a screenplay treatment for my novel to make it easier for his entertainment agent to pitch. As I have experience as a screenwriter, I did it, but it didn’t quite feel like something that ought to have been on my plate. So if you want to take a crack at writing the treatment, you can find out all about the process here. (I mean, basically, a Treatment is pretty much the exact same thing as a book Synopsis, with specific formatting requirements and more focus on the fact that film is a visual medium.)

What To Send While Querying

Remember, while you’ve put together all these materials, only send agents / editors / publishers what they ask for. To do otherwise looks like you couldn’t be bothered to read or follow their directions, which does not make them want to take you on. Nobody wants to work with people who can’t follow very simple, clear directions.

As a result, you may create a document that you never, ever use, and that’s okay. It’s a good reference for you, and a good artistic exercise; no work you do on your novel is ever wasted. I’ve found that there are times that I dive into my Pitch Package folder years after the book is out to fetch one of my assets for some reason or another, and I end up being very glad it’s there!

So have fun putting together your Pitch Package, and best of luck out there querying!

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Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS posts here or ASK ME HERE.

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: Pitch Packages – Updated

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