Four Questions to Ask BEFORE You Pitch

By Catherine Matthews

You’ve written, you’ve re-written, you’ve edited. You’ve rested, you’ve read, and now you’re ready to hit send. You’ve finished your manuscript, and you’re preparing for the pitch—which is awesome! Now pause, because whether you’re writing a query or pitching in person at a conference, you’re going to need to ask yourself (and your manuscript) the following questions:

  1. Who is my audience?

Who do you envision enjoying your story? Understanding your audience will set the tone for your query, and help you decide which agents might be interested in your style of manuscript. Don’t be afraid to do research. If there’s any book out there that makes you think: Yep, if someone liked that, they’ll love this, then head to the web and figure out what exactly readers loved about that story. Figure out who your audience is, what they’re expecting, and don’t be afraid to mine for agents among the already-published works that seem like yours. Always check the Acknowledgements sections of published books to search for agents with expertise representing your style of story.

  1. What is my genre?

If you’ve written a genre-crossing story, try to isolate which element is the strongest by imagining where it might be stocked in the bookstore, or how it would be listed on any online platform. Tailor the tone of your query to highlight that element, and know that while it may not hurt to mention the other genres at play in your work, you’ll ultimate have to put your book into a category—and that’s a good thing! Readers like to know what they’re getting; don’t be afraid to be upfront about what they can expect to jump into!

  1. What makes my story unique?

Understanding your genre means understanding the conventions your story will be following…as well as the ones it’ll be breaking! Firstly, know that your story doesn’t have to break every convention of its genre to be unique. Readers want to know that there’s going to be some history if your story brands itself as ‘historical fiction’, after all. Remember your voice, stay true to your characters, and the uniqueness of your tale will evolve naturally.  

  1. How am I prepared to market my work?

If you’ve already got a robust social media presence, think about how you might shift it towards promoting your novel. Authors are partners with their publishers when it comes to getting the word out about their work. Are you in a bookclub? If so, do any of those members have a large social media platform? Do you know of any local bookstores, writers groups, or other social clubs that would be willing to feature you as a speaker? If you have a knack for technology, you might consider creating your own book trailer. The opportunities are endless!

When the creativity’s flowing, it can be difficult to stop and consider the practical details. But now that it’s pitching time, the details are key. Remember; a good pitch comes from a great plan!

Catherine is an assistant at Holloway Literary.