Sorry, but this post has nothing to do with singing! The pitch I’m referring to is that one shot at selling your incredible article idea or that novel you’ve been working on for the past two years…and how you better be ready to deliver it because you never know when you’re going to get your chance.

By quick definition, a pitch is simply a brief summary of your writing idea, along with why you think it’s such a great idea (if you’re pitching to a specific publisher or agent, you’d include why it’s a great idea for their publishing house or agency, in particular).

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. The hardest part about a powerful pitch is that it must be completely concise–that is, both complete AND concise. A typical pitch should be written with the intent of being deliverable in 15-30 seconds. Another term for this in the business world is the elevator pitch. This term holds the idea that if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on an elevator with that prospective client you’ve been dying to get an appointment with, what would you say to him or her from the time it takes to get from the second floor to the tenth to get that person interested in hearing more?

Now, pretend you’re at a writers’ conference or workshop, or you’re at a party and discover there is a literary agent there who is actively looking for new talent. Quick–what do you say? You better have it planned out before you bump into her at the punch bowl.

A pitch is also included in your query letter, whether it’s for an article or a book idea. But once you get it down on paper, memorize it and make it a part of you, so you’re never caught off-guard without it. It won’t make a good impression if that agent at the party asks what you do and you’re not able to concisely tell him about the breakout novel you’re working on.

To perfect your pitch, think of it as the blurb that gets written on the back of your book; or for an article, those two or three lines that will hook the magazine editor into having to read more. You’ll need to think like a copywriter and focus on selling, not just telling, about your story.

First, summarize your topic or story as briefly as possible. For novels, mention the main characters and enough about them to create an interest in them. Then choose one unique or exciting element of your topic or story to mention (this may be the angle or POV you’ve chosen). Finally, tell why your article or book will be different than the others already on the market and why you are the perfect person—the only person—to write it.

Ideally, this should all be accomplished in one paragraph of a query letter or within 30 seconds of a monologue.

Read over what you’ve written. Cut out any unnecessary words, making your writing as tight as possible, and eliminate all passive wording. Make sure you’ve used strong, concise, and active verbs.

Now, read it again. Can you sense excitement when you read it, or is it just facts on a page? If the latter, keep revising until your passion for your subject comes through loud and clear. Trust me…if your readers can’t sense your excitement about your project, they won’t be very excited either.

Once you have it exactly as you want it, write it on an index card and take it with you wherever you go. Practice saying it with enthusiasm and with a tone that reflects your subject. Is it a children’s story? Your tone should be bubbly and light. Is it a mystery? Add a little suspense to your delivery. And by all means…don’t give away your ending!

Once you get your delivery polished, practice it on a friend. Do some role playing, and have the other person ask you questions about your work. View this process like you would a job interview, because in many ways, it is. This process will take a little time, so be sure to start practicing well ahead of any writers’ conferences or parties you plan on attending!