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!

Be honest: How often have you purchased–or not purchased–a book based on endorsements, or lack thereof? How often has a celebrity word of praise or another big name author caused you to give a book a second glance when perhaps you were ready to put it back on the shelf? I know it’s happened with me. Maybe the cover wasn’t so intriguing or the back copy wasn’t very enticing, but then…a name I knew and trusted caught my eye under a very enthusiastic quote. Alas, I opened the book!

Unfortunately, for many of us non-big-name-writers, we don’t often hang out with Hollywood celebrities, NYT bestselling authors, or even medical experts…so how can we go about nabbing these influential names for our books? And, who exactly do we look for? Let’s look at those questions and a few others over the next two posts.

First, keep in mind that timing is everything. Getting an endorsement can be like the chicken-or-egg debate in many ways. Publishers want to see that you have sufficient endorsements lined up, even in the proposal stage, yet most people of any credibility won’t endorse your book until they know it’s going to be published. My recommendation (and I know others may view this differently) is to test the waters with some not-so-big-name, yet still worthy endorsers when you begin shopping your book around to publishers. Let them know you’re still in the proposal stage but you’d like to send them your manuscript thus far to review to see if they’d be willing to sign on as a potential endorser and  be willing to read the final when it’s ready.

If you have any connection with these people at all, or perhaps know of them through a mutual friend or business peer, it’s worth a shot. If you can even get two or three such people that will greatly enhance your proposal. I was able to do this with a current book that is in the proposal process and therefore could approach publishers, saying, “I have contacted so-and-so and they have agreed to an endorsement or at least to be a potential endorser upon reading the final manuscript.” This is better than not having any names at all.

When you’re after the bigger names, you’ll more than likely have to wait until after you have a contract in hand so you’re not wasting their time reading a book that may not make it to the stores. For these people, find out from your publisher when they need to have all your endorsements in, then start very early in searching out your names. Know that sometimes it can take weeks to get to the right person, then a few more weeks for that person to read your book and get an endorsement back to you. And, the last thing you want to do is to pressure your endorser to hurry up because you’re on deadline!

Second, know how to pitch yourself to your potential endorsers. Especially if no one knows who you are, you’re going to have to give them a reason to want to read your book. One of your main jobs will be to prove your credibility, either within your industry (if you are an expert at what you’re writing about) or as a writer. Remember that endorsements are a two-way street. If your book makes it big, not only will the endorser have helped you, but you can help her by having her name associated with a popular book.

When you introduce yourself to endorsers, let them know of any mutual ties you may have–whether it’s with people or companies in common industries. Why are you seeking their endorsement? What do you share with this person that will give them an instant tie to you or your book?

You’ll also have to prove to them why you are the best person to write your book. In many ways, you need to approach your endorsers with the same sales strategy as you would a publisher. Let them know there’s something in it for them, even if that something is simply a reason for them to be personally interested in the book (which you’ll have to demonstrate, of course).  For instance, maybe they had written a book that inspired you to write yours, or perhaps you’ve used some of their quotes in your book.

Finally, make sure the actual pitch is short and to the point. Again, think about how you’ve been approaching publishers. Work on your “elevator pitch,” making sure it is as concise and compelling as possible. In as few words as possible, offer them the premise of your book, demonstrate your credibility, and let them know why their endorsement will be mutually beneficial. Then, don’t forget to ask if you can send them your manuscript!

Next time we’ll look the kinds of endorsements you should go after and how to find them…