Category Archives: novel

How to Pitch Your Novel

Answer this question in one sentence: What’s your novel about? The answer is called an elevator pitch, a must-have pithy description short enough to deliver during a three-minute elevator ride.

It’s not easy to come up with a concise sentence that delivers the gist of your novel compellingly, but crafting book descriptions of twenty-five or fewer words is an essential skill in a world where agents can rarely lend an ear for more than a couple of minutes to an unknown author.


Your initial pitch serves as the bait to hook agents and make them want to hear more. It should be character-driven. If, in the words of John D. MacDonald, a story is “stuff [that] happens to people you care about,” then a pitch should explain who is trying to do what and why (what the stakes are).


Twilight by Stephanie Meyer—

NOT: A pack of vampires infiltrates a suburban Washington community.


A young girl risks her soul to love a vampire boyfriend.

Breaking Bad, AMC TV drama

 NOT: A man is forced to sell drugs to provide for his family after his death.

INSTEAD: A high school chemistry teacher dying of cancer teams with a former student to manufacture crystal meth to secure his family’s future (from a Netflix blurb)

Here’s a pitch by Jon Land, the author of Blood Strong: “Female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on homegrown terrorists as she races to solve the one mystery that eluded her legendary Ranger father and grandfather.” (ZING!)

And here are pitches I came up with for my novel and for two stories:

  • A grief-stricken mother defies her husband by developing an intimacy with a charismatic male medium who promises to make contact with her dead toddler. (Ninth-Month Midnight)
  • When a self-conflicted schoolteacher discovers her younger sister is a drug addict, she takes steps to protect herself against her sister’s accelerating destructiveness. (“Golden Girl”)
  • A middle-aged daughter grapples with past demons and her mother’s brutal unkindness to secure a future for herself. (“Mother’s Day”)


Kathleen Antrim, a successful author, sums up her major plotlines in no more than twenty-five words. She uses a “What if . . . So what” strategy to:

  • convey the major conflict (plotline) of the story.
  • reveal the protagonist.
  • suggest why we should care enough to read the story.

If an idea can’t be contained in this simple framework, it’s probably not focused enough.

Following are a few examples of the “What if . . . So what” pitch. (I’ve underlined the stakes.)

  • What if a cyborg is sent back through time to kill the mother of the future savior of mankind?  (Terminator, 19 words)
  • What if the first lady is plotting to overthrow the president? (Capital Offense, Kathleen Antrim, 11 words)
  • What if a young girl risks her soul to love a vampire boyfriend?  (Twilight, Stephanie Meyer, 13 words).

In each case, you’ve not only told the agent what your book is about, but you’ve also engaged him or her emotionally in the action of the protagonist. Both Land and Antrim emphasize the importance of stressing this emotional component.

The point I want to drive home is simple: a good pitch is an invaluable tool that you’ll use again and again: when you’re sitting at a book signing and someone asks you what your book is about; when you want to hook an agent; and when you’re trying to sell your book to an editor. The editor, in turn, will use it when explaining your book to the sales-and-marketing team, who will use it to sell your novel to the bookstores.

Voila! You’re on you way.










How to Open a Work of Fiction—Part Two

Last month we covered different ways to open a novel or short story, focusing on first chapters and preliminary paragraphs. Now let’s move on to the beginning of the beginning, your story’s first sentence, your first opportunity to hook readers. Writer’s Digest guest blogger, Jacob M. Appel (January 9, 2014), offers seven different approaches to crafting… Continue Reading

Why I Write: A Manifesto

A host of indie and traditionally published writers are exhorting authors to share a manifesto with their followers. The dictionary defines manifesto as a statement of values, beliefs and goals. As applied to our profession, it is designed to remind us why we’re writers and to get us back on track when we’ve gone astray.… Continue Reading


I’m lucky enough to have written and self-published a novel called Ninth-Month Midnight. ( But since then I’ve been going bonkers trying to get started on my next novel. I can’t begin to count the number of suggested approaches I’ve attempted to put into effect. The following are just a few of the resources I’ve… Continue Reading

Orwellian Resurgence: What’s It All About?

Given the current political scene, George Orwell’s work has re-emerged into prominence. His novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was originally published in 1949, when the world faced the rising threat of Soviet totalitarianism. Today, almost seventy years later, the perceived threat is closer to home, and Orwell’s novel has skyrocketed onto Amazon’s bestseller list. In a 1974… Continue Reading

Self-Publishing To-Do List

I had no idea what I was doing when I decided to self-publish my novella, Ninth-Month Midnight, about a woman who loses a child and almost loses herself before a charismatic psychic offers her hope. I came to the do-it-myself decision after wasting too much time waiting for traditional publishers to bite. It took trial… Continue Reading

How to Cure the Beach-Read Blahs

With the onset of autumn, I’m guessing many of you are sick of so-called beach-reads and ready for some substantial fiction, the kind that lingers in the heart and mind long after you turn the final page. To those of you beset by the literary blahs, I offer a potent remedy. The following contemporary novels… Continue Reading

The Plot’s the Thing, Part Two

This month I turn again to John Gardner for inspiration, paraphrasing his comments on plot generation in The Art of Fiction. Last time, we talked mainly about short story plotting. As Gardner points out, writers labor over plot (as if we didn’t already know!). Trying out one approach after another, they often find that an… Continue Reading