Book writing and PR

Top mistakes people make when writing a pitch…

Want to sell your real life story? Or do you have a book you’re planning to pitch to literary agents and publishers? Don’t ruin your chances of getting your story out there by writing a less than perfect pitch. Here I outline the most common mistakes people make when writing one…Common mistakes people make when writing a pitch

* You didn’t include contact details.

The most important are a daytime contact number and your email. Bizarrely some people don’t include either or just put their home address – which isn’t a lot of help when you want to quickly contact them!

* You haven’t told how your story ends.

The biggest mistake is to write: ‘so what happens in the end… well, you’ll have to read the book/contact me to find out…’ Busy editors don’t have the time to play annoying guessing games – they need to know what happened in the end now. Incidentally, if you are selling a real-life story or pitching an autobiography, they need to know what the situation is now. So let them know.

* You haven’t said anything about you.

Quite often people email us to sell a story and think information about them is unimportant. But in this industry we do need to know your age, if you are married/ have children and what you do for a living. Similarly if you are writing a book, you need to include this in your bio. You also need to make yourself sound interesting – the fact you are retired and then decided to write a book is all marketable information and not saying it can mean you are selling yourself short.

* Your pitch is overlong.

Busy editors simply do not have time to wade through thousands of words. I regularly have people emailing me their book and suggesting I read 80,000 words to see if they have a saleable story. Unfortunately with the best will in the world, I simply do not have the time to read it all – and neither does any other editor. Sadly this might mean your story will be set aside to ‘read later’, never actually be read and your pitch will then be overlooked. You need to get into a paragraph of a few hundred words at the very most what your real life story or book is about.

* You haven’t followed the submission guidelines.

If you are pitching a book to a publisher or literary agent, there are usually defined guidelines to follow for submission. Find out what they are and then follow them to the letter. So again, don’t send your whole book when the first chapter is all you are asked for and don’t email it if you have been asked to post a manuscript (and vice versa.)

* Your pitch is difficult to read.

When emailing, do not send your pitch in CAPITALS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING and do not send a block of writing. Nothing is more off-putting than a long email of type. Write in paragraphs – break your sentences up so the reader can see more easily what you are saying. Obviously if you are pitching a book to a publisher or author your writing should be impeccable with perfect spelling and grammar – and some require everything written in double line spacing.

* You’ve sent your pitch as an attachment

Attachments don’t always get opened. Far better to copy and paste everything directly onto the body of an email as just seeing it might catch that editor’s eye and encourage them to read on. You can always send more info in an attachment – ask the editor if they would like to see more and if it’s Ok for you to send it that way.

* You have sent your pitch to the wrong person.

It sounds obvious but pick up the phone, ring the company and find out who to send your pitch to. Also check the company deals in your sort of story – so your fiction book goes to an agent who specialises in fiction and so on. It is simply a waste of your time sending your pitch to the wrong editor – and doing that guarantees a rejection.

* You haven’t personalised your pitch.

Incredibly, at sell your real life story Featureworld we receive emails from people with the names copied in of other agents, newspapers and magazines that person is also approaching. Or, people will write: ‘I am contacting a number of agents…’ As we deal with exclusive stories, this means we do not bother to contact that person back (and it is likely everyone else they’ve contacted takes the same view.) Again, when pitching a book never mention other agents or publishers – far better to find out who to send your pitch to and then personalise your pitch, even if you do plan to approach a few people.

Finally, be contactable. I cannot stress enough the importance of an editor being able to contact you. It’s fine to have an answerphone but you must check it and then return the call (and preferably within the hour and not next week…) Otherwise what did you do your pitch for?

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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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