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Three Key Elements to Pitching a Novel

Lauren DeFelice is a novelist and illustrator pursuing an English major at Monmouth University. She is currently enrolled in book inc’s Book Revision Lab where she is revising her debut YA Fantasy/Thriller series, CALL OF EMBERS. In her book inc column “Novel Concepts,” Lauren will discuss her journey as a young adult writing, revising, and pitching a young adult novel.  

As an aspiring novelist, I was thrilled when I secured a part-time job working at a local bookstore. Can you imagine a better spot for a writer than being surrounded by books? I still get starry-eyed every time I have to restock the best sellers. 

Currently, I manage the storefront and make book recommendations to the customers. But I’m also being trained to be a sales representative, and soon I will communicate directly with representatives from the big six (maybe now four) publishers

Finding “The Why” 

In training to be a sales representative, I learned you cannot predict what will sell … but you can determine “The Why” someone should care about a book. I’ve been writing my novel series for about 11 years now and I have been pitching it to agents for about one year. (Although it feels longer than that!) While I pondered my sales training, it occurred to me that I can apply that notion, finding The Why someone should care about a book, to my pitches to agents. 

Three Key Elements for a Pitch

For a successful book query pitch, I’ve learned there are three key elements. Let’s take The Hunger Games as an example. 

  1. The Catalyst – The catalyst is your protagonist’s “do or die” moment. It’s Katniss volunteering to take her sister’s place in The Hunger Games.
  2. The promise of the premise – This is the high-concept content your readers bought your book for—a tournament to the death.
  3. The stakes – What will your characters lose or gain? For Katniss, she may lose her life and the fragile society she lives in or she may gain love.  

Combine these elements and you have a pitch! 

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. If Katniss is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against her humanity, her life against her love for the people she cares most about.

After my book sales training, I revisited my cover letter to agents. Was I clearly explaining “The Why” a reader should care about my book? Do I present the three key elements – the catalyst, the promise of a premise, and the stakes in my pitch? 

I plan to keep pitching and applying what I’m learning from working at the bookstore. And hopefully, someday, I’ll roll that charming ladder all quaint bookstores have to grab a copy of the best-selling novel by Lauren DeFelice. Now wouldn’t that be a Novel Concept?