Being a Working Writer Depends on One Thing: How Good Is Your Pitch?

Your problem isn’t your idea. It isn’t your words. It isn’t your lack of credentials or your fledgling platform. It’s your pitch


Allison Lane

3 years ago | 7 min read

To place your article or sell your book, you have to know before anyone else does why it is needed — at this moment, from your voice, for your reader. And you have to put all that certainty into a pitch, whether to an editor or to an agent in your book proposal.

Solve that missing link — of the “Why now?” and you’ll pave the way to a fervent yes!

Urgency Is the #1 Missing Ingredient for Your Pitch

We writers are sorcerers of the word. We pair words for a love match. Words dance and mingle, flirt, and seduce us into an immersive whirlwind. We search for meaning and display our hearts and hold out our truths.

  • Everyone loves my storytelling.
  • My message is important.
  • My audience is asking for my work.
  • Another author just wrote something similar, and my work is better.
  • They just need to read my work.
  • My book is going to break the genre wide open.

I’ve heard all of these said by gifted writers, thought leaders, experts, and literary wunderkind.

Truth: all of these statements are true

You created this idea. You captured its essence. You let it grow and nurtured it into what it is today. Now you need to gather that positive momentum and enter the more structured path to traditional publishing.

You birthed this. Now it’s time to sell your baby

When it comes to pitching their work to agents, media outlets, and literary publications, writers fall down.

They learn that a pitch is not the same as your work.

The voice of a pitch doesn’t jive with the voice of your literary memoir or your expert how-to. The message, once easy-breezy, becomes dull and begging. It lays on the screen as matte black, absorbing all life and energy.

I believe in my message, but how do I get it out there?

Photo by Justin Novello on Unsplash
Photo by Justin Novello on Unsplash

You’ve Got To Be Your Best Marketer

Everyone focuses on their work — yes, your writing needs to be good. Really good, actually. Your manuscript needs to be riveting. Your essays need to be captivating. Your articles need to be on point.

But now, it’s time to put away your treasured work and build your pitch — either to agents in your query letter and your book proposal or your media pitch. You’ve got to pinpoint how your writing stands out, offers something different, and delivers a surprise.

This is the bold, hard truth. A book proposal is a marketing plan. It is a sales forecast based on similar books that sold recently. It is a business document and definitely not written as a literary experience.

Stand tall, wordsmith

Remember, you are a writer. You birthed this beauty. You created something from the far reaches of your mind.

The hard part is actually writing your book or your essay — the pitch shouldn’t be. It just feels like it’s hard because you’ve never written one before. And there’s no one universal place to learn about them.

No worries, I’m about to braindump everything I’ve been telling my bosses in Fortune 50 companies for 25 years.

This is the same stuff I tell my writer friends and my writer clients — because it’s jacking my brain that this information isn’t universally available on BooksRUs.helpme or Publishing101.please or WeLoveGreatWritingAssociation.whatnow.

Heck, even shares the general description of what’s needed to apply to college. You’d think publishers would get together and fund a standardized class on book proposals. Wouldn’t it be great if pitches came with standards? Alas, it’s not happening, so here I go.

In any pitch, you are positioning your piece as a must-have right now. On how it fits into the market. On how it answers a need of the audience. On why you’re the right one to write it.

These Are the Biggest Mistakes I See in Book Proposals and Pitches

Thinking your story is universal

It’s not — but your lesson, your insight, your theme is universal. Think Cheryl Strayed’s hike along the Pacific Crest Trail is a universal experience? Nope. While I loved Wild, I do not want to sign up for that trek. But her message of healing from grief is definitely universal. Start with: what connects your audience?

Straying from the standards

This is an easy mistake to avoid. The more you know, the better off you are, and the more time and money you’ll save. Read the submission requirements.

Nearly all of them say something like 12 point type, black font, and a plain font like Times New Roman or Garamond or similarly readable. Fidgeting with fonts is rearranging the drapes. Nobody cares about the curtains, they want your view.

DIYing everything

This is what writers do because we wrote something wonderful all by ourselves. Doing everything yourself means you are not benefiting from others who want to support you and believe in your message.

From beta readers and critique partners to hiring an editor or taking a workshop. You’ll get farther if you invest the resources that other writers use.

Focusing like a creator

A creator is protective and not thinking about selling. But we’re trying to publish our work traditionally, which means we’re offering our work to another audience through a third-party filter that assesses its marketability — for that audience.

Even when pitching an article — you can pitch 15 magazines and get one yes — because your pitch is right for one audience, and not the other 14. Same with agents, editors, booksellers. Your words will always be edited unless you self-publish or write only for yourself. Newspaper writers don’t edit their work and don’t get the final say on the revision. They don’t pick the photos or write the photo captions, and they don’t write the headlines. Same for books. Accept this, and you get the benefit of a team that believes in your message and wants to make it better.

Resisting critique

Despite the alliteration, critique does not equal criticism. Critique is contribution. Running away from critique is giving in to fear. Critique is the editing process. Yes, your words are incredible — still, critique is necessary.

Let’s Talk About the Audience for Your Pitch

To get to your reader, you need a yes from an agent and publisher or an editor — if you’re pitching media. Your pitch is not going to your reader. So you can hold onto your modern retelling of Greek myths or your self-help about how kombucha can save your life.

Your audience is a word nerd. A book geek. A lit dork. An overworked, underpaid, stretched-thin agent or editor.

Agents are tired. Hopefully, they’re busy because they get paid on sales. 100% commission. I wish I had the ovaries to do a job, but dang, 100% commission is a tough road.

They’re reading your query only after their current clients’ work is taken care of and only when there’s an opening in their portfolio. They’re reading your query on their phone, at night, on the weekend, along with 100 or 200 others each week.

We want to give agents and editors a reason to ask for more. We want them to holler a quick “YAS!” Not a ho-hum nope.

Reasons Why Agents and Editors Reject Your Query

The premise isn’t compelling

Going on a road trip to get over a breakup is a bland premise. Selling everything to spend a year in Italy, India, and Bali… well, that’s a story we all know and love.

Comparing your story to global hits

If another author has spawned a movie empire or has billionaire status, it’s not a good comparison for you.

Agents chuckle about pitches with wild pronouncements, “My book is the next New York Times bestseller, bigger than Stephen King! You’d be crazy not to sign me now. Don’t let this opportunity slip by!” Um, no thanks, but do let us know when you return to earth.

Sloppy adherence to standards

When the word count is outside the acceptable range. If your essay is 7,000 words when the submission requirements call for 2,200 words maximum, you’re an easy “no.”

If your memoir is 200k words, trim down it to the standard 60–80k, pronto. Place your piece where its length is welcome. I sometimes write a piece at 900-words, 1,200-words, and 1,500-words just to see which feels right — and it’s the right size that gets published.

Typos and grammar mistakes don’t deliver

You can do better. Start with the free version of a web editor like Grammarly or ProWritingAid.

Time wasted on things that don’t matter one bit

Sweet mother, may I… do not design your own font. That’s a real-life, time-sucking example. And do not lay out your own pages. No, I did not know you were a typesetter, and you enjoy a tighter kerning. Again, a real-life example that you should not follow. Do not illustrate unless you are an illustrator.


I beg you — do not begin your article or your book chapters with a quote from someone else. You’ll have to pay the originator for those quotes if they’re less than 50 years old, ya know.

We buy the book because of your words, not those that inspired you. Also, Do not include the song list that inspired you to write this book.

Missing your relevance

You lasso a reader’s heart by being captivating, crucial, and not full of crapola. This is no time to be shy. Why are you the one to answer this problem, address this need, speak to this desire? You are the answer, friend.

Avoid these pitfalls and tap into the methods that work, so you can address the needs that your audience is screaming for. I can’t wait to see how your acceptance rates shift and your engagement deepens!


Created by

Allison Lane

Helping You Elevate Your Authority and Expand Your Audience. Marketer for Authors + People Who Should Be. Get awesome gifts to magnify your message







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