Pitching dos and don'ts

Here's a selection of dos and don'ts, for writing and delivering book pitches. For the whole lot, book a workshop ...


#1  Construct an argument; a logical progression to take your audience through, where x + y = this book will be a bestseller.

It doesn’t have to be watertight – we’re not in court –  but if it makes sense, it should be memorable and persuasive. Take a tip from the argument laid out in that famous Avis car rental ad. “We’re number two, so we try harder”.

Use comparisons to other books tactically, so they do a specific job in building your argument. For example: “It’s like Hogwarts meets Downton; there’s magic and there’s class conflict”. And you strengthen your argument when you hang your assertions on facts. For example “The author has worked in movies for years, so it’s no surprise this has a cinematic feel” is more persuasive than “this book’s really cinematic”.

#2  Involve your audience. Not with cheesy crowd participation, obviously - we’re not savages - but involve them mentally. Pose questions. Invite them to agree with you: “I’m sure you’ve been as amazed as me by the rise of [a recent book trend]; perhaps you’ll share my sense they’ve opened the way for [your new thing] ... to be big”. “Have you ever noticed”? “Don’t we all love a character who ...” 

#3  Intrigue them. Not by saying “I won’t tell you how it ends!”, which is a huge cliché and very much on the Book Pitch Banned List. Hint at something interesting. It could be an intriguing fact about the author, not just a plot point ..


#1  Telling when you should be showing. Making an assertion that something is good just isn’t effective. Demonstrating in some way that it’s good ... that works. But going on about how much you love a book, no matter how much “passion” you convey, will only get you so far. (And it’s not that far.)

#2  Trying to include everything. A common temptation for editors, whose intimate knowledge of a book often inclines them to favour comprehensiveness and accuracy at the expense of engagement. Less = more.

#3  Make it all about you. A pitch that starts “I acquired this book after a fiercely competitive auction ...” just alienates everyone. See the Banned List

However, remember that if you frame it well, you can use your specific experience and perspective to convey authority, eg “I’ve worked on this brand for five years and I’m always struck by ...”


#1  Experiment with different types of script, and find what works for you. There’s no one right way to deliver your pitch, no matter what any “expert” books will tell you.

  • Full script, with highlights
  • Headings, on index cards
  • Bullet points of key phrases
  • Nothing at all

Winston Churchill had his speeches typed right-justified, with a new line for every phrase. Worth a try?*

*(I tried it; didn't work for me!)

#2  Prepare properly. Don’t be that bumbling amateur. It’s very rarely charming.

Type it out in full, even if you won’t deliver it that way.

Read it out loud.



Each time you edit your script, you’ll make it sound more natural, and more like YOU.

And while you’re doing them, these rehearsals will cement your command of your material, bringing enhanced confidence, which will in turn allow you to be more spontaneous, not less.

#3  Remember: your slides are not your presentation. YOU are your presentation.

Don’t get so hung up on formatting Powerpoint slides that you under-prepare your own message. And if people are reading, they’re not listening, so keep the information on screen minimal.


#1  Look at the screen.

Please don’t look at the screen. (Or the flipchart, if you’re going old-school).

It says “ignore me!” 

#2  Focus too much on the outcome.

… because you can’t control it. Obviously you’d hope you nail your pitch so well you get promoted on the spot, and don’t suck so badly you get fired, but it’s not in your control.

If you’re not feeling confident about the outcome then take a leaf out of Steve Peters’ book and see how confident you can feel about preparing and trying your best. Bit more doable, no?

#3  Keep banging on. Learn how to pause. It takes practice, but it works a treat when you can dare yourself to do it.

Take inspiration from Barack Obama’s speeches online. He pauses, not to a Beckettian extent, but just enough to create tension and have us think “what’s he going to say next?”. See how much confidence it conveys, and note how it aids the clarity of his argument; a sequence of clear messages.

It’s a high benchmark, but see if you can adopt a tiny bit of Obama, in your own way …