34 comments on “Make your pitch! But how?

  1. But Jeremy, don’t you think this “pitch me your novel” method is simplistic and terrorist? don’t you think *writers*, most of them, if they write, it’s because, precisely, they’d rather do that than *talk* ?? let alone “pitch” ? So let’s *resist the terrorism of pitch*! if the agent waits for a pitch to be interested, then, too bad for her. She’ll have to *read* to get an idea of your novel, of any novel. I recently read an article about litterary programmes in France : did you know there is a *job* (fichistes, writing “fiches”) for those who write a *pitch* about novels the speaker will speak about on TV without having read a single line of them? this is the way it goes… because actual *reading* requires attention and an abstract intellectual effort very few are willing to make.

    • Hi Alice,

      thanks for coming along and making the comment.

      And of course I agree with you that people should be prepared to read ‘the whole thing’, but unfortunately (?) that’s not the way the world works is it. We live in a soundbite age. Things have to be said quickly and simply. In most countries a tabloid press simplifies things down to their least complex elements and as a result the truth (a messy, complex, multi-faceted thing) gets squeezed into a container that is way too small for it.

      And the way we ‘sell’ ourselves does matter, clearly. As I saidin the post, some people were upset that their talk submissions were not accepted for the IATEFL conference in a couple of months. The only explanation (because the submissions are anonymous) is that the ‘pitch’ wasn’t good enough.

      And then the literary agent? Well if she has a pile of unsolicited manuscripts in front of her, SOMETHING has to attract her attention!

      So yes, I HATE the reduction of everything (truth, beauty etc) to its simplest exponents. But how do we counter the trend in the age of Twitter and mobile-phone-sized information delivery?

      Jeremy

      • And the way we ‘sell’ ourselves does matter, clearly. As I saidin the post, some people were upset that their talk submissions were not accepted for the IATEFL conference in a couple of months. The only explanation (because the submissions are anonymous) is that the ‘pitch’ wasn’t good enough.

        Oh, but perhaps the pitch is in the ear of the beholder, sort of? See, in that particular point, there is a running joke amongst MEXTESOL proposal submitters – if you want your talk to be accepter, make sure “fun” and “songs” are present in the title. And I reckon on some level or another we can give people what they want to hear, but … should we?

      • Yes, Gloria M., very good question !! should we give people what they want to hear??? I would also like to ask : it is possible that someone with very good ideas could not “sell” himself/herself well? is it possible that she/he could be able to blow everyone’s breath away the minute he enters the room, but is unable to condensate his aweomeness in two sentences, is it possible that those who refused this talk submission would miss a great opportunity to welcome new unexpected ideas. If you go to a conference to get what you expect to hear, or to hear a confirmation of your own beliefs, why going at all? if we want impact, change, new perspective, we shouldn’t be enslaved to a “pitch”,just open and attentive… so, eventually, I think a good “pitch” should be a vague one. The real Mc Coy, you’ll see live and talking.

  2. I read many books when I have time but it is difficult to choose a favourite but one of the most memorable is called Poland by James Michener.

    “This is the story of Poland seen through the eyes of many generations of the same fictional family. We follow the events from the year 1000 up until the fall of communism in 1980 in a very realistic story.”

    This is my first effort at ‘selling’ a book but I would hope it would encourage someone to read it. All of Michener’s books seem to be well researched and have a lot of fact woven around the fiction

    • Hi Bob,

      I love it (your description of Michener’s book). I suspect my agent (well, not MY agent, but the one I met) would say something like ‘yes, but where’s the personal story? Where’s the JOURNEY?’!!

      Jeremy

  3. I imagine the one line pitch for the Cutting Edge textbooks was “teachers can pretend they’re using the Task-based Approach without changing anything about their teaching at all”

    • Hello Alex,

      wow! Umm (he said, thinking fast about how to reply!!!!)….

      Two thoughts:

      1 If Cutting edge has succeeded (and by all accounts it has been very popular), then that pitch, whatever you think of it, seems to have dome the trick. Which sort of proves my point that ‘pitch matters!’

      2 Cutting Edge certainly fits one view of TBL – the one espoused by David Nunan in his book. It (Nunan’s view of things) is very different from Jane Willis’ description of TBL. I have mixed feelings about TBL in general, but Willis makes sense to me (nearly 15 years on) as a coherent proposal, whereas Nunan seems to be arguing for a kind of mega-PPP version.

      TBL, like the Communicative Approach, has never really know what it is, I feel!

      Jeremy

      • Perhaps we ought to regard Cutting Edge as a step toward TBL in that it leads students and teachers toward the task rather than setting the task and then building towards it. This will be /has been of use to many teachers who haven’t used TBL before.

        As Jeremy says “.. it has been very popular”. So the pitch must have worked

  4. And as terrorizing as the whole “pitch” idea may seem to some (myself included), we do “pitch” all the time! We do it when we meet new people or when we tell others about XYZ place / movie / song… it’s just that it is scarier when we are talking about our own work (or talks/workshops/etc), perhaps for fear of rejection?

    I fear I am going off on a different direction here, so I’ll just leave it at that and take a stab at your challenge – here’s a pitch for a very old story.

    “A birthday party, not unlike many others before it, is the starting point for a troubled young woman’s journey to find herself, embrace the person she has become – and appreciate the family that shaped her”

    • I don’t think we “pitch” all the time, we give an opinion (on a film, a book, etc.) and we pass judgements. There is nothing similar at stake : you won’t be accepted for a job or a talk if your opinion is not right.

      • Hi Alice,

        yes, I guess we only pitch when we want someone to ‘come on board’ and accept what we are doing, buy it, adopt it, look at it properly etc. That’s probably different from trying to impress in a general social way.

        Though there is something similar going on?

        Jeremy

      • Not sure I understand well, does giving your opinion equal “trying to impress” ? what I meant by giving your opinion, is inviting for an exchange of views, quite simply, not at all “trying to impress”. Is there something similar with “pitch” in the process ? sure, the will to find the right words to express what you think about something, but freely, without the stress and the tyrany of the pitch forcing you to “make it short, and with all the required bees expected in it.

    • Hello Gloria,

      that’s a great pitch for the ‘old story’. It works for me, and I guess it would have satisfied that agent I met – she might be interested in having a look at the novel that it describes!

      Jeremy

  5. Bob :

    Perhaps we ought to regard Cutting Edge as a step toward TBL in that it leads students and teachers toward the task rather than setting the task and then building towards it. This will be /has been of use to many teachers who haven’t used TBL before.

    As Jeremy says “.. it has been very popular”. So the pitch must have worked

    Hi Bob,

    yes, that’s the Nunan view of TBL I think. Whereas more ‘fundamentalist’ TBL would see the language-learning taking place within the task itself. That’s more like the Willis view.

    I’m sure you are right that the pitch worked. But also, maybe, the course itself satisfied many teachers and students! Who knows!

    Jeremy

  6. Hi, everyone,

    Will a novel authored by a non-native writer be ever noticed by those in the publishing industry. Which is more likely to be valued by fiction readers the creative use of language or the plot? If the answer is the former, then, by and large, non-native writers will be at a disadvantage.

    Youssef

    • Hi Yousef,

      thanks for coming along and commenting.

      There are many examples of non-native speakers being successfully published writers in English – Joseph Conrad always springs to mind in this respect. I think if a writer’s English is good enough and if what they write is compelling enough, then they have a chance.

      But finding an agent who likes you, and then that agent finding a publisher…wow, that takes some doing!

      Jeremy

  7. Thank you for this entry.
    I suppose in this time and age I would pitch my favourite/own novel in two sentences that run along a one minute and a half long book trailer.
    Daniela.

  8. The adult world seen from a child’s point of view that recreates a time and place that have disappeared. Nostalgia and love of the women in his family are the stongest elements in Gorki’s My Childhood.

    Does that make you want to read it? I probably haven’t done a good job but in this so called democratic world where anyone can be a writer, journalist, famous or whatever the filtering process inevitably reflects that. Film makers pitch so why not novelists? It’s not a perfect system but fortunately people find ways round it so we do see independent films and we have just seen an example of a writer who has become a best seller via the web and e-publishing (if that word exists!)

    Ana

    • Hi Ana,

      thank you so much for coming along and leaving a comment. And yes, your pitch made Gorki’s ‘My Childhood’ sound very interesting (I have never read it).

      I agree that novelists and film makers have to keep searching for the ‘magic’ pitch to try and find the way to persuade people how good they are!

      Jeremy

  9. One commendable thing about Cutting Edge is its Teachers Book. It was very, very user- friendly – much more than the coursebook – and provided lots of alternative procedures and options for monolingual and multilingual classes. Otherwise, have to agree with the comments above: nothing TBL about it (in Willis’s sense) – heavily grammar based. New Headway in disguise.
    As regards this year’s IATEFL, a colleague of mine was also rejected (I was lucky) but Jeremy, you refer to a “flurry of comments”. Where was it? Here, on your blog or elsewhere? I would like to share it with my disappointed colleague.

    Going back to one or two sentence pitches, many ELT coursebooks use taglines like this:
    INNOVATIONS: A course in Natural English
    NEW HEADWAY: A solid foundation that builds students’ language and confidence
    Do you know any others?

    LEO

    • Hi Leo,

      that is really interesting (thanks for coming along, by the way) – that the TG for Cutting Edge is so good. Most authors dis-enjoy writing them, so it’s good to hear that they have some fans.

      The flurry of comments was on Twitter. I think you can find some more on Ken Wilson’s Facebook page. I don’t ‘do’ Facebook, so I never saw them, but others did.

      Love your coursebook pitches. I’ll buy them all!!!

      Jeremy

  10. Hi Jeremy,

    I love how this post on pitching a book got me thinking about discourse and genre in general. If we don’t know the rules we are at a distinct disadvantage. So I’ll try my pitch, but I have a feeling, as good as it might sound to those outside of the field, it’s just pure chance if I throw a strike or a looping curve.

    Book Pitch: If you’ve never seen ice, you might believe it to be mountain of diamonds. If you’re world is your family, you might believe we are all crazy. In Macondo, a small town in Central America, the world comes to a boy as he moves to meet the world. And seven generations of Buendia family history is bathed in light and shadow in the process.

    Blog Pitch: If you’ve never seen ice, you might believe it to be mountain of diamonds. If you’re world is your language, you might believe everything can make sense. In “The Other Things Matter”, the world comes to an English teacher as he moves to meet the world…huh? Something seems familiar here.

    • Hello Kevin,

      thank you so much for coming along and leaving your comments. What a great pitch for Cien Años!

      I LOVE the two things being described so similarly. Really good fun.

      Jeremy

  11. It was ever thus, eh?

    I remember meeting an old Evening News journalist at my uncle’s pub in the centre of Manchester in about 1968. He told me that if you wanted to write anything beyond day-to-day reporting on the Evening News (there weren’t that many newspaper columnists in those days) you had to really pitch it to the editor.

    He said he’d wanted to write a column of stories with a twist of humour, a little bit of sex, a bit of religion, sport, an averted catastrophe, and a sidelong reference to the Royal Family. He had pitched it to the editor with this headline:

    ‘Sex-change football-mad bishop in mercy dash to Buckingham Palace’

    Maybe that could be the first line of a pitch for a new generation of smutty novels in the Tom Sharpe tradition? What would the second sentence of the pitch be?

    • Hello Ken,

      That’s an all-time great headline. What a pity the ‘News of the World’ doesn’t exist anymore (well, it’s a good thing actually) to print it!

      second line? Monarch found in compromising animal-care-assistant police bondage kidnap

      The story continues!

      Jeremy

  12. Hi, everyone,

    I have to say that I am not able to ‘pitch’ my favourite novel, since I find it very difficult and challenging to express myself in one or two sentences. I disagree that a bad ‘pitch’ is equal to a poorly written novel.
    But does it mean I’m a poor writer? Or maybe, I want to say too many things at once?

    Vesna

    • Hi Vesna,

      thanks for your comment.

      Yes I agree with you! It seems silly that a novel should stand or fall on a short pitch. It’s NOT FAIR!!!

      Still that seems to be the way the world works!

      Jeremy

  13. I think in one of my favourites it has been done so well in the first line that there is no room for a pitch.
    ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
    Damn, I can see I am going to spend the rest of the evening getting intermittently distracted by digging out first lines of other favourites to see if there is a theory worth holding there …

    • Hi Sally,

      yes, one of the greatest first sentences ever!

      Or how about ‘All of this happened more or less’, or the 1st line of Cien años de Soledad, or the 1st like of ‘A suitable Boy’ etc etc.

      What fun!

      Jeremy

  14. I think I forgot to come back to this post to write a pitch for my own novel. Just stumbled upon this post again today. How about this:

    “The Proper Order of Things” is about growing up and trying to make sense of a bizarre and partly disordered world which is, at the same time the only normality the Quartz children have ever known.” Oh, wait. You wrote that, Jeremy. Thanks again! It seems you were born to pitch. I should have hired you. When I had an agent it was her job to pitch the novel. Now I rely on my readers!

    Right now I’m reading and loving “The Night Circus”. When I’m finished I’ll try to come back and write a two line pitch.

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