Literary Agent Advice: 4 Rules to Write a Stand-Out Book Pitch

Evan Jensen

Thinking about pitching your book idea to a literary agent?

It’s no secret that scores of book pitches and proposals end up in a mammoth-sized slush pile every year. So what’s going to help your book idea stand out?

Literary agents have to sift through a mountain of book ideas. Many of them miss the mark and get dumped. But if your book pitch is handpicked by a literary agent, they’ll partner with a publisher to bring your book to life.

Note: This does not happen by accident.

If you’re serious about writing a book and pitching a literary agent to help you get published, the throw-this-together approach usually doesn’t work.

You need a plan of action for how to get a literary agent. Look at it this way: More than half of the book pitches an agent receives aren’t a good fit. If you don’t want to fall into the abyss of rejections, you need to know how to stand out.

Want to get your book published and become a real freelance writer? Check out this insider advice from a literary agent.

Table of Contents

  1. Master the elevator pitch
  2. Provide details to describe your book idea
  3. Craft a perfect author bio
  4. Write a one-page pitch

Meet literary agent Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb is a literary agent for Trident Media Group, based in New York City.

He’s represented many New York Times best-selling authors, and helped up-and-coming writers get published.

Some of his recent clients include:

  • “The funniest dad on Twitter,” James Breakwell, author of Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse
  • Marco Rafalà, author of the debut novel, How Fire Ends
  • Deborah A. Wolf, who submitted a book pitch that turned into a five-book deal for The Dragon Legacy series.

“If you have an interest in book writing and pitching a literary agent to become a published author, I want you to take a look at what works, success stories, and these three tips.”

4 Rock-Solid Tips for How to Get a Literary Agent

1. Master the elevator book pitch

Wondering how to get a literary agent’s attention? Make it as easy as possible for him/her to get a taste for your book idea… just enough to want more. Consider it the elevator speech for your book.

If you’ve pitched magazine-article ideas to editors, you already know how to do this:

  • Practice your elevator pitch. Before you pitch a literary agent, you’re probably going to spend some time thinking about your book idea, doing research, maybe even interviews. Boil all of that down into an elevator pitch, and practice it: “I’m writing a book about…(describe it in a few sentences). The process will help you refine your book idea so you can write a compelling query letter.
  • Write a query letter to your literary agent with a quick pitch, hook, or  your “elevator pitch.” Get their attention, and pull them in within the first few sentences.

Success story: Deborah A. Wolf

After reading an interview with me, Deborah A. Wolf, wrote a beautiful query letter that showcased her writing abilities and pitched her book idea for The Dragon’s Legacy series.

Her extremely well-written query letter helped me secure a five-book deal for her.

Deborah A. Wolf

2. Provide details to describe your book idea

Dial in your elevator pitch for your book idea, and you’re ready to move on to the next part of your pitch. Here’s what to include:

  • Explain the purpose of the book (non-fiction) or plot details (fiction)
  • Describe the main points or topics of the book in short-paragraphs
  • Include a list of two or three comparative or competitive book titles. A good comp-title is a best-selling book, appeals to a similar age-range and genre as your book, and was published within the last five years. In case you’re wondering, it’s OK place the comp titles within the quick-pitch portion of your query letter.

Success story: Marco Rafalà

When Marco Rafalà pitched his book idea to Trident Media, he listed some great comparative titles similar to his book idea. His bio, endorsements from award-winning authors, and writing community involvement, also helped me sell his forthcoming major debut novel, How Fires End, to Little A, the literary imprint of Amazon Book Publishing.

Marco Rafalà

3. Show off your street cred with a well-written bio

There’s one more critical part of a book pitch that new authors often overlook: Your bio.

It’s another opportunity to show your literary agent that you’re the perfect person to write your book, and have enough street cred to make it happen. And it needs to be one tight paragraph at the end of your book pitch. Here’s what to include:

  • Relevant writing experience and writing credentials
  • How you became interested in writing the specific book or writing in general
  • Links to social media pages or author sites

Success story: James ‘The Funniest Dad on Twitter’ Breakwell

Buzzfeed.com gave James the moniker after reading his posts @XplodingUnicorn where he writes humorous post about being the parent of four girls, family life, and other topics for an audience of 1.1 million followers. With his bio and a built-in audience, I’ve been able to land James multiple book deals, including the forthcoming book, You Can’t Be a Pterodactyl.

James Breakwell

4. Write a one-page book pitch to land a literary agent

Remember when I said literary agents have to sift through mountains of pitches, most of them bad? The vast majority are also too long. If you’re thinking about pitching a book idea to get an agent to help you find a publisher, keep this in mind:

The entire long-form pitch or query letter for your book should fit on one page. That’s it. No multi-page pitch or novel-length prose.

One. Page.

You’ll need to do some serious editing, writing, and rewriting to get your book pitch down to one page. But it’s worth the effort.

If you follow these rules to write a stand-out book pitch, you’ll be more likely to convince a literary agent to take you on for representation. You can do this!

Think you’re ready to pitch your book idea to a literary agent? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Evan Jensen is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When he’s not on a writing deadline or catching up on emails, he’s training to run another 100-mile ultra-marathon.

Join my freelance writer community: Freelance Writers Den

28 Comments

  1. Dedra Muhammad

    Thank you for the helpful information. I definitely plan to follow some of the leads you offered.

    Reply
  2. Mark Gottlieb

    Hi Valerie,

    Thank you but as a matter of company policy, I can only review query letters when submitted via our website’s Submissions page.

    All the best,

    Mark

    Reply
  3. Debajit Kumar Das

    While going through an article on a newspaper i felt, if such article can find publishers attention i can write far better and that made me to sit down and sketch out my experience as salesman. It’s all about salesman and salesmanship. Why people fail, why people cannot impress a client and why people get bogged down and crumble under pressure. I’ve already completed the book and is looking for a literary agent who can recognize the dearth of inspiring books; it’s completely different to all motivational books where one can develop spiritually by staying composed even during hardest moments

    Reply
    • Evan Jensen

      No offense, but your comment has a bunch of spelling and grammatical errors. If your pitch, proposal, or manuscript looks like that, it’s going to be a tough sell. But if you’ve got a legit idea, pitch it to a literary agent, directly to a publisher, or consider self publishing.

  4. Diane Young

    Five years ago I came across a quote that triggered an idea for a book about France and the French. I did LOTS of research and filled several spiral notebooks with all kinds of grist for my mill. I even did due diligence researching published books on the French. Then I hit a snag when I couldn’t decide on the genre and quietly put the notebooks away. Now, in reading them again, I see the conflict–two books in one–a serious, critical book and the other, a tongue-in-cheek poke at the French. I’ve decided to go with the latter. I’m glad all my research wasn’t for naught after all. Now that I know I can use the same type of pitch as I use for magazine articles, I think I’m off to the races! Thanks so much for inviting Mark Gottlieb to share his insights.

    Reply
    • Evan Jensen

      Hi Diane,
      If you’ve got a solid book idea, pitch it to a publisher, literary agent, or self publish. Carol’s advice: “Be a writer, not a waiter.”

  5. David Craig Berliner

    I’ve written a 32-verse poem for children that provides marvelous word images for an appropriate illustrator.

    The “story” will captivate youngsters and inspire them to use their imaginations to reach out to the worlds [plural] outside their bedroom windows.

    Question: How do I identify an agent or editor who is involved with children’s books and will actually read the work and respond?

    Reply
    • Evan Jensen

      Hi David,
      Get Writer’s Market and look for literary agents for children’s books. That’s my best guess. Generally, poetry is very poor way to make a living writing.

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