Five Don’ts for Pitching Books and Manuscripts

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Apr 22 2011

Author Name: Krista Davis
Title of Book: The Diva Haunts the House
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub Date: Coming September 6th
Agent: Jessica Faust

Author Web/Blog links:

Malice Domestic Convention (

Mystery authors are about to descend on Bethesda, Maryland, for the annual Malice Domestic Convention, which celebrates traditional and cozy mysteries. Right about now, everyone is practicing their elevator pitches for Malice Go Round. It’s their opportunity to sit at a table with readers and sell their books. But there’s a catch — they only have two minutes! There are twenty tables in the room with two authors seated at each table of readers. When the cue is given, each author has two minutes to talk about his or her books. Then the authors rise and switch tables. It’s exhausting but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m no pro, but I have picked up on a few mistakes that authors make. (I’ve made them, too!) Last year, when Jessica and I spoke about it, she noted that many are the same mistakes that writers make when sending her queries. Don’t let these happen to you.

1. Don’t bore them with structure.

“I based The Quintessential Murder on the hero’s journey.”

Are you bored yet? Me, too. If you’re a writer, you might enjoy discussing the structure of a book, but it doesn’t spark interest in a book for most people.

2. Don’t waste time with the obvious.

“My books are about the relationships between people and how they react to a murder in their midst.”

Doesn’t that apply to most mysteries? If you’re a New York Times Bestselling author, you could get away with this. Then again, your audience would be just as thrilled if you leaned toward them and asked if your mascara had smeared.

3. Don’t overload them with names.

“John and Mary have a complicated relationship. That’s because of Sam, who never liked his mother, Imelda, who is a difficult woman at best. So when Arthur and Hugo enter the picture . . . .”

Lost yet? Limit yourself to two or three names. Other people can be identified by tags, like “Sam’s mother,” to simplify things for the reader or listener. And be specific. How is the relationship complicated? How does that impact the plot? Who is the book about?

4. Don’t tell them the story behind the story.

“In this book I wanted to explore the dynamics of a troubled marriage in the computer age. There are so many changes in our lives now that we’re available 24/7. We’re never without our smart phones anymore.”

But what’s the story about?

5. Don’t digress to subplots.

“Amy Pierson’s sister disappears two days before her wedding. The window to her bedroom had been broken from the outside, and a red feather was left in the middle of the floor. Then Amy’s brother announces his engagement, but his fiancee is a ditz whom no one likes and she drives to Scranton to see her ex-husband who runs a video arcade.”

Wait, wait! This one starts out well, but slides right into a side plot. Stick to the primary story. What about the sister who disappeared? That’s far more interesting than the brother’s little problem. Whether you’re querying BookEnds or pitching under pressure at Malice Go Round, remember that it’s all about telling a great story. Good luck!

Krista Davis writes the Domestic Diva Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her first book, THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME, was nominated for an Agatha. Krista’s most recent release is THE DIVA COOKS A GOOSE, and she’s looking forward to September 6th, when her Halloween-themed mystery, THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE, will be available.

Visit Krista at her website Krista blogs at, where mystery writers cook up crime . . . and recipes, and at, where the characters do the blogging!

31 responses to “Five Don’ts for Pitching Books and Manuscripts”

  1. Avatar Victoria says:

    Great tips!! I've never had to do the 'elevator pitch', and I'd be afraid to try, but this all helps.

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    These are all cool and really, really helpful. Can you give us an example of a sentence or two that DOES work well for the quick pitch timeframe?

  3. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Only two minutes!
    OMG…gulp…clear my throat…cough…brain freeze.

    Ms. Trite says:
    When given two minutes to complete an important task, men have a distinct advantage.
    Most only need two minutes to pitch and perform anyway.

  4. Avatar Scott Eagan says:


    Can I add my two cents here as well. Writers need to also remember when submitting manuscripts outside of pitches, these same guidelines are crucial. Your query and your synopsis that you send to editors and agents need to be be this focused. Since agents and editors are reading so much, precision in your wording is key!

  5. Avatar Krista says:

    Victoria, if you're working on a book, it would be a great idea to have an elevator pitch ready. I'm sure people ask you what your book is about. Right?

    ~ Krista

  6. Avatar Krista says:

    Okay, Anonymous, I knew someone would ask!

    I usually begin by introducing myself.

    I'm Krista Davis, and I write the Domestic Diva Mysteries about Sophie
    Winston, who lives in quaint Old Town, Alexandria.

    In THE DIVA PAINTS THE TOWN, Sophie's best friend, Nina, runs into a boyfriend from her college days and joins him for dinner for old times sake. That night, in a panic, she wakes Sophie for help, because Nina thinks she may have, sort of, accidentally, killed him.

    If time is up, I stop there.
    If I have more time —

    The next morning, Sophie finds his body, but when she returns with the police — he's gone.

    ~ Krista

  7. Avatar Krista says:

    Wry wryter, the short time frame forces us to focus on the story. There isn't time for anything else! Try it!

    ~ Krista

  8. Avatar Krista says:

    Scott, that's so true. We need to get to the point right away in our queries. Grab their interest with a story that leaves them wanting to read it.

    ~ Krista

  9. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    Great advice, Krista. Thank you!

  10. Great stuff! Wish I had read this before I was interviewed about my book, "Harnessing a Heritage". Not knowing what sections the host was going to ask questions about caused me to drift into too-long responses. Three takes later and a repeat of the questions, I had my six minutes of fame pretty well worked out.

  11. Avatar Krista says:

    You're very welcome, Robena!

    ~ Krista

  12. Avatar Krista says:

    It's easy to ramble, Doctor Eclectic. You're not the first person to do that. At least you had your six minutes of fame!

    ~ Krista

  13. Avatar Janet Bolin says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Krista! My first book comes out after Malice, so I won't be doing any official pitching this year, but readers may ask what my book is about, and it's probably best not to wave my hands around and say, "Uh, you know, um…"

  14. Avatar Krista says:

    You're so right, Janet! It's something we should all practice so that we're ready with a coherent response when someone asks about our books.

    ~ Krista

  15. Avatar Meg London says:

    I'm going to start practicing now! My book isn't out until September 2012 but friends are already asking me "what's it about." I don't want to leave them with glazed eyes!

  16. Avatar Imani says:

    Thank you for posting this. I just talked with a publisher about the importance of a great pitch for my book. I thought I had it, but I apparently didn't. I'm going to save this post to my favorite for future reference. Again, thank you for the tips.

  17. Avatar Alan Orloff says:

    Thanks for the tips, Krista. I'm doing my first Malice Go Round, and I can use all the help I can get. I'll start with "Don't bore them…"

  18. Avatar Stephsco says:

    Krista's right, it's good practice to have a quick summary for anyone. I'm unpublished but people are always asking what I'm writing. Trying to summarize everything before their eyes glaze over taught me I needed a good one liner and a little more description after that to fill it out. It even helped me focus my writing.

  19. Avatar Ernest Hemingway says:

    Okay … It's about this old man, see … uh. And he lives in Cuba. And there's this boy who used to work for him, but his parents think it's unlucky to be in a boat that hasn't caught a fish for 89 days. Oh, did I mention the old man's really trying to catch a fish?

    So the old man goes out alone, really far out to sea, and he finally catches this really, really big fish, see. And it takes him, like two days to actually catch the fish. But he finally hauls it in.

    No, there's no romantic subplot in this story. Sorry. What's that you say?–publishers really want to see some romance in a book these days. Oh.

    Well … uh, he finally gets the fish in, and it's so big he lashes it to the side of his boat. And, uh, there's like this really, really big shark who keeps attacking the fish and eating chunks of it as it's lashed to the boat.

    Happy ending? No, sorry, the story doesn't have that. Does it need that?

    Man, these 2-minute pitches are hard.

  20. Avatar Krista says:

    I can't wait to hear your quick pitch, Meg! You're so right — it's never too soon.

    ~ Krista

  21. Avatar Krista says:

    You're so welcome, Imani. Good luck with your pitch!

    ~ Krista

  22. Avatar Krista says:

    LOL, Alan! Congratulations on your Agatha nomination! I'll see you at Malice Go Round. I'm looking forward to hearing your pitch!

    ~ Krista

  23. Avatar Krista says:

    Stephsco, it's funny that you mention the glazed eyes. I've seen that look. It's an immediate giveaway that I've strayed!

    ~ Krista

  24. Avatar Krista says:

    Oh my! This topic brought Ernest Hemingway out of his grave! Uh, Ernie, sweetheart, aside from being surprised to see you, I suspect your readers would be equally mesmerized if you simply ordered and devoured a drink in front of them.

    But that story about the fish has potential . . . ; )

    ~ Krista

  25. Avatar Avery Aames says:

    Great tips, Krista! Love em. Two minutes can fly by. Make sure you drink water in between tables. And breathe! And if possible, think saying "cheese." 🙂


  26. Avatar Trisha says:

    Excellent tips indeed! I see a lot of these problems in early versions of people's queries, pre-honefest!

  27. Avatar Keri Neal says:

    *kringing* I do at least three of these everytime I tell someone about my book. AHH! Thanks for keeping me humble 🙂

  28. Avatar Krista says:

    Good advice, Avery! Thank goodness they provide water at the tables. We do need it.

    ~ Krista

  29. Avatar Krista says:

    Trisha, it's easy to make the same mistakes in queries. A honfest is a great idea. Are margaritas served at them?

    ~ Krista

  30. Avatar Krista says:

    Keri, you're not alone. But it only takes a little bit of tweaking to bring your pitch into focus. Give it a shot!

    ~ Krista

  31. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Re: point 1 – but the hero's journey IS the method through which you pitch. For Hero's Journey and application to screen and story, see Kal Bashir's excellent version at