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How to Write the Perfect Pitch Letter

TLC Editorial, original artwork by Latterly

Submit to a literary agent with confidence and style, using TLC’s top tips on how to write the perfect pitch letter

Over the years at TLC, we’ve worked with thousands of writers through our editorial services, and a significant percentage of those writers have one goal in mind: getting published. Whilst of course this isn’t the only measure of success for a writer, if it’s something you want to achieve then you’ll need to get strategic about how to get there.

One of the first steps on the road to getting published is often the pitch letter: to a literary agent, or perhaps directly to a small or independent press. Along with the synopsis (more about how to write a synopsis here with our guide and template), it’s one of the most important documents in a writer’s toolkit, and a vital part of your submission package.

So, how do you write a perfect pitch?

First, an enormous and important disclaimer.

Your pitch letter is not the be-all and end-all
Your pitch letter is not worth your mental health.
Your pitch letter does not have to take up hours and hours of your valuable time.

If you are submitting a full length piece of fiction or creative non fiction to a literary agent, the pitch letter and synopsis will usually accompany your opening chapters (first 10-15,000 words), and this packet of three documents will determine if a literary agents ‘calls in’ the rest.

A couple of years ago, we asked some literary agents if they were able to share some numbers with us. For context, here was one agent’s response about how many submissions they were sent, how many they called in, and how many new clients they signed. This is for one full calendar year:

3,002 queries
74 full MS requests
3 new clients signed

As you will see, it’s not only highly competitive out there, but agents can only sign a limited number of clients per year. So, don’t be disheartened if you don’t immediately find the perfect match. And if you do get a full manuscript request, celebrate this! Sending work out can be a very exposing thing, so it’s important to note that the pitch letter and synopsis are simply business documents, and to treat them as such. Make sure you are managing your time, energy, and wellbeing during this process, and sending out only when you feel ready to do so.

Why the Pitch is Important

The perfect pitch letter shows an agent that you are serious, committed, and that you are a safe pair of hands as a writer. It also shows them that you have a clear vision of your book, that it communicates well and easily, and that you have a solid grasp of where your writing sits in the market.

No agent worth their salt will reject a brilliant manuscript because it has a slightly shonky pitch, but agents might read a weak pitch and begin to second-guess. So, don’t give them the chance for this doubt to creep in. Work on your pitch letter, then send it out into the world proud that what you’ve sent, you stand by.  

The Template

Let’s break the perfect pitch letter down section by section. This is of course only a suggested template, so you will want to make sure you leave some room to give it your own flair.

Dear [xxx]

It sounds obvious, but address the agent by name. If you are sending to multiple agents (which is absolutely fine, have a look at our How to Pitch to a Literary Agent resource here for more on that), email them one by one, never in a blind copy email-to-all. Avoid ‘Dear Sirs’. The publishing industry is 70% women and there’s no reason to use a generic (and sexist) appellation.

I am writing to you to submit the opening chapters of my [word count] [genre] manuscript, [title of book].

Get all of the key information into the top of your letter, quickly and clearly.

Reason for submitting

Agents understand that you will likely be submitting to multiple agents at a time. None of them will be expecting a customised love letter, so to help you create a template that you can easily use for different agents, having just a sentence or two that you can swap out for each covering letter makes this exercise significantly quicker. Just remember to double (and perhaps even triple) check that you have changed the name and this reason for submitting sentence for each new submission.

[Title of book] is about… and a sentence on themes

This is your three-sentence pitch. An overview of what happens (a kind of mini blurb).

EXAMPLE: The Clarity follows Margot, a young scientist working on a cure for Alzheimers who is blinded in a seemingly random acid attack. When the building where she was doing her research gets burned down, she quickly realises there is something else going on, and downloads a stash of files she suspects may contain the answer. Unluckily for Margot, someone is watching, and they will stop at nothing to destroy the files – and Margot.

The Clarity is about complicity, conspiracy, and the cost of secrets.

Keep it short, and pithy. Try not to overload the sentences with adjectives or vague nouns, and when describing themes try to identify the main one to three themes maximum. Remember, you will also be submitting a synopsis so you don’t have to go into full story detail here. If you have a complex plot, feel free to expand this paragraph a little.

Comp titles

[Title] would appeal to readers who enjoy X and Y. This might be two or three books that would sit comfortably on a bookshelf next to yours, or perhaps it’s two authors who you feel you’d share a readership with. Maybe it’s a Netflix show or a recent film. Comps are positioning tools, and by no means mandatory. They should be contemporary, and will give the agent a good idea of your readership, to whom you would be pitching the book should it get published.

About You

Here is a paragraph where you can talk about yourself. Include anything relevant here: are you part of a writing group, have you taken a course, do you have a special interest blog related to your novel with a healthy readership, have you been listed in writing competitions, or been published online. Keep it short! A few sentences are fine. If you’re not sure you have any relevant experience, don’t worry, the agent won’t be expecting a full CV. Just help them get to know a little about you – an agent-author relationship is a personal one, after all!

Sign off politely

Thank them for taking the time, say you hope to hear from them soon, and that’s it! Don’t forget to include your contact information. Even though everything is digital these days, in a busy office it’s still possible that documents end up getting printed or separated from each other. Make sure each of your submission documents contains the title of the MS, your full name, and a contact detail.

What Not to Do

  • Quotes: Lists of quotes from people you know about how great your book are are lovely for you, not particularly useful for an agent. Let the work speak for itself. (If you are writing a children’s book, and you have a very cute quote from a child connected to a recent school reading you did, by all means go for it! There are always exceptions)
  • White lies: If you do get an offer from another agent, it’s polite (and savvy) to inform other agents whom your manuscript is out with. If on the other hand you try to generate momentum by telling a white lie, this is bad form and won’t reflect well on you. Equally…
  • Timelines: Most agents will include timelines for response on their agency websites. Take note of these and if you don’t see anything, a polite follow-up around 12 weeks after submission is absolutely fine. Don’t, however, try to one-up by declaring your own timelines in your pitch letter.

An addendum on disclosure

At TLC we run various events, workshops, symposia, and panels for writers at all stages of their career. One question that comes up a lot, particularly at the moment when publishing is trying to diversify its creative output, is whether you should disclose particular things about your own identity in your pitch letter. This is a very complex issue that requires a longer response than this bullet point, however our general advice is this:

  • Think carefully about what you’re writing, in whose voice, and why (here is Kit de Waal’s excellent article on cultural appropriation)
  • You should never be expected to disclose anything that you don’t wish to. You can always have a confidential conversation later down the line should an agent end up representing you, but if you did feel it was useful to disclose something in your pitch letter where it’s relevant (for instance in the case of pitching a novel with mental health themes that you feel it’s important you say you have experience of), you can of course do this.  
  • No writer should ever feel pressure to disclose something simply because they feel it might be advantageous to them. Most agents out there are operating ethically and their purpose is to advocate for and protect their clients. This includes protecting them from creative exploitation. No matter what your lived experience, you are absolutely allowed to have boundaries.

Need more help?

We hope you enjoyed this TLC Blog. If you’d like some support with your pitch letter, we offer a Submission Package Report service which gives you detailed feedback on your Pitch Letter, Synopsis, and first 8,000 words. Find out more here.

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