So you’ve spent a bazillion hours writing the GREATEST NOVEL EVER. Every word is spelled correctly. Every comma has been checked. Every em dash is used appropriately. You’ve filtered for over-used words. And, of course, you’ve crafted a Killer First Line(click here for more info).

Your book is ready to sell! Congrats!!!

Pitch it to me!

If you’re like me, your tongue goes dry, you start to shake, and you suddenly remember you need to put the clothes in the dryer. (And that’s just me alone with my mirror. I may actually break out in hives if an agent was in the room.) I guess telling you now that you were supposed to write your pitch sometime between the time the idea floated into your brain and the beginning of your second draft wouldn’t help your confidence much, huh?


Shake it off! And let’s get to work!

All you have to do is condense your GREATEST NOVEL EVER into the GREATEST PITCH EVER, preferably one bite-sized concise Killer Sentence, no more than 35 words, that makes us want to read your masterpiece.


Lets break this down, step-by-step. First, write down this information about your story.

  1. MAIN CHARACTER (not the name) + an adjective that describes him/her
  2. MC’s GOAL
  4. WHAT ARE THE STAKES if he/she fails
  6. SETTING (only use it in the pitch if it’s important)

I’ll use THE WIZARD OF OZ as an example.

  1. Dorothy—lonely farm girl
  2. Her goal––return home
  3. What stands in her way––needs the Wizard, battles a witch
  4. Interesting tidbit––flying monkey army, tin man, lion, scarecrow
  5. Stakes––she may be stuck in Oz 4ever!
  6. Setting––transported into a magical land after a twister hits her farm.

Now, let’s put that into a sentence.

After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she must battle an evil witch with a flying monkey army to find the wizard who can help her return home.

That pitch is 35 words, 177 characters including spaces.

Notice that the MC’s name isn’t used, because it really doesn’t tell us much. Of the many interesting tidbits I had to choose from, I picked the monkey army because it played well with the conflict. The lion, scarecrow, and tin man are more related to the theme, which shouldn’t be a part of your pitch unless you can use an expanded to a two-three sentence structure.

After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she finds herself face-to-face with an evil witch and her flying monkey army. She befriends a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man to help her find the powerful wizard who can help her return home. If they fail, she may be stuck in Oz forever.

Add a few more details (like the Good Witch, poison poppies, sparkly ruby red shoes, her being an orphan, Kansas, Toto) to the three sentence example above, and you’ve got yourself a query hook.

What about Twitter Pitch Parties? This pitch is too long!

To condense this into a 140-character Twitter pitch, simply take the one-sentence pitch and get rid of whichever words you need the least.

When a twister transports a farm girl to a magical land, she battles a witch to find the wizard who can help her return home. #PitMad #MG

This looks easy, right? I kinda cheated, using a beloved, well-understood novel. Yours might be more complex. But even if it is, you’ll need to be able to boil it down the the essentials.


Behind the scenes  at The Winged Pen, we regularly help each other with pitches. Here are some great pitch tips from others in our group that will be especially helpful if you choose to participate in a Twitter Pitch Party!

Julie.— Adding recent comparable titles (comps) to a pitch can convey a lot of information about style and tone in very few words. So if your story is a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and The Walking Dead, or Sherlock Holmes reimagined as MG, or Veronica Mars in space, include that in your pitch for extra oomph! 😀

Laurel — Here’s a handy post from super-agent Jennifer Laughran to help you find the sweet spot for your comp titles. And two fun tools for brainstorming books that are similar to your masterwork: Amazon Visualization Tool and Whichbook.

Rebecca. —Now, you’ve got your pitch ready to go! Time to move on to your next story, right? WRONG! Now, it’s time to get creative. Most Twitter pitch parties let you pitch each manuscript a few times over the course of a day. Even for live pitches, you might want to let your hair down and have some fun with a pitch that has a little more voice. A creative pitch 1) sheds light on a different aspect of your story, and 2) gives you a second chance at bat. The pitch that calls to one agent might not get pulled out of the slush by another. Changing up your pitches gives your story the best shot at a request.

Even for a “creative” pitch, there are some “tried and true” formulas. Let’s take a look.

1, 2, 3. It’s a simple formula, yet appealing.

1 lost girl, 2 witches, 3 new friends. Dorothy and friends must defeat the evil witch to earn the thing each can’t live without. #PitMad #MG

Mash-up of interesting stuff. Imagine you’re an agent scanning through thousands of pitches at a twitter party. It takes something really grabby to get you to click on one. What’s interesting enough to rise above the slush? 

Poison poppies, flying monkeys, a wicked witch willing to kill her for her shoes – Dorothy must fight them all to make it home. #PitMad #MG

When using creative pitches in a twitter pitch party, it’s a good idea to pin your basic pitch to the top of your twitter page. Creative pitches might catch an agents eye, but they’ll probably leave them with questions too. If they’re a click away from your basic pitch, they’ll get a more compete picture of your story.

Great info, friends! Thank you!!!

Speaking of Twitter Pitch Parties! There are soooo many great ones coming up soon. Here are a few dates to add to your calendar. Polish your pitches now, so you’ll be ready. Click the hashtags below for more info!

February 23, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!

Feb 24, 2017 — #PitMad All categories, four times per year!

April 5, 2017 — #KidPit All KidLit categories

May 18th, 2017 #PitDark Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Horror

June 8th, 2017 #PitMad All categories

June 22nd, 2017 #SFFpit All age categories for fantasy and science fiction

June 22nd, 2017 #PBPitch Picture books only

June 28th, 2017 #FaithPitch All age categories for faith-based fiction

September 7th, 2017 #PitMad All categories

October 2nd and 3rd, 2017 #DVPit For marginalized authors/illustrators

October 26th, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!

October 26th, 2017  #PitDark Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Horror

November 8th, 2017 #KidPit All KidLit categories

December 7, 2017 #PitMad All categories

December 2017 #SFFPit All age categories for fantasy and science fiction


Others Twitter Pitch Parties to check out: #Pit2Pub, #PitMatch

Here are more references for writing loglines/pitches:



Tips on Twitter pitches






Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.







Writing Killer Kid Lit First Lines

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.57.17 PMIf I had a nickel for every time I’ve rewritten the first line in the book I’m currently querying, I could afford to take you out for a fancy dinner and maybe a movie. I’ll admit I’m a bit obsessive in my determination to write the perfect opening. I’ve lost plenty of sleep over it, and unfortunately it’s only the tip of the iceberg in my writer’s mania. My first chapter has been thrown away and written from scratch several dozen painful hair-pulling-out times. Seriously, you should see the floor underneath the chair where I write.

Part of my angst in all this is that I have an engineer’s brain and a writer’s soul. In engineering, the work make be tricky but in the end you normally know if you’re right or wrong. In the writing world, you never know, unless you become a best-selling author. Even then, maybe especially then, you’ll still have a long line of critics discussing the problems with your stories.

In an attempt to reel myself in and let go of my obsessive quest, I thought I’d approach this problem like an engineer and research methodical ways for creating KILLER FIRST LINES. Maybe with a checklist, I can finally give my opening line a stamp of approval and stop the insanity. And get some sleep!

Killer Kid Lit First Lines Checklist

  1. Hook your reader by hinting at trouble and/or raising a question.
  2. Concisely tell us something compelling about the main character, preferably, or at least hint at the unique setting or theme.
  3. Show your writer’s voice.
  4. Support sentence number one with an equally great second line that follows logically and gives the reader more information to pull them in.

I’m going to stop there with my checklist because most of the advice that I found beyond these four items was about techniques for achieving the Best First Line Ever Written. Let’s look at a couple of those now.

fishing-rod-309776_1280Techniques for Hooking a Kid

There are dozens of ways to go about achieving a first line that will pass the checklist. But since I’m writing for kids––the most important audience on the planet––I’ll share the two that I think are most effective for them. For more great suggestions, check out the links at the end. 

  1. Shock or surprise the reader by saying something outlandish.
  2. Be funny.

Kids love to be surprised and laugh. Here’s an example of shock/surprise from a book my high schooler is reading right now.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.19.03 PM
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” ––
1984 by George Orwell

There’s so much genius in those fourteen words. We instantly know that the world in this book is different from ours, and we want to know more about their way of tracking time.

Here’s another example.Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.21.09 PM

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” –-THE GRAVEYARD BOOKby Neil Gaiman

Try to read that sentence without a big frog clogging up your throat. I double-dog dare you.


Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.22.19 PMNow let’s look at a few humor examples. Who can resist chuckling at this first line from MATILDA by Roald Dahl?

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.20.39 PMHere’s another, this time from CHITTY-CHITTY BANG BANG by Ian Fleming.

“Most motorcars are conglomerations (this is a long word for bundles) of steel and wire and rubber and plastic, and electricity and oil and gasoline and water, and the toffee papers you pushed down the crack in the back seat last Sunday.”

Both of those examples should appeal to the naughty kid inside us all!

Okay, writers. With the checklist and techniques in hand, I feel better about giving a thumbs up to my first line now. Check out the links below for more advice on writing opening lines and then go make some writing magic happen!

Do you have a favorite KidLit opening line you’d like to share with us? Leave it in the comments below!

Opening lines advice:







MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade fiction and non-fiction. Connect with her on Twitter !