The pitch. Sweaty palms, chattering teeth, glaring editor.
Honestly, I’d rather be the pitcher in the championship game, two outs, bases loaded, and the winning run on third base. That pitch is less stressful than sitting on the opposite side of a table, trying to convince someone to spend the next year or two bringing your paper baby to publication. As an agent, I never envy the author in front of me—even though I try to make them comfortable. And as a writer… shudders.
Book pitches are hard. Luckily, after twelve years of competitive softball, eight of them as a pitcher, I know a lot about fastpitch. So to help, I’ve compared book pitches to types of softball pitches. Here are six kinds of book pitches that you should avoid.
- The fastball.
The fastball is the bread and butter pitch in softball, a straight, fast pitch. Just don’t throw it down the middle. Ever. A good pitcher works the corners to prevent batters from hitting it with the sweet spot of the bat.
But in pitching a book, you don’t want to go too fast. Take the time to prepare your pitch. Make sure it makes sense. Aim your pitch where you want it to go. And make sure you give enough information instead of whizzing out a one-liner that makes no sense.
- The change-up.
I loved throwing a good change-up. The change-up looks like you’re throwing a normal fastball, but then it comes floating in, oh… so… slowly. Batters look silly swinging before the ball even gets there.
But the change-up isn’t a good book pitch. No one wants to listen to you ramble on and on about every detail of your plot, waiting and waiting for you to get to the point. Be succinct. Figure out a good summary, hitting the beginning, climax, and end.
- The dropball.
I threw more dropballs than any other pitch. The best dropball pitchers are able to make it come in like a fastball, but just when the batter goes to swing, it plummets toward home plate, and the batter swings at air.
But you don’t want a dropball book pitch. That’s when the editor is tracking with you, until suddenly you say, “So that’s basically it.”
She blinks at you, confused. What is the conclusion? How does it end? Don’t do that.
- The screwball.
The screwball is trippy from the start. The pitcher jumps out toward one side of the plate, but the ball shoots to the other. It often ends with a batter either getting jammed or hitting a dinker off the end of the bat.
“So that’s when things get steamy,” the author says.
The agent’s eyes widen. She was interested in the pitch, until it turned… interesting. I just wanted a space pirate fantasy! she thinks. Not kinky aliens! Don’t say uncomfortable things. And for the love of God, don’t write them either.
- The curveball.
Curveballs look like they’re going to be a ball that is wildly off target. Then they suddenly curve and slide over the plate. “Strike!”
You can throw a book pitch curveball, too. “So they get married and everything is resolved. Then they get hit by a truck and die.”
What the heck? Why? Why the weird plot twist? “I… see,” says the editor.
- The riseball.
It takes a pitcher of great skill—and who is able to throw with sufficient speed—to make a riseball something other than just a high pitch. With the perfect flick, the riseball comes in like a fastball, but suddenly hops up, jumping over the bat.
Sometimes things escalate suddenly in pitches, too. “So two days after meeting, he proposed,” or “then he got angry and killed her.” Editors’ eyebrows raise. Make sure everything that happens has a sufficient cause.
I can’t pitch a softball anymore (thanks, damaged wrist), but I do know some things about pitching books. Whether you’re an athlete or a writer, I hope this helped. Comment below your best sports analogy writing tips!