The Wild Pitch

It is the third month of the Major League baseball season so I thought it would be fun to explore the concept of having a quality pitch. As with baseball, the author needs to pitch their ideas in an effective manner. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Every once in a while a baseball pitcher uncorks a horrific throw that sails past the batter and everyone wonders what happened. (Click here for a quick 24 second clip as an example.) In baseball terms this is classified as a wild pitch.

Unfortunately many writers unleash a wild pitch at an agent or an editor. We can only wonder what the writer was thinking. What follows are twelve pitches that have been tossed my way.

“Save for the Bible, the book you’re holding in your other hand is the most important work you’ll ever read! Let me know what you think.”

“I found the information about you encouraging and uplifting, as opposed to some others that seem a little too much like angry puppets of the establishment.”

“Thrilled by the idea of making a bomb, they fill a beer bottle and then hurl the “Molotov cocktail” at the shanty…It erupts in a mushroom cloud of flame. Giggling at first, the horrified pair gasps at the sight of a human torch in a window.”  [[one paragraph later in the cover letter it claims…]] “It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

“I sincerely doubt you will engage in any business with me, just because that’s how sick and sordid the industry has become…I mean, I produced the piece of work, you didn’t. Now, I challenge you to do your job.”

“If Dan Brown wrote my religious thriller [book one title], it would be more thrilling than the da Vinci Code. And if Michael Crichton wrote my apocalyptic [book two title], it would be a more exciting story than Prey. Finally, if Clive Cussler wrote my crypto-history [book three title], it would have more depth, realism and complexity than Atlantis Found.

Subject line of the email said: “DON’T READ THIS.”
(So I didn’t.)

“WARNING, this query, in all likelihood, will not meet your all submission requirements because your submission requirements probably don’t meet the needs of this novel.”

“I came across your listing on the internet. You would not have been my first choice…”

“All my literary efforts…are stirring works caught in the vortex of disintegrating modernity. Each work is a mixed genre, essentially fiction-fantasy-history, with an environmental twist, and many young folks.”

“This novel is…an enjoyable romp with outrageous characters and themes that just about anyone can identify with; including sinister ‘friends,’ insane parents, existential nausea, jealousy, and sexual frustration.”

My book is “an egregious 866,000 words…Despite its bulk, I have read it three times over…and still love it….Action, adventure, magic, romance, sex, theology, and horrible, ugly violence are all to be found within.”
(To the writer’s credit, they admitted its length was a tad over the normal limit.)

On December 22nd our office received a query letter that gave us until January 5th to make a decision or they were going to self-publish. Might want to give that “ultimatum” some thought?

A good pitch, on the other hand, is delivered with focus and precision. Think about it for a minute. A baseball pitcher starts by learning how to grip the ball. Then comes the best way to actually throw the ball. Some adjust their arm angle to achieve the optimal way to maintain the right speed for a particular pitch.

Don Sutton, a great pitcher in his day, was not known for his overpowering arm but he learned that the genius of his delivery came from his legs and core body strength. Each pitcher finds his own comfort zone and type of pitch that works for them. Some are all about speed (Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax could all throw over 100 mph), others are all about curveballs or change ups. And some are about placement in, or out, of the strike zone. Or like Mariano Rivera who had a wicked cutter.

Much like a major league pitcher you must work on your delivery. Find the best way to pitch your idea in such a way that it is easy to catch. Focus. Precision. Intent. And a pitch that is really strong.

Let’s carry the concept one step further. Each pitcher is different, just like each writer is different. For every Randy Johnson, strikeout artist, there is a Wilbur Wood, whose knuckleball pitch was almost impossible to hit squarely. But each pitcher uses the same fundamentals of grip, arm speed, leg strength, and follow through.

Watch this incredible one inning pitching performance by Randy Johnson in 2001:

Play Ball!


[This is an updated version of a post that ran in March 2012.]

26 Responses to The Wild Pitch

  1. Avatar
    Richard Mabry March 26, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    Steve, some excellent advice. The baseball metaphor is very apt, and resonates with me (since that was my position). In baseball, sometimes the pitcher uses a “purpose pitch,” coming inside to move the batter away from the plate and out of their comfort zone. In the sport, this works well, However, when the writer unleashes a query to an agent that insults or angers them… Well, that’s another story, isn’t it?
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube March 26, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      Richard, as long as you don’t throw at my head I’m usually willing to play.

  2. Avatar
    Connie Almony March 26, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    Great analogy! Gives me a good sense of what to do and why.

  3. Avatar
    Bethany Macklin March 26, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    I don’t know which is more amusing; those “wild” pitches or your response to them!

    My father in law played semi-pro ball (as a pitcher) and my husband played pitcher all through high school, so your analogy really hit home. 🙂

    Thanks for another focused, helpful post.

  4. Avatar
    Lindsay Harrel March 26, 2012 at 7:19 am #

    I can’t believe that people would pitch that stuff to you! And in such a way! Wow.

    Loved the analogy here. You’re right: focus will win out.

  5. Avatar
    Steve Laube March 26, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    It is respect for Mariano Rivera…not the Yankees! Shudder. We Diamondback fans are still buzzing about winning the World Series in 2001 over the Yankees on a hit off…Mariano Rivera. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Matthew Sheehy March 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      The infield was drawn in! If Jeter was in his normal spot (or if the d-backs had let Byung-Hyun Kim pitch more), the Yankees could’ve won their fourth world series in a row.

  6. Avatar
    Steve Laube March 26, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    How about:

    That don’t impress me much.
    (An inside pitch without any mustard on it.)

    Taking care of Business.
    (a routine ground ball.)

    Climbing a stairway to heaven.
    (sitting in the cheap seats at the ballpark.)

    • Avatar
      Nancy B. Kennedy March 26, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      LOVE IT!

      Taking care of business and working overtime…
      (Extra innings.)

      This could go on forever!

  7. Avatar
    Ruth Douthitt March 26, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Wow, those are some pretty…interesting(?) pitches!

    Thanks for the analogy! I hope to be more precise with my pitch.

    Thanks for the tips!

  8. Avatar
    Amanda Dykes March 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Oh, goodness. This had me laughing for two reasons:

    (1) It’s just plain funny; and
    (2) Sadly, I have my own baseball faux pas to relate.

    I was a totally by-the-book kid. I mean, if I didn’t know how to do something well, I just wouldn’t risk it. Not such a great quality, if I ever hoped to learn anything… but one day I worked up the courage to try something new at the plate: bunting.

    Only problem? I didn’t know what bunting was. I just took my six(ish)-year-old brain, put it to work, and concocted some definition of what I thought bunting must logically (???) be, based on what it sounded like.

    I stepped up to the plate, and when that over-sized, padded softball came floating my way from some parent/coach, I filled my lungs, I jutted my jaw…. and I poked the ball. With the bat. And missed. Yep, you read right: poked it. Stuck that thing straight out in mid-air like a pool stick and gave it a jab. People laughed, I was mortified (I snicker at six-year-old self now)…and that’s how I learned what bunting was NOT.

    Lesson learned? Know what it is you’re trying to do before you give it a swing (or a poke). Or, in your more eloquent words, “Find the best way to pitch your idea in such a way that it is easy to catch.”

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer Major March 27, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    I’m out in left field….

  10. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott June 11, 2018 at 3:55 am #

    Mud bogging on the baseball diamond? Fun for a moment, but it won’t get you to home plate.

    Thank you, Steve, for my Monday morning giggle.

  11. Avatar
    Faith McDonald June 11, 2018 at 7:36 am #

    While I think I have a great idea (you even told me once it was “a worthwhile project”. I know my writing is good, pitching to an agent makes me so nervous. I’m interested in reading an example or two of a good pitch… Would you share a couple?

  12. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield June 11, 2018 at 7:47 am #

    Great analogy. My husband pitched in HS and college and had pro prospects, and we have watched a LOT of baseball and softball ever since. But in fast-pitch softball summer leagues, he was sometimes a pitcher and sometimes a catcher–a very unusual skills set combination for one person. (A generation later one of our sons pitched and the other caught in that same summer league.) Your post reminded me that the agent also understands the process from BOTH the “pitcher’s mound” and “behind the plate”–a unique and valuable combination for the writer’s “team.”

  13. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson June 11, 2018 at 8:14 am #

    Oh, my goodness. I knew people did weird stuff, but these are over the top. They are funny, though. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Avatar
    Jane Baker June 11, 2018 at 8:18 am #

    I appreciate the what not to do’s, but I would like to see some pitches you liked, too.

  15. Avatar
    Michael Torres June 11, 2018 at 8:22 am #

    Love this, Steve. I can only imagine the quotes you can’t post.

    So, I’m a Yankees’ nerd. Please don’t throw the bat at me…Mariano’s pitch–the cutter. Just sayin’.

    The metaphor is interesting. Here’s a guy that threw basically one pitch his entire career, arguably the GOAT reliever, stood up there without taking a sign and told the hitter–“Here it is. Hit it.” Overwhelmingly, they didn’t. (Other than a bloop hit by Gonzalez in the 2001 WS…I’m still crying over it.)

    Ever come across one pitch writers that were/are successful? “Here it is, represent it?” (Of course in a professional way.)

  16. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee June 11, 2018 at 12:52 pm #

    But Steve….you don’t want my book if it’s 866,000 words? Where’s your sense of fun. I mean, look at all the stuff the guy promised you’d find in it. Okay, you have until Monday to decide…or he will self-publish….and maybe print one copy. (Because he loves it…)
    Great posting!

  17. Avatar
    Tisha Martin June 12, 2018 at 12:41 am #

    Steve, this blog post fits like a glove, especially since Bob will be keynoting “Write Like Baseball” at Write-to-Publish conference this week. Don’t tell me, he told you what topic to about write this week. 😉 I’m looking forward to also meeting Dan. Plus, I haven’t been to WTP in 15 years. It’ll be great to be back…and to see friends again.

  18. Avatar
    Brennan McPherson June 12, 2018 at 4:40 am #

    This post left me with two burning questions: What’s a vortex of disintegrating modernity? And what’s the definition of existential nausea?

    Next time on. . . the Twilight Zone.

  19. Avatar
    Bob Pinder-Moss July 4, 2018 at 1:13 pm #

    I’ve never pitched a book to anyone, despite having written 10 of them. In all honesty, I wouldn’t know how to do such a thing, but it can’t be all that hard. It sounds like another form of writing, which is a gift I was given and thoroughly enjoyed. Being abrasive to people, believing in your own superiority or having some conspiratorial attitude wouldn’t work if you were selling cars so I wonder why those folks thought that selling a book that way would work. It reminds me of the fighter who goes to great lengths to berate his opponent, build himself up, grandstand for the rubes…and then gets smoked in the first round.


  1. The Wild Pitch by Steve Laube « Northwest Christian Writers Association - July 23, 2012

    […] post first appeared March 26, 2012 on The Steve Laube Agency blog. Reprinted by kind […]

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