By Laura Drake
You all know me (Ms. 413 Rejections) so I’ll spare you the story. Just know that I have pitched a LOT in my life, and I’m here, fresh from teaching a Pitching class, smack in the middle of conference season, to give you some tips for pitching that will make your pitch so shiny the agents will be digging in their purses for sunglasses.
Do you have to have one? No. But they’re a great way to capture a gatekeeper’s attention fast. Your goal is to make them say (or think) “Ohhhh.” How to do that in 25 words or less? It’s not as hard as you might think. Because you’re NOT giving them the steak (the plot,) you’re giving them the sizzle.
Note: In case you need a breakdown of Loglines, Taglines and the like, click here.
There are a couple of different ways to tackle this – choose whichever one resonates with you and your story:
- Protagonist, genre, inner conflict, outer conflict, and climax.
- Hero, the antagonist, the hero’s primal goal and irony.
- Character with a goal and a conflict.
Regardless of which you choose, it must show:
- WHO the story is about
- WHAT he wants (Goal)
- WHY he can’t have it (Conflict)
Lee Nordling suggests using a template:
“This is the story about a _____ who __________________, only for _____ to discover _________________.”
You only have 25 words, so don’t waste one on the character’s name. It’s much more powerful to use a description; an adjective and a noun:
- A free-spirit debutante
- An Alzheimer’s afflicted politician
- A manic-depressive clown
See how much more compelling that is?
- A comedic portrayal of a young and broke Shakespeare who falls in love with a woman, inspiring him to write “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare in Love
- An archeologist is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. Raiders of the Lost Ark
It could be the intriguing premise, stated by combining two disparate references:
“Stephanie Plum meets the Underworld” ~ Darynda Jones, First Grave on the Right
There is a risk to this method, however. It depends on the gatekeeper having read/seen both. If they haven’t, you’re going to get a blank stare, which is NOT the reaction you want!
It could just be an intriguing line from your book – this is the line I used in my query for my debut novel, The Sweet Spot:
“The grief counselor told the group to be grateful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was thankful for the bull semen.”
There are no rules for a pitch, except that it MUST be: Clear & Interesting
That sounds obvious, but the vast majority of pitches I’ve heard have problems with one or both of the above.
There are three parts to a short (also called a one page) pitch.
- The Logline. It’s the first hook. It’s critical. Place it front and center. It’s the first thing you say to the person you’re pitching to (after introductions.) If you’re doing a query, use italics. You may even want to center it. Your goal is to make them sit up and pay attention, or to read farther.
- The Setup. WHO are we dealing with? Tell us about the protagonist. What does he/she want? Who is the antagonist? What do they want? How does this thwart the protagonist?
- The Ending. This is where the paths of a pitch and a query diverge.
In a pitch, you have to tell the ending. This is not a time to be coy. The agent can’t tell if you have a good novel if you don’t tell them the end. Besides, your ending can hook them too! Your query is different. A query is pure enticement. You’re trying to set them to read the synopsis (which does divulge the ending) and the chapters you’ve enclosed.
You have to convey:
The above will ensure that your pitch is clear.
- Match the tone to your book. If your book is funny, your pitch had better be. If it’s a drama, make it emotional. If it’s a thriller, it should convey high stakes, and tension.
- Don’t rely on plot. Think of your pitch as though you’re trying to catch a huge fish, using sewing thread. Sewing thread is not strong. If you try to reel them in using brute force; i.e. This happens, then that happens… they’re going to go away in their head. You’ve lost them. You want to pull them in, but very gently. You do this by instead, telling them why the story is interesting. Sell the sizzle, not the steak.
- Less is more. If this is a query, break up your sentences. Write short paragraphs. Give them small, interesting chunks – not one long, blah, blah paragraph. If this is an in person pitch, say, five minutes – your pitch should be no longer than three minutes. Leave them wanting more.
You’ve got to be able to say your pitch, without reading, without stumbling, and make it sound effortless, like normal conversation. Like a perfectly executed Gymnastics routine, that doesn’t come without LOTS of practice. Tell it to the mirror. Tell it to your toddler. Tell it to the mailman (and yes, I’ve done this.)
In my class, a brilliant student said she practiced by recording it on her phone. You can hear where it needs work.
Tomorrow, I’m going to share tips for what to do on your big day, but this is enough to digest for now.
Does anyone want to throw their pitch out there? Come on…be brave! We’ll all offer unsolicited help and feedback.
Laura Drake is a city girl, who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance. The Sweet Spot, the first novel in her, ‘Sweet on a Cowboy’ Series was released by Grand Central in May, and has earned a Top Pick from Romantic Times!
“From the cover and title you expect a sweet contemporary western, but this is a sensitive honest look at a family destroyed by loss, a family that must try to rise from the ashes of their old life and see what they are now – different certainly, but pieces or a unit? Drake’s characters are so real, and so like us, that you’ll take a look at your own life and count your treasures.”
http://LauraDrakeBooks.com Twitter: @PBRWriter