Friday, August 12, 2005
Creating a Pitch for Your Book
Some of you BGs will be attending the ACFW conference next month. Others will be attending conferences at other times. And you writers out there at some point will be querying agents or editors about your stories. So you all need to come up with those infamous one-liners we call pitches. Here’s my take on the subject. First, I’ll speak to those attending a conference and talking face-to-face with an editor. The same pitch principles can be used for any query, so I’ll address query letters at the end.
A pitch is a HOOK. It should have one goal and one only: to make the editor want to know more about your story. Just as a chapter hook makes the reader turn the page, your pitch hook makes the editor ask a follow-up question. (Sometimes editors will ask a follow-up question simply to be polite. The trick is making them ask a question because they really are curious about the answer.)
A pitch therefore doesn’t have to cover lots of info about your story. On the contrary, it should be concise. And it shouldn’t focus on theme. It should focus on specifics in your premise that will place questions in the editor’s mind.
You have to put yourself in the shoes of the editor, who's heard a million pitches. What will make this editor want to know more about your story? Certainly not generalities. Nor themes. These things don’t lead to specific questions. Besides, all generalities and themes have been done before. The editor will think, “Ho-hum.” Ya gotta give him/her something fresh.
Let’s look at examples from my suspense wip, Violet Dawn. First, a generalized pitch:
A lonely young woman runs from her past only to come face to face with murder.
Uck. Boring. There's nothing fresh here. Nothing that’s going to make the editor want to know more. How many books are about people running from their past? How many books have a protagonist mixed up in murder?
Okay, so let’s try a theme-based pitch:
A lonely young woman—who's running from her past and becomes mixed up in murder—learns how to build a family.
Even more boring. First, the reasons stated above apply. Second, the "learns" part actually diminishes the painful past and murder elements. I’ve just skimmed over the major conflicts to make everything all neat and tidy.
Now, here's a specific pitch based solely on the premise. One designed to make the editor ask a follow-up question:
A lonely young woman running from her past discovers the body of an aged movie star in her hot tub--and CAN'T call the police.
Actually, I’d be willing to bet this pitch would place two questions in the editor’s mind. One—why can't she call the police? Two—if she can't tell police about the body, what’s she going to do about it?
If I were pitching this at a conference, I'd have responses ready for those two follow-up questions. I wouldn’t design the responses to fully answer the questions. Rather, I’d design each response to give a partial answer, with another hook. (Note--your response to a follow-up question can be longer than your original pitch. But still be as concise as possible.)
Editor question #1: “Why can’t she call the police?”
Response: “She doesn’t trust the police to believe in her innocence. And, this crime will bring national media. She can’t have her face plastered on the news—because the people she’s running from will find her.” (Inherent hooks: Well, who’s she running from? What happened in her past?)
Editor question #2: “So what does she do about the body?”
Okay, you have to trust that I’d have one, if I were pitching this book. But since Violet Dawn is already sold and coming out next year, I ain’t tellin’ the answer on this here blog.
Now, if you’re not attending a conference, but you’re preparing a query letter to an editor or agent, prepare your basic pitch in the same way. In your case, you’re hooking the agent/editor to read on—with the goal of prompting him/her to ask you to submit part or all of the manuscript. You can put this pitch in the very first sentence of your query. Or—I actually went further when I was looking for an agent. I bolded and centered the pitch right after the salutation. Sometimes I even put a box around it. That way, in one second, the agent/editor would know the gist of my story—and, I hoped, be hooked.
All right, wanna try writing pitches for your wips? You can leave comments here, or for further chatting, hop over to this blog’s discussion board (link on the left) and start a discussion on the topic.
Read Part 2