Monday, September 07, 2009

Creating a Pitch for Your Novel

If you’re attending the ACFW conference this month, or if you’re querying agents, you may be struggling with how to create a pitch for your story. These guidelines can help.

First, remember that a pitch is a hook. It has one goal only: to make the editor (or agent) at the conference 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.)

Therefore, a pitch doesn’t have to cover lots of information 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.” You need to give him something fresh.

Let’s look at examples ...

Continue reading in my Making a Scene column for this month's Christian Fiction Online Magazine.


Daniel Smith said...

Excellent advice. Thank you for sharing this.

BTW, I can find no links to archived or past articles on the CFO Magazine site. Will your sage words of wisdom be lost forever after the next update or do you save them somewhere? You see, I'm not ready to write my pitch ... yet.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Daniel, the archives link is there on the CFOM home page, but with all the graphics it's hard to miss. Here's the URL for the home page of CFOM:

Look to the far right and you'll see a graphics that reads "Archives."

Daniel Smith said...

I was mulling over how to phrase my pitch on the way to work this morning.

That link is below the fold and hard to find, but I'm glad I know about it. Thank you!

Liberty Speidel said...

Wow, I've never heard it put this way! Thanks for the superb advice!

Hope Chastain said...

Excellent advice! Thank you so much for the wonderful tips!

Katie V said...

Hey Brandilyn - This has been EXTREMELY helpful and freeing for me, especially as I prep for ACFW.

Once we have that pitch down, and have wow'd our listener w/ it verbally, or impressed them with it in a one-sheet, and had a follow-on discussion, what should we have prepared to hand-off (or email) to the interested party?

Obviously I can, and will, comply with specific requests, but more generally:

* what's in a typical proposal? Synopsis (as below) and first 3 chapters? 20 pages? 50?
* novel synopsis (length, what to cover, tips)
* I like your idea of putting the pitch, front and center, on a query letter. Would you suggest it at the top of the synopsis?

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

A proposal should contain a synopsis and first 2-3 chapters (depending on how long the chapters). Try for a one-page synopsis. And yes, you can put the one-liner pitch at the top of the synopsis or even on the cover page beneath title.

Katie V said...

Thanks! I searched the blog and found this quote from Andy Meisenheimer when you interviewed him: "A book proposal is a story; tell it well." And also your interview w/ Terry Whalin, which I'll read next.

Daniel Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie V said...

Hi there - me again. My WIP has a present story line interspersed w/ chunks of a past storyline a la Color the Sidewalk For Me.

I know - from excellent mentoring - that both story lines need their own plot, w/ plot points, and the past storyline needs to drive the current plot.

Question is, how do you recommend I write the synopsis? Summarize the 2 plots separately? Or attempt to weave them together, flashing back and forth? Or other? :)

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

First a disclaimer, Katie: I'm not the world's expert on proposal writing. I just haven't had to do that much of it.

At any rate, I would synopsize (if that's not a word it should be) both the plot lines individually. I'd lead off saying this is a past/present story, with plotlines for each. (BTW, the present story must be dominant, of course, because it will contain the driving questions of your story. That's not to say the past plotline can't be large. You mentioned my Color the Sidewalk for Me. The past plot in that book is large.)

So anyway I'd say I have these two plotlines, see, and they're interspersed in chunks--or chapters, or however you do it. Then run through the present, then the past one. Be sure to make the point that the places where you switch from one plot to the other are at critical hooks for the opposing plotline, which leaves the reader hanging and turns pages.

Rememer a synopsis is just that. It doesn't have to be greatly detailed. Therefore, trying to show exactly where each plot line is placed is more detail than you need, in my opinion.

Katie V said...

Most excellent! Many thanks!