Serving Up the Perfect Pitch #AuthorToolbox

baseball in mittWith the arrival of conference season, it’s time to get those rusty social skills out and start polishing. For me, that means reevaluating my manuscript and figuring out how to talk about it in a brief and interesting fashion. In other words, getting my pitch ready.

Of course, “pitch” is really a poor word for pitching. A pitch isn’t just flinging words at the other person or trying to send our book idea soaring past him as fast as possible. Like a game a catch or sustained volley, you are trying to create a dialogue, a back and forth. You don’t want to pelt him with content. Instead, you want to toss him interesting bits that he can ask questions, tossing the conversation back to you. Really a book pitch is more serve than pitch.

However, when nerves are running high and you are asked to sum up your book in a sentence or two, without preparation it’s easy to freeze. One of the best ways to prevent that awkward silence is to craft your pitch and practice it until it is second nature.

Crafting your Pitch

The first step to an amazing pitch is to take the nearly 100,000 words in your manuscript and reduce them to less than fifty. Distilling your story into such a concise description may seem insurmountable, but if you look at the New York Times Best Seller list, each book is described in one or two sentences. Like honing your character developing your logline will help you hone your story concept.

What is a logline?

All loglines should consist of a sentence or two that includes:

  • Protagonist: Instead of character’s name, your logline focuses on what your protagonist is.
  • The protagonist’s goal: The goal that is driving your character and your book forward.
  • The conflict: The antagonistic forces creating tension in your story.

Then you can enhance it by including the stakes if your protagonist fails, any time pressures that help increase the tension, a frame of reference (if needed), and the aspect of your book that makes it unique.

Curlicue of film Develop your logline

Of course, this is easy to say, but when you think of all the moving parts, it can be challenging to determine which bits to include in your logline. I suggest starting with the description of your protagonist. Consider the most important aspect of what they are—gender, societal label, occupation—and then pick one of the six adjectives from your honed concept to add some flavor.

After you have determined how to discuss your protagonist, you need to break down the plot of your book. Here is an end-to-beginning method. Consider the resolution that occurs because of the climax of your story. Then work through these questions:

  • How did your protagonist win?
  • Why is she forced to use this path to win and not some other path? This question explores the character’s actions that lead directly to the climax.
  • Why did she embark on this path? This examines why your character proceeded with the actions mentioned in the previous question.
  • Why does she find herself in this situation? This question deals with the decision that set the protagonist irrevocably on the path of the story.
  • What would happen if your protagonist fails?

Next look at your story’s setup prior to the inciting incident. Write a brief description that provides a frame of reference for your world or your character.

Then list three things that make your book unique.

Finally piece these bits together until you have a vivid thirty-second breakdown of your book told as a captivating narrative arc. Easy right? (ha)

Example

Hogwarts dining hall in OxfordHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Describing the protagonist

What: Boy, wizard, orphan

Adjective: Brave, headstrong, protective, untrusting, intuitive, compassionate

Exploring Plot
  • How can Harry stop Voldemort? He has to prevent Voldemort from getting the stone that would bring him back to life.
  • Why did he have to protect the stone? Because he obtained the stone from its protections at Hogwarts.
  • Why did he obtain the stone? Because he believed Snape was after it for nefarious purposes and therefore believed it wasn’t safe where it was hidden.
  • Why did he find himself at Hogwarts? To train to be a wizard at a preeminent wizarding school like his parents.
  • What would happen if Harry failed to protect the stone? Voldemort would return to life and kill Harry.
snow owlSetup

Harry has lived a lifetime of neglect and abuse at the hands of his non-magical aunt and uncle after his wizarding parents were murdered by the dark lord Voldemort.

Three unique traits

A wizarding world hidden in our world

A wizarding school similar to normal boarding school but teaching fundamentals of magic

A magic community that almost fell into darkness but were saved by an infant

Putting it all together

A brave boy begins training as a wizard and must prevent the dark lord who murdered his parents from rising to power once more.

This car up sign above an elevatorDevelop your elevator pitch

elevator

An elevator pitch is a line or two that focuses on the hook of your story. Unlike your logline that concentrates on content, an elevator pitch is all about enticing. It should make the person hearing it curious to know more. This may come from what makes your story unique, or it might be an aspect of the story that appeals to your audience. Regardless, it will be the razzle-dazzle of your pitch.

This car up

Put together your pitch.

puzzle with last piece slightly elevatedStart with the title, genre, length of your book, and whether your manuscript is complete or not. Then combine the best parts of your elevator pitch and your logline to form your pitch. If you have a five-minute pitch, your initial pitch should last about a minute to ninety seconds. The rest should be a dialogue between you and the person you are pitching to. You want them engaged, asking questions, and driving the conversation.

However, if she isn’t grabbed by that initial pitch or if she simply asks for more without giving you direction, you need to have a plan to keep moving forward.

Expanding on your initial pitch

Delve deeper into your character arc. Most likely, your logline will focus more on plot than character. As you continue through the pitch, highlight more of your character’s growth through the story.

apples oranges and kiwisGive comparables. Being able to discuss similar books shows you know your market and have thought about how your book will be sold. This is a valuable trait for an agent or publishing company. (or if you are indie publishing something you need to think about anyway since you will be marketing your book entirely.) By connecting your stories to existing ones, you can leverage existing audiences but be honest. Also, when providing comparables, steer clear from blockbusters. Otherwise, you may sound pretentious. Try to use more obscure books with smaller followings. To find these, you have to read broadly. Make a note when you find an author or book that is similar to your own storytelling. If you are struggling to identify comparables, ask people who are beta reading or critiquing if they can think of any.

Discuss more about what makes your book unique. Why will people want to read it? What sets it apart from what is already out there? Why did you write it?

Tips for the Pitching

Keeping the conversation going. Make sure you have another talking point to work through if conversation stagnates. This was a mistake I made in my second pitch. The first went so well that when the agent didn’t immediately engage during my second one, I was at a loss for what to talk about next.

Listen. This is a conversation. Listen to what the other person is asking or saying. Acknowledge it and use it to spur the next part you discuss.

Don't panic logoDon’t panic. The person you are sharing this idea with is actually a person, not a monster in a convincing person suit. Agents and editors are people just like you. If you do panic, despite your best intention, figure out how to move forward. Admit it or hide it. You need to just push forward, even though your stomach is in knots. (I was terrified at my first writers’ conference, but as I have attended more and interacted with agents most of the intimidation has diminished. For me practicing pitching while I don’t have a finished manuscript helps. I am getting the first-time jitters out without the stakes. Of course, I will be pitching to an industry veteran at the next conference I am attending and am slightly nauseated when I think about it, but I know it will be a valuable practice.)

Don’t fight. Be passionate and emotional while you are writing, but don’t be emotional about your completed work. You are starting a relationship with your pitch. If he says something needs to change, acknowledge it and move forward by agreeing, considering, or redirecting the conversation, but make sure you acknowledge his comment. If you come off dismissive why would he want to work with you?

Practice! Practice on your other writer friends. Use strangers as sounding boards. You are trying to engage an audience, find that audience and see if your pitch starts a conversation. If not think about why, edit, and then practice some more. Keep practicing until the initial pitch is second nature, more reflex than thought.

Once you perfect your pitch, you can easily share your story with anyone—agents, editors, other writers, and potential readers.

handshake

Learn more about publishing and craft by checking out other blogs in the monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop created by the indomitable Raimey Gallant. Toolbox filled with writing implements

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By | 2018-05-16T02:32:30+00:00 May 14th, 2018|Publishing, Writing|28 Comments

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28 Comments

  1. Ronel Janse van Vuuren May 16, 2018 at 6:14 am - Reply

    “Don’t panic. The person you are sharing this idea with is actually a person, not a monster in a convincing person suit.” Love that! Great tips, thanks for sharing.

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Ronel. Because they are the mystical gatekeepers, interacting with agents can feel intimidating especially at first. Exposure therapy is one of the reasons that I am attending conferences even though I am not ready to seek representation. The more you interact with different agents the easier it is to see them as people and not untouchable entities.

  2. Dawn Byrne May 16, 2018 at 7:23 am - Reply

    Not looking forward to this part of novel writing. I’m sweating already. Thank you for the instructions on pitch.

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      You will do great, Dawn. Just practice and breathe.

  3. Anna May 16, 2018 at 11:44 am - Reply

    Seeking practice and feedback may also help with pitches and/or queries. Good luck to all that submit. No matter how its done, it’s scary as h#ll. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:20 pm - Reply

      Definitely. I should have probably highlighted that practice tip a few more times for good measure. Thanks for stopping by, Anna!

  4. Chrys Fey May 16, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I enjoy crafting loglines for my stories. What I struggle with is the elevator pitch. Thanks for the tips!

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:18 pm - Reply

      I am hoping to delve further into the elevator pitch in another post. I felt like this one would start to verge on too dense if I went into in more depth here. It can be difficult to figure out the shiniest bits of your own story. In some ways the methodical method to craft a logline is probably easier than the elevator pitch.

  5. SE White May 16, 2018 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this super helpful post! Loglines are hard, but kind of fun 🙂 I’ll be clinging to the “don’t panic” button the most, I think!

  6. Raimey Gallant May 16, 2018 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    I never realized I should have both an elevator pitch and a logline prepared for in-person pitching (and then combine them.) Also, “a book pitch is more serve than pitch,” is such a great quote. Years from now, when you’re a famous author, and people are combing your archive, I feel like this is one of the lines they’re going to latch onto. 🙂

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      You are really sweet, Raimey. Another suggestion I have heard from other industry professionals is to have tagline worked out as well to show you have really considered the marketing of your book.

  7. Adam May 16, 2018 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Condensing a complex narrative strikes me as a strong exercise, and a good litmus test.
    If you as the author can’t identify the core of your story, how will audiences, and how will you (or publishers) market it.
    I think your point about avoiding a character’s name, and instead focusing on their “identity” or “role” is spot on. After all, what’s in a name?

    I also about why a character chose or was forced to use a specific path, in contrast with other options. That’s a very good way to test whether the outcome was natural and reasonable.

    It can be dizzying sometimes, how many different versions of the “the story” one must develop, each with their own length, scope, and focus. But it’s a great way to really analyze your story.
    One person I listened to talk about the “10 second pitch”, the “30 second pitch”, and the “1 minute pitch”, which served to fit different people’s level of patience, and the various “longer pitches” that would follow, if their interest was piqued.
    It’s that classic but comical chain of “You have 30 seconds to earn a few minutes. You have a few minutes to either earn 10-15 minutes or a request for more, and that can earn you the right to actually have a chance.”
    It’s all about having a whole repotoire of resources, so that you can fit into whatever “frame” or angle the literary agent is asking for.

    I feel like a great article, or class/training session, would be teach aspiring authors how to play the role of the literary agent, both to better understand how to pitch well, and to learn to play the role for other writers, as practice for the real thing.

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      Really interesting idea having a training session where the writer acts as the agent. I wonder given all the things they have going on in the background-compiling interests, likes, dislikes of editors, understanding the marketplace, etc.- if as a writer we could provide enough feedback about the pitch. Really interesting thought, Adam. Of course, I highly recommend leveraging your writer community and practicing your pitch on other writers until you get something engaging and interesting down. Thanks for your insight!

  8. Iola May 16, 2018 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    I’ve actually signed up for my first-ever pitch session at a conference in August (this will be something like the ninth conference I’ve attended!). I’m treating it as you suggest – a practice. But I still need to prepare, so thanks for the tips!

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      Yay, Iola! You can do this! Practice and you are sure to kill it. I will be rooting for you.

  9. M.L. Keller May 16, 2018 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    These are great tips. I must have practiced my pitch 500 times on the way to my first conference and I still panicked. I got a request so she must have felt sympathy for me. Thanks for sharing

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:33 pm - Reply

      I am sure it wasn’t sympathy but a genuine request, Michele. Give yourself the credit you deserve. You are awesome.

  10. D.R. Shoultz May 16, 2018 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Excellent, helpful post. I’m better at one-liners than I am at assembling a pitch. I’ve been working on both for my current work in progress, and it’s been a challenge. This will help!

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      Glad the post might help. I am still fumbling through all this myself. I had a pretty good pitch, but now that I am splitting the book into a trilogy I have to start again from scratch. I am sure once I am done editing I will have to completely revise it again. However, its all just more practice, right?

  11. Kristina May 16, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    I find log lines very hard to write. I can take me weeks to get it right, and even then I always think I can do better. Thanks for a great post today.

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 6:38 pm - Reply

      I am there with you Kristina. I always think there is some way to tweak it and make it better, which is why I create deadlines like the conference for myself. My husbands constantly talks about the shift from perfecting a game to shipping a game as the release deadline hits. Sometimes you have to let some flaws through and just ship it.

  12. Victoria Marie Lees May 16, 2018 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Excellent post as always, Erika. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with your fellow writers. I’m bookmarking this post. If I’m lucky, I’ll need it someday. I’ve shared it online as well.

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      As diligent a person as you are I am sure you will need it. Thanks for sharing it. I really appreciate all you do Victoria.

  13. Erika Beebe May 16, 2018 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Lovely post Erika! I love your examples the most! And I memorize memorize memorize. If I don’t, I’m surely to jumble it up in my nervous recap 🙂

    • Erika Timar May 16, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      I have to be careful about memorizing too much and becoming a robot or too fixed on my “script” and not able to adapt in the moment. It makes the preparation that much more nerve-wracking for me.

  14. Guilie Castillo May 19, 2018 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent, excellent post, Erika! I’ve bookmarked it and I suspect I’ll be using it often (and recommending it to anyone looking for pitching guidelines).

    Thanks so much for the visit over at Michelle’s IWSG post for my bit on nonfiction; glad you enjoyed it!

  15. Hoda May 22, 2018 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    These are excellent tips! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

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