With 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.
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)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Describing the protagonist
What: Boy, wizard, orphan
Adjective: Brave, headstrong, protective, untrusting, intuitive, compassionate
- 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.
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.
Develop your elevator pitch
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.
Start 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.
Give 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. 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.