Pitch Perfect? Oh, That Ain’t Easy!

If any of you follow me on Twitter (I’m @litbeing) you may be aware that I’m attending the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring conference here in Tulsa this weekend and that I’m hosting a pitch clinic for our attendees on Twitter this evening.

I used to hate writing pitches. I hated it as much as I used to hate writing queries and synopses. I don’t know many writers who embrace these bits with enthusiasm, but they are part of our reality.

And really, it’s so much handier to be able to coherently and briefly explain to someone what your story is about – especially in a way that intrigues them and makes them ask you more about it. I always review my pitches before a conference so I don’t end up staring blankly at a new acquaintance, my brain buzzing with panic because I can’t figure out how to condense my magnificent labor of love into a few sentences. Or worse, trap them in an uncomfortable discussion about the back-story of each character because I’ve begun to babble incessantly trying to make sure this person understands every important element of my tale, when maybe they were just being polite and making small talk and have no interest at all in hearing another word. It’s much more preferable to get them to say, “Oh, that’s sounds fascinating. Tell me more!”

That’s the purpose of a pitch. To intrigue.

To get the agent or editor to say, “Tell me more!” and request manuscript pages.

So how does one write a pitch?

After much research and studying, the consensus is to give the essence of your story without getting bogged down in the details and it should be done in one to three sentences.

Oh, is that all?

Carly Watters, literary agent with P.S. Lterary, says that a pitch is “a focused angle introducing the heart, high stakes and conflict of the story.” (From her blog post “Hook. Synopsis. Pitch: What’s the Difference?” See the full post here.)

Carly discussed pitches further in another post where she asked some probing questions that should help you when you think about writing your pitch:

“Who is your main character? What is their situation? What are they trying to overcome? How are they going to do it? What are the themes that are important to the main character and to us as readers? What is the essence of your book?

Those are the overall questions to focus one when crafting your pitch. We don’t need to know about subplots and details.

Rachelle Gardner, literary agent with Books & Such Literary, says to start with the plot catalyst, the event that gets the story started, then give the set up that drives the reader into the rest of the book. You should include the pressing story question or major story conflict. Simple, yes?

For a more direct example, Rachelle says:

“In the words of my friend the Query Shark (agent Janet Reid), your pitch needs to show”:

1. Who is the protagonist?
2. What choice does s/he face?
3. What are the consequences of the choice?

(Taken from Rachelle’s blog post “Secrets of a Great Pitch”. See the full post here.)

Now take all of these ideas and practice, practice, practice with your own manuscript until you can get the essence of your story down to a few coherent  sentences. Try them out on your critique group. Use them the next time someone asks you “Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write?” If you get that coveted response, “Tell me more!” You’re on the right track.

When you’re ready to test out your pitch, great contests come up fairly frequently, like the recent Pitch Madness Twitter Pitch Party. If you’re still unsure what a good pitch looks like, Carissa Taylor put together a comprehensive list of all the pitches that received requests from agents from this successful event. It’s a great list to review to get a good feel for what works. View her list here.

Feel free to join us at the Pitch Clinic this evening from 8-9pm CST. You can share your own pitch or give some feedback to others. Use the hashtag #SCBWIOKSpr13. You can always view the conversation later if you missed it.

Whatever you do, I hope you have more courage to develop your own pitch and put it into practice. After all, if you can’t get someone excited about what you’re writing, how is anyone else supposed to?

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4 thoughts on “Pitch Perfect? Oh, That Ain’t Easy!

  1. Ha! I’ve been thinking about this because I’m going to a writers weekend in London tomorrow. Thank you for your perfect timing in this blog! 😀

    That is my fear – rambling on about Character A’s entire childhood story rather than a succinct pitch. These guidelines are all so helpful. I also appreciate that they’re focused on a 3-sentence-ish pitch as opposed to 40 words or something. Recently I saw a few agents on Twitter saying they thought focus on a one-sentence pitch was pointless as it’s so short and agents don’t ever ask for just one sentence (though contests do!).

    Great and timely post! 🙂 Have an amazing time at the conference!

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