So you’ve spent a bazillion hours writing the GREATEST NOVEL EVER. Every word is spelled correctly. Every comma has been checked. Every em dash is used appropriately. You’ve filtered for over-used words. And, of course, you’ve crafted a Killer First Line(click here for more info).
Your book is ready to sell! Congrats!!!
Pitch it to me!
If you’re like me, your tongue goes dry, you start to shake, and you suddenly remember you need to put the clothes in the dryer. (And that’s just me alone with my mirror. I may actually break out in hives if an agent was in the room.) I guess telling you now that you were supposed to write your pitch sometime between the time the idea floated into your brain and the beginning of your second draft wouldn’t help your confidence much, huh?
Shake it off! And let’s get to work!
All you have to do is condense your GREATEST NOVEL EVER into the GREATEST PITCH EVER, preferably one bite-sized concise Killer Sentence, no more than 35 words, that makes us want to read your masterpiece.
Lets break this down, step-by-step. First, write down this information about your story.
- MAIN CHARACTER (not the name) + an adjective that describes him/her
- MC’s GOAL
- CONFLICT/WHAT STANDS IN HIS/HER WAY
- WHAT ARE THE STAKES if he/she fails
- INTERESTING ELEMENT THAT WILL MAKE YOUR SENTENCE STAND OUT
- SETTING (only use it in the pitch if it’s important)
I’ll use THE WIZARD OF OZ as an example.
- Dorothy—lonely farm girl
- Her goal––return home
- What stands in her way––needs the Wizard, battles a witch
- Interesting tidbit––flying monkey army, tin man, lion, scarecrow
- Stakes––she may be stuck in Oz 4ever!
- Setting––transported into a magical land after a twister hits her farm.
Now, let’s put that into a sentence.
After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she must battle an evil witch with a flying monkey army to find the wizard who can help her return home.
That pitch is 35 words, 177 characters including spaces.
Notice that the MC’s name isn’t used, because it really doesn’t tell us much. Of the many interesting tidbits I had to choose from, I picked the monkey army because it played well with the conflict. The lion, scarecrow, and tin man are more related to the theme, which shouldn’t be a part of your pitch unless you can use an expanded to a two-three sentence structure.
After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she finds herself face-to-face with an evil witch and her flying monkey army. She befriends a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man to help her find the powerful wizard who can help her return home. If they fail, she may be stuck in Oz forever.
Add a few more details (like the Good Witch, poison poppies, sparkly ruby red shoes, her being an orphan, Kansas, Toto) to the three sentence example above, and you’ve got yourself a query hook.
What about Twitter Pitch Parties? This pitch is too long!
To condense this into a 140-character Twitter pitch, simply take the one-sentence pitch and get rid of whichever words you need the least.
When a twister transports a farm girl to a magical land, she battles a witch to find the wizard who can help her return home. #PitMad #MG
This looks easy, right? I kinda cheated, using a beloved, well-understood novel. Yours might be more complex. But even if it is, you’ll need to be able to boil it down the the essentials.
Behind the scenes at The Winged Pen, we regularly help each other with pitches. Here are some great pitch tips from others in our group that will be especially helpful if you choose to participate in a Twitter Pitch Party!
Julie.— Adding recent comparable titles (comps) to a pitch can convey a lot of information about style and tone in very few words. So if your story is a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and The Walking Dead, or Sherlock Holmes reimagined as MG, or Veronica Mars in space, include that in your pitch for extra oomph! 😀
Laurel — Here’s a handy post from super-agent Jennifer Laughran to help you find the sweet spot for your comp titles. And two fun tools for brainstorming books that are similar to your masterwork: Amazon Visualization Tool and Whichbook.
Rebecca. —Now, you’ve got your pitch ready to go! Time to move on to your next story, right? WRONG! Now, it’s time to get creative. Most Twitter pitch parties let you pitch each manuscript a few times over the course of a day. Even for live pitches, you might want to let your hair down and have some fun with a pitch that has a little more voice. A creative pitch 1) sheds light on a different aspect of your story, and 2) gives you a second chance at bat. The pitch that calls to one agent might not get pulled out of the slush by another. Changing up your pitches gives your story the best shot at a request.
Even for a “creative” pitch, there are some “tried and true” formulas. Let’s take a look.
1, 2, 3. It’s a simple formula, yet appealing.
1 lost girl, 2 witches, 3 new friends. Dorothy and friends must defeat the evil witch to earn the thing each can’t live without. #PitMad #MG
Mash-up of interesting stuff. Imagine you’re an agent scanning through thousands of pitches at a twitter party. It takes something really grabby to get you to click on one. What’s interesting enough to rise above the slush?
Poison poppies, flying monkeys, a wicked witch willing to kill her for her shoes – Dorothy must fight them all to make it home. #PitMad #MG
When using creative pitches in a twitter pitch party, it’s a good idea to pin your basic pitch to the top of your twitter page. Creative pitches might catch an agents eye, but they’ll probably leave them with questions too. If they’re a click away from your basic pitch, they’ll get a more compete picture of your story.
Great info, friends! Thank you!!!
Speaking of Twitter Pitch Parties! There are soooo many great ones coming up soon. Here are a few dates to add to your calendar. Polish your pitches now, so you’ll be ready. Click the hashtags below for more info!
February 23, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!
Feb 24, 2017 — #PitMad All categories, four times per year!
April 5, 2017 — #KidPit All KidLit categories
May 18th, 2017 #PitDark Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Horror
June 8th, 2017 #PitMad All categories
June 22nd, 2017 #SFFpit All age categories for fantasy and science fiction
June 22nd, 2017 #PBPitch Picture books only
June 28th, 2017 #FaithPitch All age categories for faith-based fiction
September 7th, 2017 #PitMad All categories
October 2nd and 3rd, 2017 #DVPit For marginalized authors/illustrators
October 26th, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!
October 26th, 2017 #PitDark Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Horror
November 8th, 2017 #KidPit All KidLit categories
December 7, 2017 #PitMad All categories
December 2017 #SFFpit All age categories for fantasy and science fiction
Here are more references for writing loglines/pitches:
Tips on Twitter pitches
MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.