In a few weeks, I’m headed to the Midwest to attend a large writers conference. I’m not really a first-timer, but on a “first-timers” email loop (which I somehow can’t get turned off), a well-seasoned writer is holding “pitch practice.” The pitches for novels I’m seeing merits another discussion of distilling your novel into its essence.
Writing Tip for Today: When crafting a pitch for agents or editors, keep these things in mind:
- Capture the Universal with Specifics. Many novelists begin with a one-sentence pitch that is so generic the story is lost. A girl who loses everything finds the one thing she’s not looking for. Sounds mysterious, and that’s good. But in the sentence the biggest piece of info we get is a female lead character. Better to combine universal feelings and/or values (love, loss, status etc) with specifics. EX: When fourteen year-old Bailey Wix, a resourceful girl living in the Outer Zombie Zone, learns her family’s been massacred, she vows to avenge their deaths, but instead stumbles into an evil plot and an unlikely ally. OK I just made that up, but you can readily see we get much more info than the first try. We know the girl’s age and name, where she lives, that her parents/siblings are dead and that she is out to avenge them. She runs up against obstacles which challenge her world (evil plot) and her heart (unlikely ally). When you craft your one sentence you might start off by using Nathan Bransford’s cool formula for one sentence pitches. (It says queries but it works for pitches too!)
- Mash-up Memorable Movies. In film, pitches are crafted using the combination of two memorable movies. Novels can sometimes get across the basic idea this way too. If you incorporate a mash-up of two books or movies, the idea is easily communicated. Just don’t use obscure titles or try to force a relationship where none exists. If your comparison isn’t easily distilled (evidenced by “Oh I get it”), it may confuse. Think about the titles you want to convey your novel’s essence before you force them onto your story pitch.
- Distill, But Don’t Sterilize. Many of the first-time pitch attempts on the loop I mentioned get so intent on shoe-horning into 25 words or less that the authors wring the life out of the story. You don’t want to tighten the thing until it’s sterile. Leave in where you can some of the words which point to your novel’s uniqueness. What sets your novel apart? How is it different from the eleventy-two other novels being pitched? Try to identify the things which make your novel unlike any other. Pitching isn’t easy. But if you keep working at it, you’ll learn. Trust me, it does get easier with experience.