Killer Pitch = The Need to Know More Itch


Pitches are hard.  

I could just end the post there and you'd all feel super validated, right? And I am all about validation. That dry eyeball feeling you get from staring at the screen too long? Totally normal. The way your fingers curl in on themselves and you're not sure if it's because your body wants to end the torture session you call "Pitch Writing" or because they've taken on a life of their own and are thinking about clawing your eyeballs right out of your head?

Okay, maybe that's just me.

But while I firmly believe that any author who claims "pitch writing is FUN!" is either crazy or a conman/conwoman/conperson(?), there are a few tips I think might prove helpful to you. So long as you take my advice with a GIANT grain of salt because being a Pitch Slam Co-Host doesn't mean I'm an expert. Not at anything, really. What it DOES mean is that I've read a LOT of pitches over the years.

Here are my thoughts based on those experiences. What makes a pitch work (or not) for me:

1. Stakes. I wrote a blog post JUST about this subject, because yes, they ARE that important. 99.37% of the time, stakes are the ideal way to hook your reader. What's on the line for your character? What do they want more than anything in the world? What will happen if they fail in achieving their goal? 

Start with the basic formula: Main characters wants BLANK, but BLANK is in the way. They must BLANK or BLANK will happen. And then refine from there.
2. Stakes are vital, but so is knowing who they're happening to. For the love of words, use your character's NAME. Please. Not all the characters, of course. It's only 35 words and we don't want to have to swim through character soup to get to the core of your story, but if your story is about a seventeen-year-old gymnast named Steve, make sure those details are in your pitch. Let us know who we should be rooting for!

3. BE SPECIFIC. I put that in capslock on purpose, people. There's a hell of a big difference between intrigue and mystery, but time and again I see people confuse the two. When you're writing a 35 word pitch, specific details intrigue the reader. Mystery is just confusing. And after reading dozens of pitches where we have no idea what's going on, mystery goes from confusing to downright annoying. 

For Example (I'm making these up off the top of my head, so they're not going to be brilliant or anything):

Pitch #1: When she went to work she had no idea the danger she'd be walking into. Now, she must overcome a dangerous foe, or the worst day of her life might be her last.
Pitch #2: Twenty-three-year-old bank teller Maria Santos yearns to get home to her infant son, but if she can't get through to the bomb-wielding psycho robbing the bank, she and the forty-two other hostages are done for.

The first pitch is very mysterious, isn't it? So mysterious, that we don't know the character's name, occupation, life situation, who her "dangerous foe" is, why this is the "worst day of her life," or why her life is in danger. Funny thing? Pitch #2 uses two more worlds than pitch number one does, and yet communicates ten times as much information.

Mystery is not your friend. You don't need to keep everything a secret so you can surprise your reader later. In fact, sorry to be harsh, but if you don't give us some specific details we're not going to open the darn book in the first place.

The pitch is all about making us want more. And we're not going to want more if you don't give us something to start with.

4. As I'm always saying to my children: USE YOUR WORDS. In this case, use all 35 of them. A few words can make the difference between a "Meh" reaction and a "THIS IS BLOODY AMAZING!" reaction. Take the time. If you only use 28 words, your pitch is going to fall short, as is my estimation of your cleverness. (Sidenote: You want me to think you're clever.)

5. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect you to strive for it. And I'll be suitably impressed if you achieve it. Read your pitch out loud. Write it out by hand. Have friends proofread for you. Have complete strangers proofread for you (our Pitch Slam Writers FB group is awesome for that). If I'm in a good mood, I MIGHT forgive one typo (but if it comes down to two entries, one with a typo, one without, guess which we'll choose?). If there are two typos, I'm going to assume you're not working terribly hard at this. Polish, polish, polish! There's a reason I'm posting these advice posts well before the submission date.

6. Comp Titles. Whoo boy, is this is a tricky subject. Some writers just LOVE their comp titles. They can be remarkably effective in a query, because they show the reader that you know your genre well enough to know your book's place in it (I am forever telling my editing clients to add comp titles to their queries). My personal opinion though? Comps USUALLY don't belong in a pitch. You only have 35 words, and I think they should be about YOUR story, not someone else's. That said, if they are 100% the absolute perfect comparisons, they CAN work. I've seen them work. But only about 5% of the time.
Don't assume you're in the 5%. Get second, third, fourth, and fifth opinions.
If there's an aspect of pitch writing I haven't touched on here, feel free to ask questions in the comment section, but above all: Stakes and Specifics!
Nothing creates that Need to Know More itch like a killer pitch!

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