Of Pitches, Poetry and Passion

So I’ve been working on verbal pitches for both my novels (and on synopses, but the less said about that the better!). What’s a verbal pitch (also called an elevator pitch)? It’s a minute long description of your book meant to hook an agent or editor well enough to want to read what you’ve got to offer.

Pitches are perhaps the hardest thing a writer will ever have to do. It’s harder than writing a novel, in my opinion. When you write a novel you can say whatever you like, express it in any mode you choose. The only things you need are a certain level of clarity (no aspersions cast upon James Joyce) and a decent skill with words.

But a pitch—

Most importantly, you have one minute. One minute. Think about how long a minute is. And you mustn’t rush. Words can’t flood out of you in a breathless, panicked stream of nonsense. So, one minute. Let’s put that at 200, maybe 225 words.

Not a lot of words.

Not just not a lot of words, though. Oh no. It needs to be fascinating and exciting. You need to catch the interest of an agent or editor in those 200 words. You need to instill in them a desire to read your story. And those 200 words need to be typical of the voice or style of your work. Oh, and those 200 words should also include works already published that are comparable to your own, to give your listener a sense of who your audience might be.

My first reaction—and the reaction of many writers I should think—was “If I could do it in 200 words, I wouldn’t've written the 97,000 words I did write.” I’ve already written more than 200 words right here!

So bitter.

But I’ve learned to love the pitch. A pitch is a distillation. It’s a piece of poetry, a scrap of blank verse about your book. You love your book, right? Of course you do! If you’re not passionate about your book, don’t bother to try to get it published. So write a little love poem to your book. Tell it what you like about it best. That great moment when the protagonist first sees the Nazi-zombie she’s destined to kill? Give it a sentence in your pitch. The perfect paragraph where the cattle-rustler dies so elegantly? Give it a sentence in your pitch. Whatever you love about your book goes in there.

You’ve got about a dozen sentences, give or take. One of them is your introduction. Goodness gracious, don’t forget the “Hi, I’m John Doe and my book is The Clockwork Cop, a fill-in-your-genre novel.” which goes at the beginning. One of them is your “My book will appeal to readers of Captain J. L. McFrizzbog’s Book of Much Steampunk and Ophelia Spotlock’s police procedurals.” which should go at the end.

That leaves you ten sentences or so of pure book-love. Every word counts. Invest in your protagonist with a quick physical description early on. That gives a mental picture to your listener. You want that agent or editor to fall in love with your main character and no one falls in love with a blank face. Then go for it. Love your book. Rhapsodize.

Then edit it, because it will start too long. Then read it out loud. Then edit again, because bits that read well will sound funny being spoken. Then read it out loud again with a stopwatch (there’s probably one on your smartphone). Then edit again because it’s still too long. Record and listen to it. Does it excite you? If not, edit. Read it to anyone who will listen. Pay attention to what they say. Edit. Memorize it, but don’t make it sound like a speech.

And then you have that perfect little love poem to your book.

P.S. The Clockwork Cop is a great title for a book!

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