I didn’t say it was easy to reduce your story to its simplest form, but you need to learn to pitch your book in one sentence—two at most.
Marketing guru Michael Reynolds caught me off guard a few days ago when he asked me to pitch Sedona Storm. I stuttered. My brain shut down. My hands shook. It had been so long since I had shared the story line that I froze. I’m glad he wasn’t Steven Spielberg. Pitching takes practice.
Screenwriters call these pitches “loglines.” I don’t know why, but I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that word. Novelists call them elevator pitches. I suppose in the old days authors would corner New York editors in the elevator, blurt out their pitches, and shove manuscripts into the editors’ hands.
Notice they are not called “bathroom pitches.” Never pitch to an editor in the bathroom. It’s the cardinal rule that should never be broken.
What is a pitch? First, it’s a sales tool that you need to master. When I read a query letter, I want to know what the story is about in the first sentence or two. It should excite me. The pitch should create a desire in the editor to request the full proposal, and the proposal should create a desire to read the entire manuscript.
But let’s stick with the pitch for now. When you pitch your manuscript, you need to communicate the drama of the story in its simplest form. You don’t include subplots or secondary characters, and you don’t give away the ending. A pitch should include who the story is about (the protagonist), the goal of the protagonist, and what force or antagonist stands in the protagonist’s way.
You don’t need to use the protagonist’s name, but you might describe her as a lonesome widow or a conservative politician. Then you must let your audience know the primary goal of your protagonist. Is it to win an election, or to find love, or to seek revenge? What stands in the way of your protagonist reaching her goal?
In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy’s main goal was to go back home to Kansas. Lots of people and events stood in her way, but her main antagonist was the Wicked Witch. As an experiment write the pitch for The Wizard of Oz in 25 words or less. It can be done.
Here’s the pitch for my novel Sedona Storm written with my coauthor Carrie Younce:
When an investigative reporter seeks to uncover who is responsible for a series of bizarre cult murders, her life is threatened by the secretive leader.Now write a short pitch for your work in progress. Keep it handy and as you write, it will remind you of where your story is headed.
Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This is a two-way conversation. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor every day, and we need to hear from everyone so that we can learn from experience. Share your pitch with us, either for a book you’ve already written or for a work in progress. If you have trouble identifying the components of a pitch, we’re here to help. Let’s talk.