Pub Rants

The Movie Pitch

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It’s easy to be seduced by the quick and dirty movie-reference pitch to summarize your novel.

It’s a way of capturing the entire plot and feel in one quick sentence. When it works, I think it’s an impressive tool and well worth using. When it doesn’t, boy, does it flop like a dying fish.

One of my current authors pitched me this way in her original query. She wrote, “my most recently completed manuscript is a 100,000 word contemporary fantasy with a chick-lit style — think Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter” in the first line of her second query paragraph.

I was intrigued. I had to see sample pages. And when I read them, she was exactly right. It was Bridget Jones in a Harry Potter-type world. It totally worked and we sold that novel to Ballantine (the book—Enchanted, Inc.)

The trick is that it has to be an accurate description so when the agent actually reads the novel, she sees it and it makes sense. If I read the sample pages and I’m thinking, this doesn’t feel like Ordinary People (or whatever comparison was used), the tool backfires and you’ll get a quick NO. The work is misrepresented.

The other trick is that the comparison has to make sense—literally. Some of my favs that didn’t:

This story is Anne of Green Gables meets The Hunt For Red October.


I can’t even wrap my mind around this. Anne is on a submarine and is going to face off with the Russians? The comparison shouldn’t make me giggle with incomprehension.


This is a modern-day version of Les Miserables and The Exorcist combined in one compelling novel.

Wow. I’m really thinking these two masterpieces should not be mentioned in the same sentence.

So, use the tool. Use it wisely.

27 Responses

  1. Bernita said:

    I cannot, I simply cannot describe my work in a query letter as “compelling” or “exciting” or “sensual” or whatdamnever.
    Even if it might be.
    To me that is up to the agent to decide.

  2. Kirsten said:

    Oh great. And I read this *after* I hit “send” on a query to you with “Stephanie Plum” in the subject head!!!! I don’t know whether to blush or do the more admirable thing — go fall on my own pen!!!! oh the joys of being a newbie!!! lolol

  3. Kirsten said:

    I don’t think it went to you, bernita, but if it did, tomorrow I’ll sure I’ll find a piece of advice on the Internet somewhere: always make sure you’re quering an actual agent, not another writer by mistake!

  4. Duke_of_Earle said:

    Speaking of falling on one’s pen, I just last week queried you and opened with two movie references. Uh… that wasn’t what prompted this post… was it?

    No. Don’t. I don’t want to know!


  5. Eileen said:

    So what you are saying is that something like Winnie the Pooh meets Chainsaw Massacre wouldn’t work? How about Sex in the City meets the Pat Robinson 700 Club? I could have just coming up with the comparisions…

  6. E is for Editrix said:

    Oooh! Oooh! This a fun game.
    “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” meets “The Secret Life of Bees”…
    “Everything is Illuminated” meets “The Devil Wears Prada”…
    “Da Vinci Code” meets “Good in Bed”…

    Someone stop me.

  7. The Beautiful Schoolmarm said:

    “Curious George” meets “Rosemary’s Baby”

    Actually, I have described my work as Tolkien meets Stephen King–but only when the conversation goes like this:

    Other person: Oh, so what do you write?

    me: Fantasy.

    OP: For students, right? Like Harry Potter?

    Uh, no. Not for kids.

  8. Rhonda Stapleton said:

    Pride and Prejudice meets Sense and Sensibility…? oh, wait…hahaha

    Good point, though, about making sure it evokes a clear, accurate picture.

    You also need to be careful that you pick things you think/hope someone has actually seen or read – it doesn’t do any good if you choose a reference that someone doesn’t get. If someone has never seen “The Hunt for Red October,” that reference is useless.

  9. GirlGrownUp, Still Dreaming said:

    So what’s the protocol if two agents have asked for a partial only: is it acceptable to query one or two more agents that seem suitable, or is it necessary to sit and wait on the first requests for partials (if all parties know the submissions are simultaneous)?

  10. Shanna said:

    I think I’ve figured out how to make “Anne of Green Gables meets The Hunt for Red October” work. You just have to add a dash of Brokeback Mountain.

    A rivalry between two classmates (a la Gilbert and Anne — sigh) at the Naval Academy blossoms into forbidden love under the lonely waters of the Pacific when the two young officers are assigned to the same submarine after graduation. They struggle to hide their deepening attraction from the rest of the crew, as well as from each other and sometimes even themselves. But then they have to put their conflicted personal feelings aside when their boat is called into action to track an elusive Chinese sub heading straight toward Pearl Harbor.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  11. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Rhonda, was it Ophelia, or Elaine?

    And thank you so much for posting this, Kristin! I’m having a total wavelength moment here, because I have been preaching similar for a while. I was doing a practice pitching session a few years ago at Nationals, and a colleague presented her book as “some romantic comedy I’ve never heard of meets Braveheart” because it was set in Scotland. Kilts do not Braveheart make. I got nothing out of it.

    But I always thought Shanna’s was great. Also, I heard “Clueless goes to Harvard” was the pitch for Legally Blonde, which is fabulous, and “Romeo and Juliet with Vampires and Werewolves” was the pitch for Underworld, which also works well.

    But nine times out of ten, there’s a better way to get the high concept across.

  12. Shanna said:

    elektra, did you miss the “Brokeback Mountain” part? In this case, “Anne” wouldn’t necessarily be female. (That was the only way I could find to link Anne of Green Gables to submarines.)

  13. Foogle Bottom said:

    The Color Purple meets Practical Magic?

    Hmm, wait. That might actually work…

    Shanna said: I think I’ve figured out how to make “Anne of Green Gables meets The Hunt for Red October” work. You just have to add a dash of Brokeback Mountain.

    I think you need to write that. 😉

  14. Anonymous said:

    Bambi meets Godzilla is very funny.
    Made me think about Bugs Bunny and The Hobbit, for some reason.

  15. Zoe said:

    Moby Dick meets Bridget Jones’s Diary. Chick-lit set on a whaling boat! This could be big! Come on, who’s with me here? *looks around* Uh… anyone?

  16. Delan said:

    I don’t use high concept blurbs. I know lots of people do, and that’s fine, if it works for them. The whole thing makes me wanna gag, to be quite honest. I don’t think of my novels in those terms, and I doubt I ever will.

  17. Mark Pettus said:


    1) I read a post on J.A. Konrath’s blog about this topic.

    2) Agent Snark blogged on this topic and I commented:

    “Transit Gloria is like Brokeback Mountain written by Pat Conroy. It has sex, murder, cowboys, and an emotional train wreck you see coming a mile away, but are powerless to stop.”

    3) I post the same on my own blog, along with an excerpt of my query letter, crediting Konrath as inspiration.

    4) I send you a query letter, citing the nice things one of your clients told me about you (she said nice things about my Brokeback Mountain reference, too).

    5) I read this post on your blog.

    All of which would be great, except #4 actually happened first. Now I wish I had given you the movie pitch – Hey, I guess I just did. 🙂

    It never occurred to me to query Bernita, though. She says I’m clever, but clever is one of those words you’re never sure is meant as a compliment. 😉