Pub Rants

Pitching And All That Jazz

 25 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Today I’m flying back to Denver from Vancouver. I have to say I was quite delighted when the rain eased and the sun popped out this morning. It’s going to be beautiful here (of course on the day I’m leaving) but there you have it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES by The Doobie Brothers

When I was teaching my eQuery workshop this weekend, I suddenly achieved some clarity about writing pitch paragraphs and how to teach it.

Often writers freeze when attempting the pitch because they are laboring under the wrong assumption that they need to sum up their entire novel in one longish paragraph or two short ones and that’s not the way to do it.

It was a real learning moment for me. Since I’m having this insight now and I’m not physically there to teach the workshop, I thought I would do a workshop-like couple of posts here on my blog.

So that’s what I’m doing this week.

When writing your pitch paragraph, all you need to do is examine the first 20 or 50 pages of your manuscript. Then zero in on the main catalyst that starts the story forward—the main conflict from which all else in the novel evolves. It’s the catalyst kernel of your story that forms your pitch.

Don’t worry, I’ll show you some examples over the next couple of days but what you need to remember is that your pitch paragraph needs to read like the back cover copy of a novel. Notice that when you read the back cover of a book, it just gives a hint or a teaser of the story and that it also usually focuses on a crucial early event in the novel. That gets the ball rolling.

And the back cover copy of a book never reveals the ending—and neither should your pitch paragraph. After all, if I want to read the entire novel, I don’t want to know the ending beforehand.

So what I suggest is that you go to your local library or bookstore and browse the section that holds the novels comparable to yours (i.e. if you are writing a thriller, look at thriller novels. If you are writing a paranormal romance, read the back covers of other paranormal romances. If you write literary fiction, read the back cover copy of literary works and so on).

You want your pitch paragraph to mirror that same sort of rhythm and content of those back cover examples. After all, that copy was written by experts and analyzing how the experts create enticing copy can only help you to write yours.

I’ll go into more detail starting tomorrow.

25 Responses

  1. bran fan said:

    A friend and I were trying to come up with an analogy for pitches. We compared them to perfume ads–the ones without the stinky sample cards in them. All you get is the “image” that the perfume maker wants you to have. Two beautiful people on a yacht, for example. It’s supposed to intrigue you enough to go smell the perfume in the store (ask for sample pages). It’s not supposed to tell you exactly what the perfume smells like, because it can’t. The medium won’t let it. In the same way, pitches can’t sum up a novel. If they could, we’d all write one paragraph hooks instead of entire novels. All you can do is intrigue…. But if done well, if those people in the yacht look like my kind of people, then it is enough. Now it is up to the sample pages, and hope they smell good!

  2. Janet said:

    Thank you, Kristin. As a corollary, if that central conflict is not clearly defined in the first 50 pages or so, it’s a pretty good sign you haven’t set things up properly. I’m in the process of mulling over just how much of my first chapters will have to go, and this is a useful perspective.

  3. superwench said:

    Awesome, awesome post. I actually discovered this to be so true recently. I’d revised and rewritten the pitch for my last WIP a hundred times and never did get it right. Then when I wrote the pitch for my current WIP, it sounded so much better. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but you’ve highlighted it exactly.

    I also love that perfume analogy, bran fan!

  4. Wendy Roberts said:

    So sorry the sun didn’t come out until today. It was absolutely stunning in Vancouver today but you take what you can get here in October. Wish we’d had more time to chat. My own workshops ran opposite yours so I didn’t get a chance to absorb your words of wisdom in Surrey. Guess I’ll do it via blog instead!

  5. Anonymous said:

    Confused here, but then again that’s not difficult for me to do.

    So many agents I’ve read say they want to know the ending when they read the query or the synopsis.

    I think your blog is great, and your suggestions awesome. If you have the time, or inclination, would you address this unique situation about revealing the book’s ending to the agent. I understand the tease for the reader, but I suspect and agent reads a bit differently.


  6. Beth said:

    The ending doesn’t need to be in the query, but it does need to be in the synopsis, which is a whole different animal. With the query, you want to entice; with a synopsis, you show the agent that you’ve written a coherent and compelling story.

  7. 150 said:

    Oh bran fan, you need to go to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and read the scent descriptions for their perfume. You’ll know exactly what they smell like!

  8. JustABand said:

    Some say query letters are the hardest part of writing a book. Actually, I’ve found queries easy. It’s the synopsises that kill me. It’s easy to just come up with the major events of a book for a query (heck, that’s how I started *writing* the book in the first place), but when you have to squeeze everything into “five pages or less”… that’s when it gets difficult.

    – JustABand

  9. Cat said:

    Does it drive anyone else crazy when the back cover blurb doesn’t actually match what happens in the book?

    Thanks Kristin for the advice. Pitching can be horribly nervewracking. Short and sweet is better than long and rambling anyday. On both sides, I’m sure.

  10. Ryan Field said:

    “And the back cover copy of a book never reveals the ending—and neither should your pitch paragraph. After all, if I want to read the entire novel, I don’t want to know the ending beforehand.”

    Of course I totally agree with all this, and the post is helpful to anyone who has to pitch anything. However, I’ve always heard agents say they want to hear EVERYTHING, which means, please don’t try to be cute and keep us in suspense: we want to know the ending, too.

    Again, I prefer the way you explained it, Kristin (it stands to reason). But there are many agents out there who truly don’t care about whether or not they are kept in suspense, and they want the entire story, beginning, middle and end all wrapped up in a neat paragraph. The underlying message from these agents, from what I’ve always heard, is that it’s presumptuous to expect an agent (who is reading tons and tons of mss as a professional and not a consumer at a bookstore reading a book jacket)to really care all that much about an unknown writer’s entire book so early in the pitching/querying stages.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Nice mention in Publisher’s Lunch!! And great advice on pitching a query.

    Silly question– what does ‘in a pre-empt’ mean when referring to a deal?

  12. Berni said:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I’m happy to see that you will be helping us with this. Of course this is where I FREAK out! I’m taking a query course next month and then hope to submit with the new education I get! But this will help so much! Look forward to it.

  13. Morgan said:

    This is why I keep reading your blog, you’re so open to giving FREE advice to us. Thank you and I look forward to more entries on this topic 😀

  14. Janny said:

    Where I always heard that agents want the whole story is in the synopsis, not the pitch paragraph–even for a newbie writer. Imagine trying to tell an entire story in a one-one-one appointment with an agent, and do it in a few sentences? I think both the author’s and the agent’s heads would be spinning at that point!

    A pitch paragraph, to me, is the same as back cover copy. No ending necessary, no ending required, no ending wanted. And I must do a pretty good job of pitch paragraphs, because my query letters get very good, very positive–and very quick!–responses, when I do it right…

    I’m really looking forward to seeing more examples of these pitches. This is so helpful!


  15. Sarah Jackson said:

    Hi Kristin,

    First of all, remember 2007? The year you wrote this series? God, where does the time go?!

    Anyway, glad my research on book proposals brought me way back in time to your blog;-) It’s so hard to resist the urge to cram every single point into your pitch. The examples you listed here really bring that home

    Jessica over at the Bookends blog was kind enough to critique my pitch along with a few others over the holidays. With her feedback and your helpful articles I’m unstoppable!! 😉

    Thanks so much for writing this!

  16. Abby said:

    Okay! That’s really life-savingly helpful! Thanks so much! I’m stressing myself out by looking at all these things for agents and editors and query letters. My main concern is the fact that, well, I’m a minor, but I’m very serious about getting my book published and I’m afraid that they won’t take me seriously. So, once again, thanks for making these blog entries!

  17. Scott said:

    Thanks for the advice! Whether and how much to reveal in a query (and how to get it all in without being incoherent) has been vexing me of late.

    There does seem to be a lot of conflicting advice on this subject. At some point I suppose we all have to just pick one and go with it…

  18. worldofhiglet said:

    Thank you for all the advice you give on your site. It is so refreshing and yes, inspiring, to read about life on the other side. Agents are human, too!

    Your ‘Pitch’ series is full of useful information and practical advice and it has made me look at this in a completely different way. My book is humourous but there isn’t a separate one for ‘humour’ Do you have any advice for pitching a humour book?

    I have noticed that there is relatively little information about humour on writing sites and in books compared with other genres. Is that because there are simply fewer humour books or are they in some way a special case?

    Thank you again for keeping the posts and advice rolling – yours is one of blog I always check in my Blogger Reader.

  19. SONZ4ME said:

    This is fabulous! I have just inished my first manuscript and am pulling my hair out over the query letter… there is so many conflicting pieces of advice on-line but this is where I will turn for advice from here on out. I have had my light bulb moment.