Pub Rants

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part One)

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STATUS: Just added the finishing touches to the workshop presentation.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICKED GAME by Chris Isaak

Of course I’m doing this workshop for Chicago Spring fling (an RWA chapter) so all my examples have a strong romance and women’s fiction leaning at the moment but it’s a great way to kick off this segment.

Once you’ve identified your plot catalyst that occurs in the first 30 pages, then you are ready to start building the rest of the pitch paragraph that will be in your query letter.

In looking at the back cover examples in my presentation, it’s clear there are three different ways to build the paragraph around the plot catalyst:

1. The back story that sets the story and creates the context
2. Contributing plot elements that will broaden the story
3. Character elements that are imperative to the story.

Pitch paragraphs can either focus on one of these elements to make it strong or a combination. I’ll give you three examples from my presentation and if I can get creative next week, I’ll try and grab examples from literary fiction and other genres.

So in my presentation, I offered the back cover copy of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS as a good example of how the back story can be used to build the teaser paragraph.

The perfect marriage… Exquisitely planned.
Flawlessly executed.

And a complete disaster.

To all of London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness and freedom—by all accounts, a perfect marriage. The reason? For the last ten years, husband and wife have resided on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines…When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, Lord Tremaine, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming: she simply had to have him. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding—and Gigi wants to be free to marry again. Now Camden has returned from America with an outrageous demand in exchange for Gigi’s freedom—a proposal that defies propriety and stuns his wife. For Gigi’s decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled—and one of London’s most admired couples must either fall in love all over again…or let each other go forever.

Step 1: identify the plot catalyst

In this paragraph, the plot element that will launch the story forward is that Gigi would like a divorce so she can remarry and Camden makes an outrageous proposal in exchange for granting it.

This does indeed happen in the first 30 pages of the novel.

Step 2: Now let’s analyze the rest of the paragraph. This is a great example of how back story will shape the “pitch.” If you look at the first paragraph, we as readers need to understand that Gigi and Camden have an ironic perfect marriage as they live in separate countries. Then we get a hint of what caused the estrangement.

Once that is established, the current event or the plot catalyst that starts the story is revealed. We get a hint of what they must face in order for it to resolve.

There really isn’t a focus on the characters or other plot elements in the story and yet, it’s strong copy (or at least I think so). Not too much is revealed but enough intriguing hints to make us interested in reading on.

13 Responses

  1. beth said:

    Just curious–how much input did the author have in writing the back cover. I hear not much…just wondering if it helps to have someone removed from the story read/write this part of the story, and your thoughts on this.

  2. Wakai Writer said:

    I thought people might find it pertinent that the Buried Editor is also focusing on pitches right now, so there’s even more info to be had over there.

    I think she and Kristin are in cahoots, but I suppose it could just be coincidence. ;-p

  3. Aimless Writer said:

    OooOoo, spark! I have one finished manuscript that is going nowhere with my present pitch…I think you just lit a fire under it. My eyes have been opened.
    Thanks, Kristin! Great post.

  4. Amy Nathan said:

    Hi everyone! I was in Kristin’s workshop this morning at Chicago Spring Fling. I walked in completely not understanding the pitch paragraph, and I left having written a draft! What I found extremely valuable were the guidelines for the types of information that can be included. Just like stories can be told different ways, pitch paragraphs can be written different ways with the same result — agents asking for pages. What I learned was that for my story, backstory is key to the plot catalyst. My main character gets divorced – and goes on a date — going on the first date being what moves the story forward. (Yes, I even asked a question about using backstory in pitch graf and used my story as an example to help figure it out. Of course I got all tongue-tied too). Now I’m on my way…many thanks to Kristin. I recommend the workshop to anyone who can take it.

  5. Scott MacHaffie said:

    Thanks for posting this series–it is really helpful. I’m going to rewrite my query using each of these techniques to see which works the best.


  6. tlmorganfield said:

    Might I ask a question? All of these pitch examples are taken from already published work and the 30-50 pages seems to be 30-50 pages in the published format, not in manuscript format (and taking a look at a few books I have laying around, it seems pretty obvious to me that the two aren’t equal). So my question is how many manuscript pages would this equal, roughly, or more exactly when you ask for a partial, how many pages into the manuscript are you looking for the catalyst to happen?

    And thanks for all the help you give us writers on your blog, with these posts about writing queries and pitches and synopses. It’s really wonderful and greatly appreciated.

  7. Nancy Beck said:

    This is great! 🙂 I’ve already tried half a dozen different ways of nailing down the query, and this might just be the way that FINALLY penetrates the cobwebs of my brain.

    Thanks, Kristin.

  8. Impy said:

    Thanks to the advertising clip with the paper dolls, every romance reader in my circle of friends has now read the example book, including me.

    Having read it, the information on how to write the pitch is extra helpful! It’s much clearer what stayed and what went, and easier to infer why.

  9. Joseph John said:

    Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon breaks the query letter into five paragraphs: the hook, the transition and first paragraph of the synopsis, the second paragraph of the synopsis, author qualifications, and finishing formalities.

    This post does a great job detailing the hook. Thanks for that. I was wondering if you (or any of the other readers/commenters of this blog) had any further advice on the other elements of a query letter and Lyon’s technique of breaking it into five paragraphs.

    Thanks for a great blog and great advice.