Pub Rants

Category: pitch blurbs

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Two)

STATUS: I’m okay. I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped today but I think I’m always overly optimistic after I’ve been out of the office for a couple of days on what actually can be completed in one 9 hour day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BABY GOT BACK version by Richard Cheese

I can’t help but share my excitement. My revamped Pitch presentation was a huge success—and I don’t mean because the participants “liked” it. Part of the hands on exercise was having audience members rewrite their pitch paragraphs right there in the workshop in 9 sentences or fewer. Then I asked volunteers to share their new pitches aloud.

I was (and I’m sure other members of the audience were too) blown away at how good the pitch paragraphs were when the writers focused on the trigger event that happens in the first 30 pages to shape their pitches.

There was lots of clapping, foot stomping, and cheers. We must have heard about 8 different revised pitches and if those paragraphs had come to me in an email query letter, I would have requested sample pages.

And judging by the audiences response, they would have read sample pages too!

So onward. On Friday I talked about backstory as a way to develop the pitch around the trigger event.

Today, let’s talk about supporting plot elements. Straight from my power point presentation, I used Linnea Sinclair’s back cover copy for THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES as a great example of how other story details can help shape the pitch.


In this steamy, suspenseful new novel from RITA award-winning author Linnea Sinclair, a dangerously sexy space commander and an irresistibly earthy Florida police detective pair up to save the civilized galaxy…but can they save themselves from each other?

THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES

Bahia Vista homicide detective Theo Petrakos thought he’d seen it all. Then a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware sends Guardian Force commander Jorie Mikkalah into his life. Before the night’s through, he’s become her unofficial partner—and official prisoner—in a race to save the Earth. And that’s only the start of his troubles.

Jorie’s mission is to stop a deadly infestation of bio-mechanical organisms from using Earth as its breeding ground. If she succeeds, she could save a world and win a captaincy. But she’ll need Theo’s help, even if their unlikely partnership does threaten to set off an intergalactic incident.

Because if she fails, she’ll lose not just a planet and a promotion, but a man who’s become far more important than she cares to admit.

Step One: Identify the plot catalyst.
The detective finds a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware that shouldn’t exist. This brings Jorie, the outworlder, to the planet. (Outworlders he doesn’t know exist, by the way.) This happens in the first two opening chapters and allows the rest of the story to start to unfold.

Step Two:
This cover copy is going to use other plot elements to shape the pitch further. We find out that Theo becomes her partner and prisoner (plot elements).

We discover what Jorie’s actual mission is (to destroy the zombies) because we need the context for those Zombies (which aren’t your usual walking dead). Plot element and part of the world building.

Then we find out yet another plot element—if she succeeds she’ll be rewarded with a captaincy—so stakes are high for her to make this mission work. And gives us a sense of the urgency and possible tension. What is she willing to risk if she fails?

So this is yet another way to build that pitch project. And yes, you can use a combination of the three I highlighted. One person in my workshop did a great job with a combo but I don’t have that pitch to share. Sorry.

Tomorrow we’ll tackle using character elements to build that pitch.

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part One)

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.

Plot Catalysts For Your Pitch Paragraph

STATUS: I’m leaving for Chicago today so it was a little frantic trying to get ready to leave town again. Sorry for not blogging yesterday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHERE ARE YOU GOING by Dave Matthews Band

I’m going to take a stab at sharing the “hands-on” exercise with you online. Obviously this is a lot easier to do while giving the presentation in person but what the heck. Let’s see how well it translates.

So here is the first step in identifying the plot catalyst that starts the story forward so you can identify it for yourself in your own novel.

What’s interesting is that the first step is something that actually can’t be done during the presentation itself so all you blog readers will have a leg up on this.

Before writing your pitch paragraph for your query letter, I strongly recommend that you take the time to visit your local bookstore or library in order to peruse the shelves for recently published novels that are in your genre and in the same vein as your story. In other words, if you write historical romance, go and read the back cover copy of historical romances in your time setting. If you write epic fantasy, go and look at epic fantasy back cover copy, etc. If you write contemporary literary fiction, pull out some of the latest offerings in that realm.

I think you get the picture.

But here’s the next step. I want you to read the back cover copy. Get a feel for it. Then open the book and read the first 30 to 50 pages. Then go back to the cover copy. Is there a plot aspect that is highlighted in that copy that occurred within the first 50 pages? What was it? Did you notice it while you were reading?

Let’s say you write non-epic fun fantasy and you are shaping your query letter pitch blurb so you head to the bookstore and pick up Lisa Shearin’s MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND. If you did, here is what you would read in the back cover copy:


My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. The people who hire me are usually happy when I find things. But some things are better left unfound…

Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine find herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they’re after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it takes possession of her.

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine—but is the resumé enhancement worth her soul?

In this cover copy, can you spot the plot catalyst?

It starts in the third sentence. Her friend Quentin has stolen an amulet, one of limitless power (hey it’s fantasy!). Once Raine takes possession of it, she’s in a heap of trouble—especially because it’s enhancing her powers. She is becoming something other than your average seeker making a living.

If you read MAGIC LOST, Raine coming into possession of the amulet does indeed happen within the first 30 pages of the novel.

Now the sequel from Ace, ARMED & MAGICAL, is hitting shelves this week. Because it’s a sequel, the cover copy reads just a tad differently:


My name is Raine Benares. Until last week I was a seeker—a finder of things lost and people missing. Now I’m psychic roommates with the Saghred, an ancient stone with cataclysmic powers. Just me, the stone, and all the souls it’s ingested over the centuries. Crowded doesn’t even begin to describe it…

All Raine wants is her life back—which means getting rid of the stone and the power it possesses. To sort things out, she heads for the Isle of Mid, home to the most prestigious sorcery school, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users. It’s also home to power-grubbing mages who want Raine dead and goblins who see her as a thief. As if that’s not enough, Mid’s best student spellsingers are disappearing left and right, and Raine’s expected to find them.

Lives are at stake, goblins are threatening to sue, mages are getting greedier, and the stone’s power is getting stronger by the hour. This could get ugly.

But here’s what I want to point out, the catalyst that starts this sequel is the fact that the student spellsingers are disappearing—which, wait don’t tell me, happens within the first 30 pages of the story.

So it doesn’t matter what type of genre you write, you are looking for the plot element (the event) that will launch the story. This is often easier to find in genre fiction but it still works for literary fiction.

Next up, taking that plot element and deciding what to include along with it. As I mentioned in my blog pitch workshop entries, back cover copy runs only 7 to 9 sentences long.

And that’s your goal for nailing the pitch paragraph in your query letter.