I’ve been asked to dig up the following previously posted article on book pitches for those who might need a little help before this weekend’s Spring: Nature’s Revised Draft conference! Of course it wouldn’t be if I didn’t give it some tweaks and fusses since I’m a chronic tweaker/fusser. If you have any questions or tips of your own, please leave them in the comment section below and I can’t wait to see everyone this weekend!
First, a description: What is a book pitch?
It’s a brief statement that explains the premise of your book. In other words, it is what you say when an editor, agent, bookstore owner, librarian, friend or neighbor asks, “So, what’s your story about?
And second, a disclaimer: I hate writing book pitches.
I have to admit that they really, really stress me out. Especially the one-sentence kind my agent wants me to write for manuscript submissions. Seriously? I’m supposed to condense 300-some pages into just one sentence, is she out of her mind? Oh, no, I need at least five sentences. Six, max.
But that’s my problem.
A pitch isn’t supposed to be a complete summary that explains every single detail. No, it’s supposed to be a brief statement that will make people want to read your book and find out every single detail. And in order to create a successful one, I need to stop thinking like a writer:
And start thinking like an advertiser:
A good way to get a feel for book pitches is to study movie descriptions and novel blurbs. So let’s start off by heading over to the Internet Movie Database and seeing how other marketing pros described movies that we’re all (hopefully) familiar with, like:
“An animated film about a young deer, Bambi, growing up in the wild after his mother is shot by hunters.”
“Two sisters join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amidst their own growing rivalry.”
[I really like that one!]
“Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.”
“A coming-of-age story about a shy, young boy sent by his irresponsible mother to spend the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles in Texas.”
[Love, love, LOVE that one!]
“Three ex-girlfriends of a serial cheater (Metcalfe) set up their former lover to fall for the new girl in town so they can watch him get his heart-broken.”
[I must admit that I like this from Amazon better: "An unlikely sisterhood plots a girl-powered revenge in John Tucker Must Die." Nice, huh?]
“A clean-cut high school student relies on the school’s rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing.”
“Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.”
Hmm, this one seems a bit wordy compared to the other ones, no?
Now, that’s more like it! Can’t wait to see this movie.
Okay, it’s your turn. Look up the blurbs and descriptions used for books or movies that are similar to yours. See what they included, and what they didn’t. It’s not copying, it’s learning!
Once you’ve done that, it’s now time to write your own pitch.
And don’t you dare cringe. It won’t be that bad. :)
First, step back and take a good look at your book in its entirety. What is it really about? What is the core issue? What event changes your protagonist’s life for better or for worse? This is not the time to get bogged down by the plot and every single twist, turn, nook, and cranny. This is not the time to be poetic, intriguing, or witty. Just write down one simple sentence.
- A girl’s horse goes permanently lame.
- A boy inherits a fruit farm.
- Twin boys discover they’re psychic.
- A girl discovers her boyfriend is a cheating louse.
If you’re having trouble with this, ask someone who has read or critiqued your story. Maybe they can point you in the right direction. For JUST FLIRT, I had a hard time identifying the core because there’s two points of view and SO much going on. But then Jeri Smith-Ready reminded me how the problems for both characters are caused by a secret Superflirt blog. Bingo! So my rough sentence would be:
- A secret blog causes a lot of problems.
Now let’s make that sentence sing by brainstorming some keywords about your story. You won’t be using all of them–they’re just jumping off points. So grab a pen and paper and write down the answers to these following questions:
What kind of book is it?
- Coming of age? Paranormal? Thriller? Fantasy?
What is the genre?
- Young adult? Mid-grade? Picture book? (Don’t you love easy questions?)
How could you best describe your protagonist in one or two words?
- Outgoing overachiever? Ambitious show-off? Paranoid wreck? Wallflower? Shopaholic drama queen? Snotty heiress?
What happens to your protagonist that changes their life?
- Your answer here will most likely be a repeat of the sentence you wrote above.
How could you best describe your main character’s antagonist?
- Devious twin sister? Corrupt biology teacher? Controlling mother? The snotty heiress’s arch-rival?
What is your story’s main setting and time period?
- Is your setting an important element, like the diner in the book, HOPE WAS HERE by Joan Bauer, or New York City in the TV show Sex in the City? Does your story take place in the past, like the 1950’s? If so, write it down.
What makes your story interesting?
- Look closely at your plot and subplots and pull out keywords that makes your story stand out. Like an ancient secret, historical intrigue, ghostly hauntings, denied love interest, damaging gossip, etc.
By now you should have a lot of keywords and phrases to work with. Take a good look at them. What jumps out at you? What perks your interest? What combinations can you use to best describe your novel?
Let’s take a closer look at the one-sentence description for Secondhand Lions:
- “A coming-of-age story about a shy, young boy sent by his irresponsible mother to spend the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles in Texas.”
What did they use? The kind of story, (coming of age,) a description of the protagonist, (shy, young boy,) the antagonist’s, (irresponsible mother,) what happens to the main character that changes his life, (he’s sent to spend the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles,) and the setting, (Texas.)
Using my novel, JUST FLIRT, as an example, here’s my answers for all the above questions:
- - Coming of age.
- - Young adult.
- - Self-proclaimed superflirt.
- - A secret blog causes a lot of problems.
- - Popular bully.
- - Struggling campground.
- - Summer, lawsuit, love interest, secret blog, meddling mother-in-law, sworn enemy, revenge flirting, misunderstandings, a lying con artist.
By putting together the more interesting key elements, here’s what I first came up with for my one-sentence pitch, (with Jeri’s help!):
- A secret blog brings a summer of lies, lawsuits, and love to a self-proclaimed Superflirt, and her sworn enemy at a struggling campground.
(What can also be effective to is compare your book to a popular movie, like my agent did for my first novel, BEAUTY SHOP FOR RENT. She described as “A Steel Magnolias for the younger set.” Very clever!)
Now it’s your turn! Pick and choose your most interesting key elements and create your book pitch.
Once you’re done, Read it out loud. How does it sound? Too wordy? Too complicated? Does your tongue trip up over certain parts?
For mine, I love how this looks on paper, but sometimes I have a hard time saying it out loud, especially when I’m nervous. So if I go into panic-mode when asked what my book is about, I’ll change it to:
- JUST FLIRT is a young adult novel about a secret blog that brings a summer of lies and love to a self-proclaimed Superflirt and her sworn enemy.
Maybe it’s not as interesting without the “lawsuits” and “struggling campground” elements, but hearing me stumble and mumble through a pitch doesn’t make a good impression, either! I also added “young adult novel” to clarify my genre.
Once you’re satisfied with how your pitch sounds out loud, it’s time to memorize, memorize, MEMORIZE! Practice your pitch in front of the mirror, to your cat, or to your writing buddies. Ask them what works, and what doesn’t. And then prepare yourself to answer the question, “Cool, sounds good. Tell me more!”
And finally, if you’re feeling nervous when it’s time to deliver that pitch to an editor, agent, bookstore owner, librarian, friend or neighbor, remember to:
- Take a deep breath.
- Quickly repeat it in your head before speaking.
- Speak slowly if you have a tendency to babble too fast like me.
- And above all . . . Be confident! Be bold! Be brave!