Perhaps "perfect" is the wrong word to use, but "writing the best pitch you possibly can to sell your story" was a bit too wordy. Once you've written a book, you invariably wonder what comes next. For some people, like myself, what was next was self-publishing. Others go the traditional route. In either case, selling your story will become extremely important. How do you sell your story? With a sales pitch, or a pitch for short.
That's what this is all about today, coming up with that all-important pitch. It's 250 words (or so), how hard can it possibly be? This is the deadly secret of the writing world that nobody wants you to know: writing a sales pitch for a book is the hardest 250 words you will ever write.
I have some guidelines that can make it easier. (Note the terminology: guidelines, not rules. We'll address that later.) If you follow this list, and capture your plot, you'll have a pretty good pitch to start out with.
Keep the word count to 250 words or less. That's not many words to capture the essence of a story that took 50,000 or more to tell.
Include your main character, the central conflict, and the stakes.
Use active language.
Use present tense.
Write in the same voice as the novel.
Show us the story (vs. telling it to us).
Leave the reader with a cliffhanger.
Make every word count.
Try to write the entire story in 250 words.
Introduce too many characters or proper names in the pitch.
Start the pitch with a rhetorical question.
Include self-praise of the work.
Overuse in-book terminology.
Give away the ending.
That's a lot of guidelines to follow, which is part of what makes this process so incredibly difficult. Anyone who knows me, knows I've gone through at least four complete rewrites of my pitch, and countless minor revisions.
Anatomy of a Pitch
The basic anatomy of a pitch is three simple paragraphs: character, conflict, and stakes.
Start out by introducing us to your main character, and add in a hook. As a reader, I need something to care about. Don't just tell me that your character Bob is an accountant. That's boring. How bout an accountant who can bend steel bars with his mind? Okay, that got a lot more interesting. Perhaps your book is more down-to-earth, but your character is broken in some way: Bob is an accountant who is clinging to the last dredges of a life he has destroyed through alcoholism. You get the idea. This is where you make the reader care about your character. Why character? I'll explain that later.
Having an interesting character is awesome, but you need plot to go with that. Conflict is what drives the plot. All we want in the second paragraph is the central conflict of the book. How did the character get there? Who else does it involve? Don't get too involved with details, but make sure the reader can understand what the story is about.
A cool character, loads of conflict, and now? We need to know what's at stake. The third paragraph wraps this up and shows the reader what the character stands to lose, or what could happen if the conflict doesn't get resolved in a positive way. The idea here is to build it up to be nice and juicy, and make them beg for more. At this point, the reader should be sold and writing up a request letter or hitting the "buy" or "preview" button. That's how bad they have to need your book.
Breaking All the Rules
What good are rules if you can't break them? Of course, there are only guidelines, and yes, you can venture outside of those guidelines, but understand that the further away from those guidelines you go, the bigger risk you are taking.
What are you risking?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The pitch is your first impression. Put your best foot forward. Proof read it, have somebody else proof read it, tighten it, read it out loud, have your best friend read it out loud to you. If they stumble while reading it, so will a potential buyer, agent or editor.
Make. Every. Word. Count.
Character vs. Plot Based Pitching
This is a guideline that I really push people to follow. The reader must connect with your story in some way, and the easiest way to get into somebodies head, is through a character. You can write a plot based pitch, but it becomes much more difficult for a reader to connect to it. If you can make that connection, and get inside their head, you've made the sale.
Never Say Never
The guidelines above can be bent, and even erased if you're careful. But there is one rule I stress to anyone and everyone I help out with a pitch:
Never, ever, ever start a pitch with a rhetorical question.
It doesn't build suspense. It doesn't hook the reader. All it does is ask the reader a question before they have a reason to care about the answer. Don't put potential readers in this position, because it means they have to work to get to the good stuff, and most people simply won't. Most agents and editors will toss a pitch that starts with a rhetorical question. Most potential readers will pass over it.
Take Frequent Breaks
If you get frustrated, or just can't seem to get it right, stop and take a break. Shelve the pitch for a day or two, a week, or even longer. Come back to it when you have a clear head, and fresh eyes. Have other people look at it and see if they can suggest something. Find a writers group that might be able to help you. This doesn't have to be a solitary effort.
Above all, have fun with it. Whether you write as a hobby, or as a career, you should always try to have fun with what you do. Get yourself excited over this, because the more excited you are, the less like work it will seem.
If you enjoyed this, you'll probably like the rest of the Perfect Pitching Series.
Thanks for reading!
I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.
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