If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Art of Writing a Pitch

One of the most difficult things for most writers to do after writing a novel is to distill those thousands of words enough to be able to have a reasonable answer to the question, “So, what’s your book about?”

Usually, when people ask that question of a writer, it’s to be nice, unless that person is an industry professional (read: agent or editor), in which case whatever spills out of your mouth could make or break a fledgling career.

Yes, seriously.

There’s a reason they call these elevator pitches: You could wind up in an elevator—or on a plane, or at a restaurant, or just plain old conference—with an agent or editor perfect for your manuscript.

So, though it’s extremely difficult, it’s really important to come up with a short pitch for your manuscript. Even if you never use it, it’s important to have it in your back pocket. Moreover, if you plan on querying, having an even shorter description of your novel can help get your query on the right track.

Writing a fabulous pitch—both short and long (query-style)—was the focus of this month’s meeting of the Kansas Writers Group. Organized and run by the lovely Natalie C. Parker, this group gets together every other month and aims to allow writers of all levels to share information. Natalie asked my super smart PitchWars mentor, Rebecca A. Weston, and me to help unagented writers with their pitches at the session.

Mostly, I just sat there and smiled and nodded along as Natalie and Becca said genius things because they are waaaaay smarter than me, though I did contribute a bit in talking about very short pitches and how I go about writing them. Then, afterward, the three of us looked at individual pitches and query letters of all genres—I had a YA, sci-fi, playwright and adult general fiction in short order—and gave feedback.

It was a great learning session, and even though I was one of the leaders, I learned quite a bit, too, about how to explain the art of writing a good pitch. Because, honestly, I’m not very good at explaining why things aren’t working in a pitch or query. I was a newspaper copy editor for a long time and that job involved taking someone else’s work and summarizing it into a headline, subhead, captions, etc. Because of that experience, I’m pretty good at taking both my own stuff and other people’s and summarizing it into a pitch. I kind of do it on autopilot. But having to talk to a group about it, plus hearing Natalie and Becca explain their thoughts, made everything much more clear in how to convey the mechanics of a pitch.

And, lucky you, I’m going to share exactly what we told the group of querying writers.

Make your pitch specific but not too specific: Here’s the thing with pitches, large (query) or small (Twitter pitch), they have to have a hook. Something that sets it apart from everything else an agent or editor will be reading or hearing. So, be specific. It isn’t just “A boy and girl fall in love” it’s “The homecoming king falls for the ghost tormenting his little sister”—just a little something to give us an idea of what’s going on here.

But, don’t be too specific. Example: If your book takes place on another planet, that’s great. Say something like, “The homecoming king falls for the ghost tormenting his little sister on a scorched cousin of earth” but not “The homecoming king falls for the ghost tormenting his family home on Nietchzeland, the penultimate planet in the solar system Huron.” When you get that specific, it’s just as confusing and off-putting as being far too vague.

Don’t forget voice: While you’re working on that pitch, try to think of words that show off the voice in your manuscript. Remember that post I did about scoring my agent in PitchWars? You’ll notice there are a ton of food-related words in that tiny pitch (butchering, ice-cold, stew). The manuscript is a “foodie thriller”—something those words help to drive home. Your little winks at voice and subject don’t have to be that obvious, but it helps to choose words that represent your manuscript when you have so few words to work with.

Stuck? Start with a “Movie Voiceover Pitch”: Think of all the movie trailers you’ve seen in your lifetime. You know, “In a world where …” blah, blah, blah. Now, use that to summarize your story, in the fashion of “When XXX happens, (Character Name) must XXXX or/while/before XXXXX.” Example: “When a big bad wolf devours and then impersonates her grandma, Red must avenge her grandmother’s death while avoiding the same horrible fate.”

Create a parallel: Another tactic is to show both sides of an equation central to your manuscript. Using the pitch from above as an example, you could write: “Red lost her grandma, her woods and her feeling of security to the big bad wolf. But she’s got her wits, an axe and a will to live.”

Get opinions: Before using your pitch (or query) for real, show it to a few writer friends—both those who’ve read the manuscript and those who haven’t. The combined opinion of your readers should give you an idea if you’ve hit the nail on the head in explaining yourself and if your pitch is confusing in any way.

How do you write a pitch? What’s the most difficult part of it for you?


Shari Randall said...

Great advice, Sarah. I learned a lot from your post. I thought I was done when I finished the WIP, did the query and the synopsis. The pitch is even harder.
If only I could get the IN A WORLD guy's voice out of my head!

Gloria Alden said...

Sarah, good advice, but like you say, the pitch is often the hardest to write. How can one compress the whole book and plot into such a few words and lines. It's quite hard for me.

carla said...

Pitches are SO FRICKIN' hard. Loved how you talked about the importance and the process. I'd still rather have a colonoscopy than write one.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Great post, Sarah. Do you think there's value in writing a pitch as you start writing your novel to give yourself a basic understanding of what your novel's about?

Warren Bull said...

That's tough writing. It's hard to go from nobel to blurb.

Anonymous said...

I'm usually tongue-tied when someone asks me about my books. This was a very helpful post!

Sarah Henning said...

Thanks, guys! Glad it was so helpful! And Paula, I actually do often write a query-style pitch and a short pitch for myself before starting in on a WIP. I feel like it really helps get your brain going on the basic plot other than "uh, this happens." You know?

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the tips, Sarah. I think that they are hard to write. But I can see the benefit in writing them prior to writing the script making you focus on the storyline and not getting off track.

Kara Cerise said...

Thanks for the great advice, Sarah. I usually write a longline before writing my WIP and I find it keeps me focused. I use it as a guideline and may change the wording later.