Finding that Perfect Pitch

YSP_003The 2014 World Fantasy Convention is fast approaching (Yeah, I know, it’s not until November but when you think that next week, it’ll be August. The season of pumpkinfying everything will soon be upon us!) and is a very different experience compared to other cons. In fact, calling World Fantasy a “con” is innacurate. Sure, there are panels, Guests of Honor, readings and signings, and even a few fun get-togethers, but this convention is a place where business, serious networking takes place, and where new novels find a home.

Representing your novel, along with showing how marketable your novel could be, you think would be easy for writers. After all, writers can put words to thoughts, weave then into gripping stories and engaging characters, and easily create heroes, villains, societies, and worlds where readers happily lose themselves.

But pitching a book? It might surprise you how many writers can’t do this.

Before you think “Selling a book is someone else’s job…” it’s not. It no longer matters if you are published by a New York house or if you are setting on the independent route, writers need to master the pitch. The pitch should sell your book within a minute. One minute to convince someone that your book is the one they want. I have witnessed authors blunder through a brief description of Chapter One, their passionate dissertation receiving a lackluster “That sounds interesting…” just before an agent/editor/customer wander off.

For the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Pip and I pitch the series as “The X-Files set in Victorian London.” This is our the elevator pitch, a single sentence that conveys the feel and mood of your book. I’ve been told using pop culture references “reduce the value of their work” but what you are really doing is giving your work a marketing angle. This is essential for selling to a publishing house or to a potential reader. A fantastic elevator pitch sells itself, usually followed by  three words authors love to hear…

“Tell me more.”

Now is the moment you go into details, those juicy tidbits about who the people are on the cover and what shenanigans ensue. “A brash, impulsive secret agent from New Zealand teams up with a bumbling Archivist to solve the unsolved mysteries conspiring against the throne of England.” You still keep it brief because, much like what I talked about last week concerning villains, you only want to give up enough details to entice.

Finding the perfect pitch for your project is not an elusive art. It’s a process of finding what best fits your book or work-in-progress, making your story marketable to agents and editors and accessible to readers.

  • Find pop culture references that work for your world, your characters, your work. “It’s a Steampunk X-Files.” — The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
  • If pop culture references are not to your liking, go on and use literature references, but give it your own spin. “The Lord of the Rings, if written by Mickey Spillane.” — The Billibub Baddings Mysteries
  • Sometimes, great pitches can make great tag lines for books. “Not all are expendable.” — John Scalzi’s Redshirts
  • Find current events or trends and then build on them. “A childhood friend prevents his best friend from joining a gang.” — A.B. Westrick’s Brotherhood. (She used this pitch to sell her book to an agent. The agent said, after reading the first three chapters, “You didn’t say the gang was the Klu Klux Klan! Nevermind, send me the rest!” It sold within that year to Penguin Publishing.)

Welcome to the wonderful world of the writer’s pitch. This is when the pressure’s on with your latest labor of love, blood, sweat, tears, and editing.

So, sell it to me. What’s your best pitch?

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