One of the things you want to have is a pitch.
I used to hate pitches. But now, crazy as it sounds ... I actually really like them? Like, a lot? I KNOW. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME, RIGHT? Summarizing your whole book in a sentence? That's supposed to be every writer's worst NIGHTMARE.
But. That statement ('summarizing your whole book in a sentence') ... well, it's rather misleading.
A pitch is a sentence long hook for your story. Not a summary. It's not like a synopsis, where you need to spill all the secrets and tell the story from beginning to end.
It's the main concept of the story. It's the root core. It's the huge plot thread that carries the book from beginning to end.
If you've written a book blurb, you've already got a good start. But if you haven't, no worries! You can read my guest post on Katie's blog (it was about a year ago that I did this, but remains one of my favorite posts I've written. I really like blurbs!) or you can just start from scratch.
See, with a blurb, you have a little more room to flesh out what your story is about. You can go into detail about the characters and backstory and the inciting incident, along with the rest of the plot.
Your pitch? It's so much easier than you might think.
It's basically your inciting incident, with a hint at the story goal.
Inciting Incident + Story Goal = pitch
See? I did the maths. So easy.
But really. It's that simple!
Let's break this down, shall we?
Step 1: The Inciting Incident.
Some terminology first: the inciting incident is the big Thing that happens (usually in the first three chapters) that kicks the story off. It's what makes things interesting. It's what drags readers into the story and sends them on a journey.
I'm going to use The Dream Walkers for an example, since that's the book I'm taking to the Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop this summer and I need to get a pitch written! Plus, I just started edits so, why not? XP
The Inciting Incident in DW (The Dream Walkers) is: After a dare goes wrong in the land of dreams, Jake does not wake up when the morning comes.
This starts the story because it gives my cast a crossroads. Wait for the doctors to discover what's wrong with him ... or go to Dream World and try to find him.
What starts your story? Find the point and boil it down to a sentence. Then you have the first part of your pitch.
Step 2: The Story Goal
And this flows right after the Inciting Incident. It's kind of the "obvious answer" to the inciting incident. Especially obvious in my case.
The story goal in DW is: Jake's siblings must travel to Dream World to find him and bring him back to reality.
Now it's going to be hard to simmer the book down like this. But you need to focus on how the book starts off. Most of my pitch is resolved within, like, fifty pages. It's the latter part (bring him back to reality) that takes up the bulk of the story.
Step 3: Put them together
You're probably glowering at me and mumbling, "but Hannah. Now I have two sentences. How am I supposed to simmer it down to one??"
Don't worry. If you put my two sentences together as they are:
After a dare goes wrong in the land of dreams, Jake does not wake up when the morning comes. Jake's siblings must travel to Dream World to find him and bring him back to reality.
Kind of ... halting, isn't it? There's some stuff I can cut. I could probably get away with cutting the whole "Jake doesn't wake up part" and just hint at it in the later half of the pitch. Like this:
After a dare goes wrong in the land of dreams, Jake's siblings must travel to Dream World to find him and bring him back to reality.
And I miiiight even be able to cut the first "land of dreams". Let's see what that looks like.
After a dare goes wrong, Jake's siblings must travel deep into Dream World to find him and get back to reality.
In the case of this pitch, I was able to cut about half the inciting incident off. Now this is just a rough pitch which I'll want to run by some people, but it's a start.
It's a fairly straightforward process. I mean, only three steps, right!? I know it's tricky, but you can do it! I BELIEVE IN YOU.
Now for some practical advice ...
Write several of them.
A pitch is only a sentence long. Once you get the basic elements down, write three or four. See which style you like, find the right wording, etc. It doesn't take long and will help you polish it up. I'm going to write several versions of my above example, since I'm not in love with it yet. Maybe I'll find some wording I like!
The Conversation Pitch
I'm not sure if the "conversation pitch" is a thing? I kind of made it up, but someone else has probably thought of it too. But since I've never heard it elsewhere, I've been calling it a conversation pitch. If you know what it's called, shout out in the comments!
Here's the thing.
A professional pitch has closure.
Which is really good for, you know, professionals. That's what you want.
But in the case of talking to friends about your story, well ...
I gave a friend my pitch one time, just as I had written it (because that was what I'd read to do somewhere). And it was so awkward. It was awkward trying to say it and it was awkward after saying it. Everything about it was just ... UGH.
I immediately wished I hadn't spoken it like I was reading it off a paper. It's not that it was a bad pitch, and I knew that a pitch was a really good way to explain what your book is about to friends. But the professional pitch just felt so awkward. What to do?
When I went to the workshop that summer, I was more prepared. I had an official pitch written for the editor who was going to critique my work. And though I didn't actually write a more casual one, I had the pitch swirling in my mind so that when someone asked me what my book was about, I was able to edit it a bit.
My official pitch was short and clear, but I let myself be a little more relaxed for in-conversation one. For your amusement, here's what our conversation went like.
Person: so what's your book about?
Me: it's about a slave girl whose little sister gets sold.
Me: and then she's got to find a way to free her before the buyer comes back and takes her away.
Person: oh, that sounds interesting.
Me: thanks! There are tigers and princes and investigators and assassinations and circus stuff and ... yeah, it's been fun to write.
You get the idea.
What am I saying?
I'm not saying to lose your professionalism.
I'm saying make it into a conversation. Let the other person speak a bit too, exchange some thoughts, and talk about it! If you have a pitch, you've got a great way to talk about your story to people. You'll be much more confident, and you can make a conversation about your book. (How fun is that?) You just have to present it the right way.
Annnnd that was a long post. XP I hope this gave you some ideas. NOW EVERYONE GO AND WRITE A PITCH!
Have you written a pitch before? If not, write one now! Feel free to share your pitches below, if you're brave. It doesn't have to be perfectly polished! Mine sure wasn't. SO SHARE THEM WITH MEEEE. I want to know what you're writing about!