Monday 22 October 2012

Maureen says, 'OMG I'm Pitching!'

by Maureen Lynas

To pitch or not to pitch, that may be a question, but is there a right answer?

Confusion reigns.
You’re going to a conference (let’s say SCBWI Winchester 2012 for instance) and some advice is saying PITCH! And some is saying DON’T PITCH. So you go with the latter and decide not to pitch because it would be rude to foist the five page pitch for your ten-ton WIP on an unsuspecting agent queuing for the toilet. And you are a very well brought up author who knows her/his place in the queue.

Decision made. Packing done. Journey over.

So, here you are, at the conference, in the queue for the toilet which is extra long, and the person in front of you engages you in conversation.
‘Have you come far?’
‘Oh, gosh yes. Miles. One plane, three trains and a taxi. You?’
‘Oh, I live in London, not far to come really. Are you a writer or an illustrator?’
‘Oh, really, what are you writing about?’
It’s at this point you spot the badge that says AGENT. And now the decision not to practise your pitch seems WRONG. Very, very WRONG.

Even if the chatty person's badge says author, you will still wish you’d practised, because splurging and spluttering is not a good look, or sound - er, I, right, it’s well, the protagonist, Bob, no I’ll start at the beginning, but you need to know the end, there’s this frog, Hagatha! – aaaarrrrghhh!

So what is a pitch?

Is it a blurb? Is it an outline? Is it a synopsis? No! It’s a PITCH!
You’re saying hey, I have this idea and it’s really cool and I can tell you about it in less time than it takes to say, ‘Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please publish my story because the children of the world neeeeeeeeeeeeeeed to read my book before I die.

A lot of people like the ‘Die Hard with fairies’ pitch of Atremis Fowl. But to me it isn’t really a pitch, it’s a hook. And it must have been followed up by a one line pitch, then a two line pitch, then a three line pitch, that actually mentioned the other things an agent/editor would need to know.

So if you hook them with Back to the Future with pigs and follow it with er, I, right, it’s well, the protagonist, Fluffy, no I’ll start at the beginning, but you need to know the end, there’s this spotty elf… well, then you just have a quirky starter and no main course.  

So - How do you write a pitch?

Start with a one liner. This must show the conflict, the characters, the goal, and the stakes and the tone and where possible indicate a Unique Selling Point. This could be the characters, or a twist or a setting etc.

The line below is for my WIP
Prince Bob the frog must defeat the evil Hagatha and become a real boy by smooching She Who Must Be Kissed.
Here’s the breakdown.
Tiny Prince Bob the frog (comedy tone, protagonist) must defeat (conflict) the evil Hagatha (antagonist) and become a real boy by smooching (comedy) She Who Must Be Kissed (comedy, goal and implied stakes).

Don’t worry if it doesn’t sound like you can fit it into general conversation, if it sounds a bit…manufactured. It’s a pitch.

I shall attempt a pitch for The Gruffalo and also keep in with the recent Notes from the Slushpile theme of - cake 

A clever little mouse must think quickly if he is to stop the terrible Gruffalo from eating him all up.
The clever little mouse (picture book, protagonist) must think quickly (conflict, goal) if he is to stop (conflict, goal) the terrible Gruffalo (antagonist & USP) from eating him all up (tone, stakes).

If you like cake, you'll love this site.
Once you have the one liner cracked then you can move on to the two liner. You can use your first line, then add another which is really Act Two of your story and requires more cake.

A clever little mouse must think quickly if he is to stop the terrible Gruffalo from eating him all up. He’s already survived death by fox, owl, and snake by pretending he’s friends with the scary Gruffalo but then, he actually meets the Gruffalo.

This leaves it on a…but it still works as a stand alone pitch. Then, if the agent’s eyes haven’t glaze over, you add in the last line, Act Three and the best cake yet.
By the children of Dens Road Primary School
A clever little mouse must think quickly if he is to stop the terrible Gruffalo from eating him all up. He’s already survived death by fox, owl, and snake by pretending he’s friends with the scary Gruffalo but then, he actually meets the Gruffalo. And then the clever little mouse saves himself by proving that no-one’s afraid of the Gruffalo, and everyone’s afraid of the Big Bad Mouse.

So, having written your pitch, practise it. Practise on anyone who will listen until it is pitch perfect.

You can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t by looking at Harper Collins Authonomy ecritique site. Each book has to have a one sentence pitch and then a longer pitch. If you scroll down you can soon spot the good pitches from the bad pitches. How would your pitch fare?

Happy pitching to all who are attending the conference.


Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas


  1. What fabulous post! I'm going to practise, I am I am....Exhausted author must pitch perfectly to get Uber Editor to read her book.

    Then she's just got to follow it up with a cracker of a story...

    1. Thanks Kathryn. I bet we could pitch and sell at the same time?

  2. Thanks, Maureen. I completely forgot about sorting out a pitch - still doing the covering letter and synopsis. This is great and I should now come completely armed ready for any agent encounter!

    1. Excellent Debbie, you'll be ready for anything.

  3. Thanks for the tips and the link. I hadn't thought about this for the conference!

  4. Will start practising soon for the conference.

  5. Brilliant post Maureen. I recently splashed out on Nicola Morgan's booklet about writing a synopsis and she says pretty much the same thing. So I for one now have my hook: ET meets Battlestar Galactica (I kid you not!), a one sentence pitch, a three sentence one and a one page synopsis. Just got to learn the buggers off by heart now.

    1. Memorising it is my problem too, but last year a friend took cards with her pitch on one side and her contact details on the other - and it worked, she was asked to send her book.

  6. That cake theme will run and run ...

    Seth Godin blogged about the so-called elevator pitch today in a piece titled Noone Ever bought anything on an elevator. He wasn't just focusing on pitching for writers but offered some brilliant food (cake) for thought:

    If your elevator pitch is a hyper-compressed two-minute overview of your hopes, dreams and the thing you've been building for the last three years, you're doing everyone a disservice. I'll never be able to see the future through your eyes this quickly, and worse, if you've told me what I need to know to be able to easily say no, I'll say no.

    The best elevator pitch doesn't pitch your project. It pitches the meeting about your project. The best elevator pitch is true, stunning, brief and it leaves the listener eager (no, desperate) to hear the rest of it. It's not a practiced, polished turd of prose that pleases everyone on the board and your marketing team, it's a little fractal of the entire story, something real.

    "I quit my job as an Emmy-winning actress to do this because..." or "Our company is profitable and has grown 10% per week, every week, since July," or "The King of Spain called me last week about the new project we just launched."

    More conversations and fewer announcements.

    1. I especially like the bit about - making sure you didn't tell the pitchee why he/she should say no.

  7. Tomorrow I shall mostly be writing pitches :-)

  8. Confessions of a Wimpy Writer, part 3:
    On the other hand.... for me, the value of conferences like the coming SCBWI one in November - especially the first year or two that I want - were all about learning stuff, having fun, meeting fellow writers and/or illustrators as the case may be. Feeling part of it all.
    I never prepared a pitch before I went. If someone had told me I should before I went to the first SCBWI conference, I'd probably have fainted &/or found something that urgently needed doing the same weekend...

  9. Gosh! The Pressure!
    Good luck, pitchers! I've always said I don't think I would have got that first publishing contract without the November conferences, and even though I didn't pitch at them, I did learn loads. :)

  10. Great post, thank you! I've never thought about breaking a pitch down verbally before. I usually do it on paper. But a verbal version is fantastically useful. I remember a horrible attempt at explaining a book to an editor which was doomed before the first line had left my lips because I'd started in the middle and had to backtrack... I will try to improve on the verbal front!

  11. Thanks, Maureen. I've often used pitches when *sending* something (so a one-line/two line pitch in a covering letter, and a hook underneath the title on the title page -if there's a really good one) but I'm always wary of something sounding un-conversation-like when meeting someone in person. I've really valued the genuine conversations I've had with authors, illustrators, editors, agents at conferences like this... You're right that you should know your own work and what's special about it (its unique selling point) and it's great to practise talking with other people about your book. But I'd be wary about anything sounding UN-speechlike, even if it is a pitch... Good luck to everyone going to the conference -and ENJOY it! It's a fantastic opportunity to be around other people who do what you do, and learn loads from people who've been doing it for a long time and have been very successful, and meeting lots of editors and agents. Thanks, Maureen, Clare.

  12. This is a great and really helpful post. Thanks for sharing!


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