by Cicily Janus

Pitch.  An essential tool for writers.  No, I’m not talking about your lack of pitch while singing Maroon 5 songs. And no, this is not about how horrible the Colorado Rockies pitched in the World Series.

Pitching your novel, story or idea can be quite challenging. Summing up your entire life's work into a minute is difficult at best. But there are ways to learn this technique.

As many writers, editors, sadists and agents will say, the pitch is a great diagnostic tool for writers. How well do you know your story? How well do you know your plot twists and turns? And are those twists and turns even resolved by the time you get to page 674?

Good Lord, I hope your MS isn't 674 pages.

Anyway...the pitch should be no longer than a minute long. It should contain the main complication of the book as well as a question that leaves the editor/Satan/agent begging for more.

If I was in a formal conference/agent or editor pitch setting I would use this: 

Judas Iscariot is alive and the truth he knows could shatter the rock of Christianity. Damned by God, Judas continues to walk the earth and has an urgent need to fulfill his mission which involves uncovering the truth of who really betrayed Christ the night before his death in order to end his damnation. Having given up on fulfilling this mission, he has become delusional. And has holed up in a basement apartment that has turned into a catacomb of hatred consumed by fantasies of revenge for two thousand years of lies, until he meets Marist Campbell, the twenty-something daughter of the nations most successful and greedy televangelist. Marist's nightmares have become shadowed by a growing terror and not even her lover, Avram Scott, can keep them away. But when Av's uncle is brutally murdered, with the words, Judas Lives carved into his chest, will Marist and Av come to realize there is something far worse to come.

Judas's mind, unstable at best, seethes with hatred and now his rage knows no limits. He realizes that Marist and her father may be the only way to get his truth out into the open through his ministry and begins to direct his anger towards them when they deny him access to the church.  It is then that Marist realizes her nightmares are about to become reality. It will then be up to Av, the one man Marist’s father hates for not only his religious background as a Muslim, but also his relationship with his daughter, to save Marist.  But Marist’s father doesn’t know is that Av might just be the one to save them all by uncovering the truth. A truth Judas has yet to reveal, one that will give him an end to Judas’s immortality. Will Av be able to bring Judas back to the reality of his life in time to save not only Marist and her father but also himself before Judas destroys them all with centuries of pent up evil and anger? 

This is by no means perfect. And is slightly long winded just like me. But I have outlined the main conflict and the plot of the book starting from the beginning. I DO NOT GO INTO BACKSTORY AT ALL! This is a huge no-no. 

Judas must reveal a truth, find an outlet in which to do so, and not kill the important people on his way there, as they might just be his saving grace as well.  I don't answer all the questions because I want the editor to request the manuscript. I leave a question at the end to make them beg me to tell them the end, to buy the book, to request the MS, to buy me a drink, to give me millions of dollars for my MS..okay, enough of fantasy thoughts…

Think of it this way…the movies, backs of books etc…they all have a few paragraphs or sentences describing just enough detail in the plot to tantalize you, the consumer, into buying it. 

If the movie guys told you this:

“A young woman who feels smothered by her life of extravagance meets a young man who has no money on a ship as they set sail across the Atlantic Ocean and fall in love, but ultimately the guy dies while saving her as the ship sinks after hitting a gigantic ass iceberg and the woman never forgets him but goes on to have lots of sex and babies without him.  And they all live happily ever after.” 

Would you buy it or pay 20 bucks plus whatever soda and candy your date wants to eat at the movie theater to go see it?  NO!  Of course not.  And in this case, we all knew the Titanic was going to sink, but what we didn’t know was the story behind the story, the scandalous scene of love in the back of some old car in the bottom of the ship, so on and so forth.  A good way of practicing this is to find the backs of your favorite books and emulate them.

There are two other types of Pitch. These are most useful in social situations.

The Bar or Party Pitch:

Scenario: You are sitting at a bar. Eavesdropping for a type of character study and uh…research, that’s right, research… you overhear the man sitting next to you speaking about how he is the CEO of Putnam and Sons publishing. After you vomit in the back of your throat, you get up the courage to buy him/her a few drinks.

A warm fuzzy feeling sets in and you must stop groveling. Now its time to get up the courage to tell him you're a writer.
”Whatcha do for a living?” 
”I’m a writer.”
"Oh really? Whatcha writing about?"


Instead, you politely and succinctly give him the bar pitch.

My book, Mutiny on the Forrest of Feelings, is a romance (always try to slip in the genre of your book, shows you know what the hell you are talking about) in which the Carebears must fight the Carebear cousins for control over the forest of feelings. Lionheart Carebear, during a struggle to gain control over the empire discovers a dark family secret and this information could not only destroy his fight to gain control but also his entire family. The book's style is a cross between Da Vinci Code and Spongebob Squarepants, especially the book you guys put out six months ago, Spongebob's Birthday Bash.

Before he can even reach for another handful of pretzels you are DONE.  Got it?  DONE. No more.  Leave it in his hands to ask for anything else on the book.  Hell, at this point he might switch the topic to talk about the Yankees and then you know to definitely keep your mouth shut. And don’t just leave him there while you cry, either.  Despite popular opinion, they are human too. 

Another tip for the pitch: WHEN PITCHING TO AN AGENT: Try to compare yourself with two other people in your genre, especially if you know specifics of who the agent has signed and has published lately. This way the editor/agent knows that you know the market and other author's styles that are similar to yours.  But…BUT!  DO NOT, make a complete fool of yourself by naming random authors just for the sake of naming them.  If your book isn’t like any others you know, then shut up! 

Next type: elevator pitch: Something in one or two lines, could also be known as a log line.

Scenario: The CEO of Penquin is on the elevator on his way to work and you are stalking him in order to get him to listen to the synopsis of your book. Tenacity wins, right? Go for it, but keep it simple and short.

Example: My name is Mr. Dumbarse. I'm writing a romance novel that addresses the issues of incest and love in a time of war. Desperate and lonely, Lionheart Carebear must not only win back the land in the forest of feelings from the carebear cousins, but also the trust of his family and wife.

Two sentences. That's all you get. Elevator dings and the poor man runs as fast as he can from you up to his office and calls security.

I think that these are by far the most useful types of pitches for writers. After all if you can't sum up your story in a few lines then you may need to re-evaluate your plot. Some of the best plots are some of the easiest to define. And this is by no means an easy task.  I think my personal pitch has already gone through about 25 re-writes.

Remember the KISS method. Keep It Simple Stupid. I know. Easier said then done.

I hope this helps. Bottom line: do not bog down your listener with your dissertation on the novel you are writing. No one likes the long winded soul on a mission to teach the world his or her views while drinking rum and coke at a party. State your purpose and stop. If they want to know more then they will ask. Leave it open ended. Leave them asking for more and only when they ask for more should you go on to more explanation.  And if they don’t, well…as I like to say, go put your big girl panties on, revise, revise, revise and deal with it.  “It’s not personal, it’s business.”


Cicily Janus's work has appeared in or is scheduled to appear in Underground Voices, Aesthetica, Del Sol Review, Writers Post Journal, and Perspectives Magazine. She reviews and interviews for Eclectica, and The Guild of the Outsider Writers and is an assistant editor for Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens: A Literary Magazine of the Absurd and Surreal.

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