Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Polish Your Pitch

In the past few weeks, several folks asked what my work in progress is about. So I told them:

"Uh, well, it's about this girl."

"It's like a fairy tale."


(The last was my favorite.) As you can tell, I couldn't describe my story to save my soul. That really irritated me. Here I am, a writer! Why couldn't I give a deft overview of my story?

I could give you a boatload of reasons about why I couldn't, but that's beside the point. We should all be able to pitch our stories in a few sentences because:

  • It shows friends and family that we've actually been, you know, writing a story.
  • We need it for our query letters.
  • We need it in case we bump into an agent or editor at a conference. Everyone knows it's bad form to slide a manuscript underneath the bathroom stall to an otherwise engaged professional.* But if you have 30 seconds in an elevator, well then...
  • Writing a pitch is a great way to get a handle on our WIP's. You can learn a lot about your story by distilling it down to its pitch. Sometimes a pitch reveals flaws in your story; it won't work because your story doesn't work. .
  • We shouldn't be afraid of pitches. We learned to write through practice and feedback. We can do the same with pitches.

So, here's what I propose:

Take some time, check out the resources at the bottom of the post, and write a pitch. It should be no longer than three sentences. E-mail that pitch to polishyourpitch at gmail dot com by midnight Tuesday, February 2nd.

Within a day or two, depending on how many entries there are, we'll post each pitch anonymously on the blog. For the next few days, folks will be able to comment on your pitch and give you pointers about what's working and what isn't.

You'll have a chance to submit a new and polished pitch if you so desire.

And then readers will be able to vote on their favorites. Slushies will probably throw in a few special awards as well.

This is the first blog-wide critique that we've done, so I'm sure we'll be working out kinks as we go. We'll need your patience as we get this contest off the ground. In the meantime, work on those pitches, and please spread the word. We'd love to have lots of good feedback for all our pitches.

Here are a few rules off the top of my head. (They're probably unnecessary, but I'll throw them out there anyway.)

1. You may submit up to two pitches, no longer than four sentences.** (Pitches for adult books are welcome as well!) E-mail them to polishyourpitch at gmail dot com by midnight Tuesday, February 2nd.

2. If you submit a pitch, you need to comment on at least three other pitches. If you submit two pitches, you need to comment on six, etc.

3. Play fair. Be honest, but not vicious. If things get ugly, we'll delete comments. Our Grammar Nazi has a collection of dangling modifiers she's collected over the years, and she knows how to use them. (Think nunchuks.)

4. Please don't worry about someone stealing your idea. It's not going to happen. (See Grammar Nazi, above.)

I think that's it. I'm really looking forward to this contest. We've got great writers reading this blog. Let's benefit from each other's feedback and whip some pitches into shape!


This one from the ever-crabbit Nicola Morgan:

These posts from edittorrent:

These posts from Rachelle Gardner:

This bit from Janet Reid's Query Shark. She's talking about a query, but every pitch should have those three elements:

*Yes, it's happened.
** We said three sentences earlier, but Nicola herself mentioned she needed a bit more room- and called us lovely. Kinda melted us a little.


Michelle said...

As the grammar Nazi(specialist) in question, I'd like to point out that I'm more of a knife-wielder than a numchuck chuckker. Just so we're clear. ;)

Sarah said...

My mistake. : )

Tess said...

This challenges seriously scares me .. but I think I might give it a go. My novel that sold is the ONLY thing I've ever written that I had a decent pitch for, so I know it helps.

In general, I suck rocks at this sort of thing (as you will likely see from my upcoming entry!)

Tess said...

Oops... meant to say 'challenge' instead of 'challenges'.

I am challenged.

and, I hope the grammar Nazi, er, specialist, will forgive me.

Michelle said...

You are forgiven, because you know how to self-edit! :)

Amy Tate said...

I look forward to reading them. I...um...know all about pitch problems.

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I still have nightmares about the pitch I gave when last asked about my WIP. It went on for days, in big cirlces, describing...nothing.

I'm not sure I'm up to the challenges... er...challenge.

Sarah said...

Yay, Tess! I'm glad you're on board. How long did it take you to pull together the pitch for the novel you sold?

Glad you'll be looking at them, Amy Tate!

I hear you about going in circles, Amy Cook. I think that's what made me want to do this. I have to say, the posts by edittorrent really helped me think about it. They have examples of how they played with putting pitches together. They made a game of it, putting bits of plot together till something sang. It was really heartening.

Alison said...

I also suggest looking at Nicholas Sparks's's's's's's (where;s the grammer specialist when ewe need her?) website for his actual query letter that led to the sale of The Notebook in a bidding war. I think he says it took him 2 weeks of full-time writing to write this query letter. They are THAT important. Okay, no pressure, now GO!


Carmela Martino said...

Great idea for a challenge! I'll have to carve out some time to look at your resources and work on my pitch by the deadline.

KM said...

Very cool idea! I've had the same problem myself with my WIPs. Why is it so hard to come up with the general idea???

Sarah said...

Carmela, I'm so glad you'll be joining us!

KM, I think pitches are hard for me because my story seems so big. It hurts to leave things out because I've worked so hard to get them in the story in the first place.

Lisa said...

I agree Sarah. When you're in the revision process and working word by word, sentence by sentence, it's hard to step back and look at the big picture. "What is this thing really about?"

Steena Holmes said...

are you open to any genre?

Sarah said...

Absolutely, Steena!

Jayne said...

Hello! Came over via Help I Need a Publisher's lovely blog, and really looking forward to reading more of the posts here. Love the idea of this competition! Does it matter if my pitch is aimed at adults?

Sarah said...

Welcome, Jayne! It doesn't matter a bit if the pitch is aimed at adults.

Jayne said...

Hello Sarah, and thank you! *goes back to polishing*