Okay, you guessed it. I’m a baseball fan. For those of you not familiar with American baseball, pitching strikes means the pitcher (the person throwing the ball toward the batter) is hot, 100% on target, hitting the catcher’s glove with the satisfying thunk of leather on leather. The pitching writers do isn’t so different from baseball. The pitcher needs to be skilled, confident, fast and accurate.
Today Loucinda McGary is here to teach a Chaos Theory of Writing class about the writing pitch. She’ll also be giving away her newest release, The Wild Sight, to one lucky commenter. Loucinda, thank you for taking the time to visit with Romance University readers!
NOTE: Because of an unforeseen conflict, Loucinda will pop in over the weekend, rather than today, to answer comments.
Kelsey: Could you provide a quick definition of pitching as it relates to writing?
Loucinda: I don’t know about “definition” but to me pitching is the opportunity to sell your story in the most compelling and quick way. This is often the same thing an editor has to do to sell manuscripts to the sales and acquisitions staff at their publishing house. One or two minutes may be all the time you (or the editor or agent) have to convince someone to take a chance on your work.
Kelsey: Would you share your process for writing a pitch?
Loucinda: I try to have two different length pitches for each manuscript. One is the ‘elevator pitch’ which is two or three short, punchy sentences designed to ‘hook’ the listener into wanting to know more. This is the pitch you give to the editor or agent you meet in the elevator at RWA National. Don’t laugh, I met my editor in an elevator at RWA National!
The second, slightly longer version is what I call the ‘cover blurb’ pitch. This pitch expands upon your ‘hook’ and is much the same as the back cover copy on a book. I briefly mention the hero and heroine, the basic conflict, and something unique about the story. For formal editor and agent appointments, this slightly longer version can be expanded upon to include the sub-genre, manuscript length, and any other writing credentials you might have for writing the story. I like to keep the blurb pitch short enough to give the editor or agent time to ask me questions, or vice versa.
Kelsey: What can a writer do to hone his or her pitch writing skills?
Loucinda: As the old story goes, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall… Practice, practice, practice! Seriously, if you are having a tough time boiling your story down to two or three sentences, try writing a pitch for a book you’ve recently read.
Also, if you have critique partners who are very familiar with your story, have them write your pitch. Sometimes they have just the needed perspective that you lack, and you can return the favor for them.
Kelsey: Do you find other skills are necessary for a face-to-face pitch session?
Loucinda: Once again, practice! Do a little role playing with your critique partner or maybe members of your local RWA chapter. The more times you can practice it, the more relaxed you will be.
You do NOT want your verbal pitch to sound like the poem you had to recite in your junior high school English class! I’ve seen lots of people write their pitch out on index card and then proceed to read them at their editor or agent appointment, never once making eye contact with the person to whom they are pitching. Please don’t do this! Jot down a few pertinent words on your index card if you are worried you might forget your hero or heroine’s name, the setting, or conflict. But don’t write out complete sentences you will be tempted to read verbatim. Make eye contact and smile. You’ll be surprised how much more relaxed you feel if you do.
Kelsey: What would you say are some mistakes new writers make either when writing the pitch or pitching a manuscript?
Loucinda: I’d say the most common error is ‘not setting the hook.’ You must catch the agent or editor’s attention immediately. This person has read or heard literally thousands of pitches. You must make yours stand out! What is the most unique or compelling aspect of your story? Concentrate on that.
I’ve also heard writers fall victim to ‘TMI’ – Too Much Information. You don’t need to give a synopsis of your entire book, and be careful not to ramble. Hit the high points and then stop talking. If the editor or agent wants to know more, s/he will ask. And whatever you do, if the agent or editor says, “Sorry, not for me.” DO NOT try to change his/her mind! Just smile as graciously as you can and say, “Thank you for your time.”
Kelsey: Please feel free to include any other words of wisdom on the pitch.
Loucinda: I’ve noticed lately that a lot of emphasis is placed on “high concept” and I’m not convinced that this makes for the most effective pitch. Too many people think they’ve written ‘the next Harry Potter’ or ‘the next Twilight’, and even if you have, if you are the fourteenth person that day to make the claim, do you really think the editor or agent will take you seriously?
I’d also be very careful about making comparisons with current books and movies for two reasons. First, if you say, “my book is ‘Sex In The City’ meets ‘Supernatural’” or “this is the Latina version of ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’.” You run the risk that the person you are pitching to doesn’t like one of those books, films, or shows. Second, particularly in the case of movies or TV shows, the person might not have seen or heard of the one in your example, so your pitch will mean nothing to them.
One of my critique partners suggested I pitch the story that became The Wild Sight as “‘Medium’ goes to Ireland.” I didn’t take this suggestion because I didn’t think enough people were familiar with the show ‘Medium.’ Instead I went with: An Irish clairvoyant must use his gift of “the Sight” to solve both a current and a past murder, while dealing with a beautiful woman who claims to be his half-sister.
Loucinda, we appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge about the pitching process! I especially like the idea of having your critique partners write your pitch (wink, wink to Tracey and Adrienne).
Thank you for inviting me!
A life-long avid reader, Loucinda McGary (aka Aunty Cindy) writes the kinds of stories she likes to read — stories with danger, romance and a touch of the unexpected. She joined RWA in 2001, and at the end of 2003 quit her dreaded day job to pursue her twin passions of travel and writing.
On September 14, 2007 she received “The Call” and made her first sale. Her debut novel, The Wild Sight, a contemporary romantic suspense set in Northern Ireland was released in October, 2008. Her second romantic suspense, The Treasures of Venice will be released in September, 2009, and her third, The Wild Irish Sea is set for a Spring 2010 release. All are from Sourcebooks Casablanca.
- Pitching Your Book – to Agents, Publishers or Readers with Oliver Rhodes
- Itching To Pitch by Dee J. Adams
- Four Key Elements Every Pitch Needs
- Developing Your Pitch – Part One
- Agents are People, Too