Tips For a Short Pitch

Why are we inviting contestants to give us a short pitch to introduce their manuscripts?

In order to give our contestants a chance to practice pitching their novels to an agent, editor or reader.

For our judges, to more fully re-create the experience of opening a book and reading from the first chapter, which you almost never do without having heard at least a little about the story.

We don't need a lot, just a few lines. No more than 50 words. Give us the set-up or status quo. Then the event that changes everything. Ask a story question that the reader will want to know the answer to.

"Harry Potter was an unwanted orphan, living beneath the stairs at his aunt and uncle's, being bullied by his cousin. Then, the letter arrived from Hogwart's School of Magic." Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

"When shy, awkward Bella goes to live with her father in small-town Washington, she never expects to fall in love--with a vampire." Twilight

"Bridget Jones is a hapless singleton on an endless search for "inner poise" when she lands the man of her dreams, her roguish boss. But that stuffy Mark Darcy keeps popping up and throwing a wrench into the works...Any resemblances to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are purely intentional." Bridget Jones' Diary

Short and to the point but they give enough of the story to let your reader, or potential agent, or judge, know what you're aiming for as they open your book to read.

Tips from Colorado Gold judge, urban-fantasy author and workshop teacher Karen Duvall:

Conferences aren't the only opportunities to pitch a novel. There are now many pitching opportunities online that include blog events with editors and agents, writer group forums, Twitter, Facebook and online writers' conferences that are growing in popularity.
This is all the more reason why a pitch should be brief and effective.
Step one -- It needs three vital components for a solid hook:

  • Paint a compelling mental picture.
  • Offer an idea of genre.
  • Have a killer title.

What elements go into the pitch? First we state who the main character is, what his goal is and why he must have it, and what prevents him from getting what he wants.
It's vital that we focus on the conflict at the heart of our book. Put this all together and you have an ironclad formula for a successful pitch. If it falls within the purview of an agent's or editor's acquisition needs, you'll probably get a request for pages.
I recommend writing several versions of your pitch. When you think you have a good one, don't stop there. Polish it, let it sit for a while, then read it again out loud. The goal is to hook your audience, so it should be short and to the point.
As usual, it's easier to use movies as examples because popular movies are the most familiar. Here are two fairly good single-line pitches:

"A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and ends up standing alone when her office building is taken over by terrorists." Die Hard

"A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend." Pretty Woman

Both these examples use hooks to grab attention. Once you capture an editor's or agent's attention, you can take it one step further. Both these one-liners set the stage to continue on with the hero's character arc and the emotional stakes that embroil him and the antagonist. The first line of your pitch is usually conceptual, an overview of the big picture. Once your hook has found its mark, it's time to reel in your audience with theme and conflict. It's important to show that you know your story inside and out.

Tips from Jeanne Stein, Colorado Gold judge and NYT bestselling author of the Anna Strong urban fantasy series.
The two-sentence pitch, done in the style of the pitches from the movie The Player:

Pitch for a Victorian mystery: Penny Dreadful meets Sherlock Holmes. Our Penny and Sherlock make use of cutting edge science and medicine along with powers of divination to help uncover crimes.

Pitch for Dark fantasy/thriller: Alex Cross meets The Sixth Sense. Instead of seeing ghosts, our FBI profiler sees demons.

Jeanne says she has sold books using these pitches. So practice winnowing your story down to its bare bones and add it to the first page of your submission, right before the story starts. Give us your best pitch.

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