Knock Your Pitch Out of the Park!

By Susan Spann

Since I'm doctoring pitches one-on-one at the Colorado Gold Conference in September, it seemed natural to start my posting here on the RMFW blog by looking at pitch construction.

I've got two guest posts between now and Colorado Gold, so here's Part 1 of a 2-part series on "How to Build a Winning Pitch Pitch"

Now, there are many ways to construct a pitch, and I don't claim my way is the only one. It is, however, the one I used when pitching my debut Shinobi mystery, CLAWS OF THE CAT, and the one I use when helping other people pitch.

Winning pitches do one thing: they make a listener want to read your book.

Always keep that goal in mind. If your pitch does not intrigue, it fails, regardless of its contents. You start constructing a pitch by culling four elements from your work. We'll look at those elements today and then, on September 19, we'll put them together (just in time for the RMFW Conference!).

1. Who is the protagonist? Describe him (or her) with 1-2 adjectives.

For example: a ninja detective.

2. Who is your active antagonist?

The active antagonist is the person, place, or thing the hero is fighting against for most of the novelthe thing that creates “the stakes.” This might or might not be the same as the antagonist the hero ultimately defeats or reveals, especially in a mystery novel, because unlike a synopsis, the elevator pitch does not reveal the ending of the story.

3. Stakes! (Preferably, through the protagonist’s heart).

Note that I haven’t asked about where the hero started the journey, how many quirky talking teapots (s)he meets along the way, or why there’s a pregnant emu at the turn from Act 2 to Act 3. For purposes of your pitch, none of that is important.

Having trouble with stakes? Try to answer the question: What does your protagonist have to accomplish before “the end,” and why will the world fall apart if he or she fails?

Answer it in one sentence or less. If you can't, you might need to revisit your plot.

In my novel, the stakes are clear: a ninja detective must find a killer in three days time, or the ninja, his Jesuit friend, and a lovely young geisha will die. In addition, the death of the priest will plunge Japan into war with Portugal.

Those are stakes.

Stakes can be personal (death, financial ruin, homelessness, exile) or large-scale (war, natural disaster, the end of the world). Many novels feature both. A novel without stakes is boring, and a pitch which doesn't reveal the stakes won't pique a listener's interest.

Which brings us to the fourth and final element of the pitch:

4. High Concept.

High concept is premise. It’s what makes your story unique. In a nutshell, "high concept" is a concept with mass appeal that you can sum up in one sentence or less.

The high concept for my mystery series is ninja detective. The high Concept for the movie JAWS is "killer shark."

Your high concept might not appear in your pitch, but creating the pitch with high concept in mind will always result in a stronger pitch than one which ignores high concept.

Struggling with high concept? Try the “What if” method: summarize your story in no more than 15 words, the first two of which must be “What if?”

Between now and my next guest post on September 19, your homework is to pull these four elements out of YOUR work and get ready to pitch like a pro! Then, tune in for our second installment, in which we discuss transforming your elements into a winning pitch.

Do you have an elevator pitch for your work in progress? Does it utilize all four of these critical elements?

Bio: Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on business and publishing law. Her debut Shinobi mystery, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur Books) released on July 16, 2013. You can find Susan online at, or on Twitter @SusanSpann, where she created the #PubLaw hashtag to provide business and legal information for authors.


10 thoughts on “Knock Your Pitch Out of the Park!

  1. Patricia Stoltey

    Welcome to the blog, Susan, and thanks for doing this special two-part series for us before you begin your series on publishing law.This is great timing for folks who will be pitching at Colorado Gold in September,

    1. Susan Spann

      Thanks, Pat! We’ll start on the in-depth publishing legal posts in October, for sure, but this seemed like a good way to get people prepared for Colorado Gold!

    1. Susan Spann

      I’m so glad it was helpful. The good news is, a little tinkering can make a huge difference. I’m sure you can get it there in time!

  2. Giles Hash

    It’s nice to see so many different techniques on assembling pitches. I’ve run across at least a dozen different methods for pitching my book since I started sending my books out to agents, and all of them are SO helpful!

    Thanks for the tips :D

    1. Susan Spann

      Thank you Giles. It’s true, there are many methods, and many work equally well. The key is finding the one that works for you!

  3. Julie Luek

    Susan, wow. Thank you for breaking down the pitch in easy to apply steps. So very helpful! I feel like I should print and save this.

  4. Sharla Rae

    Hey Susan, Saw your name on the loop this morning and had to stop by. Tried to post here before but will try again. With me, pitching has little to do with content and everything to do with stage fright. I’ve told myself, I’m talking to a regular person, but the thing is, I don’t talk to strangers out of the blue. Sure I can carry on a conversation with someone in the grocery store line but being forced to sell myself to someone staring back at me–who you just know wants you gone so the next poor smuck can warm the chair — has always been a humilating experience for me. I just stopped doing it entirely–in person that is. It’s funny because, my friends would tell you, I’m a Mrs. Motor Mouth. Not so at the pitching table!!

  5. Pingback: Pitch Like a Pro (Part 2) | Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

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