When CJ visited us a few weeks ago, the response to her pitching ideas was phenomenal. She has graciously offered to share her other pitching article with us today, focusing on the three types of pitches you should prepare for editor/agent appointments. With National coming next week, it's time to sit down and hone your pitches. Don't be afraid to grab your friend, your spouse, or your Cocker Spaniel and practice until you perfect your pitch. It's your time to have an editor/agent's undivided attention. Granted, it only lasts for about ten minutes, but it's important to make every second count. Wishing you all good luck!!!
Award winning medical suspense author CJ Lyons is a physician trained in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Winner of the Golden Gateway and a Golden Heart Finalist in Romantic Suspense, CJ is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. Her writing has appeared in Romantic Times BookReviews, CrimeSpree and Spinetingler. Look for her debut novel, LIFELINES, coming from Berkley in April, 2008. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net
Here is CJ's advice on pitching...
If you're a writer, the Pitch is your best friend.
Why? Because it's what you'll use every time someone asks you to tell them about your book. Agents, editors, elevator folks, Great Aunt Martha. Whoever.
So you need to polish it. Since it's verbal, shorter is better. No more than 25 words total, 10-15 is better.
Short, sweet, memorable. That's what you're going for—hey, I didn't say it would be easy!
There are several different types of pitches. Here's how I define them:
#1 The Elevator Pitch
--a very quick, easily memorable way to let someone who has never read your work know what it's going to be like (note: not what it's about, but what they can expect).
To use an example from my own work, the elevator pitch for my new medical suspense series from Berkley (first book out next April, yeah!) is: ER meets Grey's Anatomy
Implying that it has the edgy realism and non-stop action of ER, but also focuses on relationships like Grey's Anatomy.
I think elevator pitches were invented by all those ADD Hollywood types
It's your down and dirty answer to: what is your book like? It's a comparison, not an explanation or description.
The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read
#2 The TV Guide Description
--this pitch is more descriptive. Start with your book's tag line (also known as a "log line")
These are those throw away lines that scream at you from the cover. Also look at movie posters and TV guide ads--they use hook lines a lot.
JAWS: don't go into the water, ALIENS: in space no one can hear you scream, etc.
These lines are useful to hook the reader and transition into your blurb.
For the first book in my Berkley series, LIFELINES, the tag line is: July 1, the most dangerous day of the year.
Notice what a tag line does that's different than an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a comparison.
A tag line gets the reader to ASK questions, builds that emotional velcro by getting them involved.
Back to my tag line. Readers might ask: why is July 1 the most dangerous day of the year? What will happen then? Who is in danger? What kind of danger? Etc
These tag lines are also great to use on websites, business cards, etc. Often, they'll end up on the book's front cover.
Okay, so you have a tag line. Sometimes that's all you need, the conversation will evolve naturally from there. Other times you use it simply to attract attention and move into a more detailed description. So be prepared, either way.
#3 The High Concept Pitch
--the high concept pitch: also quick and dirty, but here you're going farther than a simple comparison.
Instead of comparisons you use ICONs or universal concepts to connect your fictional world to the real life world of your audience. This creates emotional velcro with your audience, leading them to be interested enough to want to know more!
To do this, you need to do two things:First, find a hook. This is the unique spin that you have put on your story. This means narrowing your search to one small part of your story. Start with your premise, usually the hook will be apparent there. If not, keep looking
Basically you're boiling your novel down to one and only one unique concept--whatever it is about your story that will create an immediate emotional connection or spark interest. Second, tie this unique hook to the larger world by using universal icons and feelings, implying that society at large is affected.
Something that brings this hook, specific to the time and place of your novel, into the ordinary world of your audience.You're building a bridge here, connections, emotional velcro....whatever you want to call it, it needs to be so easy to grasp that anyone can feel it immediately.One of my favorite high concepts: ALIEN's.
It was: Jaws on a spaceship.The unique hook = spaceship. Unique because no one has been on a spaceship, it's something unfamiliar to the ordinary audience.The universal icon = monster (Jaws). Everyone has had childhood fears of monsters under the bed. We all know and understand fear, nightmares, terror. In fact, a large segment of the movie going audience (Alien's target audience, in fact!!) pays good money to feel these emotions! Add the two together and we have a universal fear of monsters combined with no where to run (trapped on a spaceship). A powerful one-two punch!!! Feel how it evokes an immediate visceral response as well as intrigue??? The audience hearing this high concept immediately squirm in their seats, ask themselves: where can the people on the ship run? How can they fight the monster?AND, the movie makers tied this high concept into their advertising by using a tag line of: In space, no one can hear you scream....But note—there is no mention of character names, no long, involved psychological profiles, nothing except the bare essentials needed to pique the audience's attention. That's the beauty of the high concept, it strips everything away except what you need to intrigue your audience.
Another example. David Morrell's recent book, SCAVENGERS used as its high concept: a scavenger hunt (unique hook) to the death (universal concept). The tag line used in advertising: Some secrets should remain buried... Pretty obvious David's audience are lovers of thrillers/suspense, and wouldn't that audience immediately respond to that high concept? Be intrigued, think, hmm...I want to read that book, wondering what this master of suspense has in store for them.
Stephen King is also brilliant with high concepts. CUJO: rabid dog (hook) terrorizes town (universal fear). SALEMs LOT: vampires (unique hook--at the time) terrorize town (universal fear), CARRIE: prom queen (hook) terrorizes town....okay, anyone think King is writing sweet romance? Or has he earned his title of the King of Terror? So much depends on knowing your audience that it's hard for anyone else who hasn't read the entire book to create a high concept for you. It all depends who your target audience is and what kind of emotional experience you want to promise them.Often, because the high concept is such a tiny taste of the entire book, as writers, we get frustrated because we're looking at the big picture. We just spent months with these characters, we want to share them with our audience, expand on them, not boil them down to a bare skeleton
But no matter which kind of pitch you use, you'll probably need a more fleshed out description. Something that conveys very quickly what kind of book this is, what it's about (or who it's about) and what stands in their way.
Again your goal isn't to give away everything but rather to raise interest and more questions in the listener's mind.
Try starting with your theme or premise, add in your main character and their goal and main obstacle.
This is hard, very, very hard!! Be patient, keep trying, brainstorming power words, re-arranging and most importantly practicing saying them aloud. Pitches are verbal so they need to sound smooth, natural, not awkward or stilted.
The only way to learn how to do these is dive in and give it a try!
CJ, thanks for joining us again today. We'll miss you at RWA next week (CJ is attending Thrillerfest in New York), but know that we'll be using your helpful tips when we pitch! Have a great time at the conference.