Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pitch Perfect

by Christine Wells

Many of us in Romanceland are eagerly anticipating the national conference of Romance Writers of America® in Washington D.C. next week. A large number of our Bandita Buddies are aspiring writers, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about pitching your manuscript.

There are all kinds of pitches, from the short elevator pitch (useful for cocktail parties or casual encounters with publishing professionals) to the longer, blurb-style pitch you might use in a scheduled meeting. Which you use depends on the circumstances, but two things must be present: conflict and what I call ‘sexy’ words—specific details from your story that have that ‘wow’ factor. These are the kinds of words that imply high stakes, immediacy, humor, quirkiness, mystery, intrigue or yes, sometimes, plain old sex. We’re all interested in those things, right? Specifics will set your book apart from the herd.

Taking a well-known concept and giving it a twist can be an effective way of pitching a story. The high concept pitch Anna Campbell used for her debut novel CLAIMING THE COURTESAN, which sold to Avon at auction, was Pretty Woman by candlelight. Everyone has seen the movie Pretty Woman or at least knows the premise. The twist is setting the story in the Regency period (the candlelight reference), when a courtesan was wholly in her keeper’s power.

When Kirsten Scott sold her young adult novel, DELCROIX ACADEMY: THE CHOICE in a ‘good’ deal to Hyperion, her agent called it X-Men for girls. That succinct, three word pitch speaks volumes, doesn’t it? It gives you the tone, the subgenre, the type of conflict and the fresh twist.

My pitch for WICKED LITTLE GAME was Indecent Proposal with a Regency twist.

Of course, the movie world is where the high concept pitch was born. The movie ALIEN was pitched as Jaws in space. If you want to find more examples of high concept pitches for movies, you can search IMDB by keyword.

But the movie with a twist won’t work for every story, and can be risky unless you refer to a blockbuster or a classic. Even then, if the editor or agent hated the movie or didn’t see it or just doesn’t get the significance of the twist, you’ve lost her. So, let’s move on to the slightly longer logline.

Anna Sugden, whose fabulous Panic-Free Pitching workshop handout is on her website, has a perfect logline for LOVE BY BEQUEST: A Texas cowboy inherits an English sheep farm. Now, the conflict is obvious, isn’t it? A classic fish out of water story. For the logline, you don’t even need to know who the heroine of this romance is. That comes later in the blurb-style paragraph in your query. Don’t try to tell the whole story in this short, one line pitch.

For her recent release, THE EDUCATION OF MRS. BRIMLEY, Donna MacMeans used this logline: A Victorian strip-tease. Yep, that’s it. Intrigued? Go buy the book!

Donna’s next novel for Berkley, THE TROUBLE WITH MOONLIGHT, was about a Victorian heroine who turns invisible in moonlight. Just her, not her clothes. Donna says: ‘Did I mention she's a bit of a thief? If you want her to get something for you, she'll do it for a price but it's always during a full moon and, of course, she must be...’ You fill in the blank! A nekked invisible heroine thieving in Victorian England? Now that’s something I want to read. This pitch juxtaposes paranormal and historical romance in a fresh and intriguing way.

For her manuscript REFUGE, Suzanne Welsh’s more detailed pitch uses specific language to convey high-stakes action and conflict. After witnessing a senator's assassination, a spinster-librarian flees into the west as a mail-order bride to escape the clutches of the murderer.

Look at how many specific, ‘sexy’ words Suzanne uses to really enhance the punch of her pitch: senator (high profile implies high stakes) assassination (again, high stakes) spinster librarian (rightly or wrongly, we assume someone intelligent, sheltered and quiet, someone who must struggle to face the challenges ahead of her) the west (again, fish out of water scenario here) mail-order bride (hints at romance and an interesting conflict for someone labeled ‘spinster’) escape a murderer (high stakes, suspense).

I pitched my Berkley historical romance, THE DANGEROUS DUKE like this: A duke accidentally steals a lady’s erotic diary. Can you see this is going to be a sexy story about stolen secrets? Are you already wondering what will happen when my hero reads that diary and whether he’ll be caught out? I hope so!

Notice that none of these pitches goes into detail about the story. They focus on piquing the reader’s interest, that’s all. Usually, in a query letter or formal pitch session you need more detail than that, but it’s a great tactic to have the logline front and centre, before you move on to the longer blurb. A real sock-it-to-’em sentence that makes an agent or editor give the rest of your query their full attention. The ‘what if’ question can work well for this purpose, too.

For more examples of pitches that work, read through the deals on Karen Fox's wonderful website.

Now, not every book lends itself to a logline. My advice—write a book that does. That’s not as flippant as it might appear. Think about it—if a book lends itself to a dynamic, interesting hook, isn’t it more likely to be a dynamic, interesting book? Plus, writing a logline for your story before you begin gives you a sharpened focus, a touchstone to keep your story on track.

However, if you are submitting and you just can’t get that snappy one-liner, don’t despair. For my first novel, SCANDAL’S DAUGHTER, I wrote a standard one paragraph pitch and it had a 100% success rate. Which is not to say that every editor or agent offered representation or a contract, but everyone I queried asked for more.

That’s all a pitch can do for you. In the end, the proof is in the pages.

If you're a reader, do you find the 'high concept' attracts you to a story if you haven't read an author before? Can you think of any intriguing ways just one line about a story or a movie has captured your attention? I'd love to know your thoughts.

If you're a writer, pitch us your logline (and yes, published and unpublished writers are welcome to do this). Or share your own tips for writing great pitches. We have it on good authority that some editors and agents read our blog, so if you're an unpubbed, give it your best shot!

For those attending National, if you would like to win a one hour session with me at National to work on your pitch or even just chat about writing in general, please state it in your comment. I'll post the winner before I leave for D.C. on Monday and we can arrange a mutually convenient time.


limecello said...


Becke Davis said...

Lime! You got him! Congrats!

limecello said...

Hmm... well I'm definitely a reader :P Who is losing her mind, and is/was in something of a reading funk. I have to admit, I keep movies & books entirely separate from each other. I can "tolerate" a lot more in movies than I can in books - e.g. not happy endings, etc.
But, yes, certain concepts do grab me - or some movie trailers are amazing. Of course the actors help too. I love the pitch ideas and likening them to blockbusters. I keep thinking something about Gone with the Wind - but that seems too... there. :P Maybe a "Sound of Music" made naughty? :P (Is that too wrong? Haha.)

:) And the GR gets to come to an 8 hr workshop with me, then follow me to a study session. Haha, poor bird. :P

Becke Davis said...

A timely post, Christine. I love hearing about all those great pitches, but now I'm more nervous than ever.

I've done two pitches so far, one of which resulted in a request for a full from a really great editor/publishing house. I've had two agent requests based on the query, one of which resulted in a rejection; haven't heard on the second.

This is my high concept pitch:

Wizard of Oz meets Cinderella

Brief summary:

An impromptu wish lands Dorrie with a match-making fairy godmother in this contemporary romance based on the Wizard of Oz.

Tag line: Somewhere over the rainbow, all hell is breaking lose.

I'm fairly happy with those but, as they say, if the story doesn't cut it, all the rest is just glitter.

Suggestions for polishing this?

Donna MacMeans said...

Christine - I must admit, coming up with cute and succinct pitches are difficult for me (except for The Trouble with Moonlight - that one was there from the start). Fortunately I have talented friends who offer great suggestions. Hey Christine - can I win that session? (grin)

Lime - I love the naughty Sound of Music. It adds a new twist to "the hills are alive with the sound of ..."

Becke - I really love your tagline. I have a hard time visualizing the other parts, but the tag line really grabs my sttention. Great start!


Christine Wells said...

Hey, congrats on the bird, Lime! Sounds like he'll be getting a dose of what's good for him today.

A naughty Sound of Music? I *dread* to think!

It's funny because I was friends with a fellow who worked in an ad agency a while back and he used to have videos of ad festivals (you know, they do them like film festivals). He used to marvel about the skill needed to come up with those concepts and write taglines for products and movies. I didn't get what he was raving on about at the time. Had no idea that I'd need that skill myself, some day!

Helen said...

Congrats limcello it has been a while since he has visited you have fun with him

Christine great post I would never be able to come up with a tagline but I do love the ones that you have mentioned and yes anyone of them would have had me picking up the book. That of course is what you are all aiming for and from a readers point of view they would grab me. Beck I love yours as well when can I read the book? Suz yours has me biting at the bit for it to be published can't wait to read it.

To everyone who is going to DC have a ball and a drink or two for me I will be cheering you all on from here in OZ

Have Fun

Christine Wells said...

Becke, this is great. I think you really have the hang of it. What I'm saying here is only my opinion, take or leave as you like. I am not an agent or an editor (as you know) so I might be totally off base.

Love the tagline! That's brilliant. From the high concept pitch, I'd want to know that it's a contemporary romance up front -- maybe just "An Adult Cinderella meets Wizard of Oz"-- otherwise it will sound like a children's book at first.

As for the brief summary--is there something particular about Dorrie that means she would resist a matchmaking fairy godmother with her dying breath? Eg if you said 'cynical cop' Dorrie or something like that, I'd see that a matchmaker is exactly what she doesn't want!

So basically, I want to know what the 'hell' you're referring to is. Just a hint of the conflict. And where does the Oz part come in? I think if you mention it, you probably have to expand your summary because otherwise I don't understand the juxtaposition.

I hope that helps!

OK, I won't be doing this with everyone, but I hope this is a good example of what I mean.

Christine Wells said...

Donna, you've ruined my illusions. I always thought you were the mistress of great taglines!

In fact, I recall an editor at National mentioned the Victorian strip-tease line in a workshop, she loved it so much!

Christine Wells said...

Helen, I put a parcel in the post for you today, my dear! Hope you enjoy WLG.

We will miss you in D.C.!! But we will be blogging from there. Trish has something planned, I think. Anyway, thank you for your wonderful support and we'll 'see' you when we get back.

Lynz Pickles said...

Ooh another really fun topic! You banditas have been extra awesome of late!

Given that I've never tried to get anything I've written published, and that I don't really write seriously, I'm not overly familiar with the whole pitching process. Yes, yes, back in ninth grade when I wrote my first and only novel I thought about submitting it, but typing it up would've taken too much energy. And really, since I was only writing it to deal with my boredom in class - oh yeah, I also wanted to make a character clearly based on the guy I had a huge crush on at the time, turn him into a jerk (fictionally, at least), and get over said crush - there's no way in hell that anyone other than a 14 year-old friend of mine would enjoy it.

But these high concept pitches do sound suspiciously like the teaser I have to make for each review - a "single sentence description of article" - and since I'm horrible, and I do mean horrible, at writing teasers, I imagine I wouldn't be any better at pitches.

It's hard to say whether, as a reader, I like the whole 'high concept' thing. I think that it really depends more on the author and the execution than anything. For example, Jennifer Haymore's A Hint of Wicked is totally a high concept book. I think I'd go with Surprise, your first husband's still alive! for it. *giggle* Whereas - okay, I'm totally cheating here since I'm almost 100% sure no one else here has gotten their paws on an advance copy of this book and therefore can't refute anything I say about it, but psssh - Tessa Dare's upcoming release Goddess of the Hunt doesn't really strike me as high concept. Uh... Regency tomboy meets straight-laced earl works decently, but honestly, I can't think of a way to make it high concept. Point is, here are two debut novels set in the same time period. One works the high concept and the other one... not so much.

So which one attracted me first? Jennifer Haymore's high concept book, of course! I was all "Oooh that sounds shiny and pretty and new!" and couldn't wait to read it. Whereas Tessa Dare's book made me go "Huh? How's that gonna work without becoming clich├ęd and boring?" The end result? A Hint of Wicked left me feeling somewhat grumpy and with a bad case of the lack of polish blues, whereas Goddess of the Hunt put me on a bookhigh (you know, that great feeling you get at the end of an awesome book?) that lasted for well over a week. I still get tingly just thinking about it now.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that reading high concept books has made me wary of them. Yes, they sound great, but they also really raise your expectations. And I'd rather read something which ends up surprising me by being better than it sounds like it'll be, than read something which doesn't live up to its promise.

Becke: Your tagline ROCKS. I'm with Donna in having difficulty with the other parts, but I would quite possibly buy your book simply for that tagline. What can I say; I'm a sucker for fairy tales gone wrong and that's what it sounds like.

Pissenlit said...

Oh! I didn't know they were called loglines! Yay! I learned something new today. :) I like loglines as they give you an overall feeling for the story which synopses sometimes lack.

limecello - Maybe a "Sound of Music" made naughty? :P (Is that too wrong? Haha.)

What's wrong is I automatically thought of the song, "The Lonely Goatherd"...and I'm going to stop that thought right there...

Emmanuelle said...

Earlier this year I read a book from an author I absolutly didn't know just because I liked the concept.
It was Emma Wildes An Indecent Proposition :

When the duke of Rothay and the earl of Manderville make a foolish and scandalously public wager over which of them is the more skillful lover, the firmly respectable and notoriously unavailable Lady Caroline Wynn makes the even more shocking offer to serve as judge. The trio all harbor complex secrets of their own, and as they discreetly begin the judging process far away from the keen eyes of society gossips, more than the lady's reputation and the gentlemen's pride are at risk from their growing passions.

Christine Wells said...

Hi Lynz, yes it sounds as if you do have to write taglines in your line of work also.

I didn't mean to imply that every story has to be high concept, but we are talking about trying to grab an editor's attention in 5 minutes, without a sample of writing to persuade them. From a writer's point of view, if they can marry good writing with a great pitch, they have it made. It doesn't have to be total blockbuster material. It just has to pique someone's interest and show that the writer knows the market appeal of her story. If you go to an agent or editor pitch, they want to know what makes your book different from what's out there. So that's what we're working on today. I'm sure there are many talented writers who can write a wonderful story about a tried and true premise and there are writers who can also take a high concept (like Nalini Singh's Psy series, for example) and really make it powerful and special. And, incidentally, hit the NY Times list, garner movie deals etc, etc. I really don't think you can generalize one way or the other.

Christine Wells said...

Pissenlit, I do NOT want to go there.LOL You crack me up!

Christine Wells said...

Emmanuelle, that's a great high concept, isn't it? One of the beloved romance tropes is the wager.

PJ said...

Okay, I'm not quite awake here but I just have to pop in and say that the "lonely goatherd" has me LMAO!

limecello said...

lol lol lol what have I started? ;) Admit it - all of you have missed me *angelface*

haha "lonely goatherd" discussions might be too much this early...

PJ said...

Lynz, I'd love to know what line Tessa Dare used to pitch GODDESS OF THE HUNT. I've read the ARC too and it's fabulous! She definitely has a gift for writing.

Becke Davis said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Donna and Christine. I'm playing with the pitch and summary, but no luck yet. Yikes -- only days until National! Must. Think. Faster!

MJFredrick said...

Now I'm going to wonder all day why I have "The Lonely Goatherd" stuck in my head...

Janga said...

One of the best things about Goddess of the Hunt IMO is the way Tessa Dare takes a conventional romance plot and gives it a twist. I haven’t read all of Surrender to a Siren (the August book), but what I have read is terrific. And A Lady of Persuasion (the September book) is my favorite.

I can’t seem to do the high concept thing, but I do have a two-sentence summary and a tagline.

Summary: Dori Marshall fled the spotlight of her husband’s celebrity to establish a simple, secure, contented life in her hometown of Gentry, Georgia, a life she’s determined to preserve and protect for her daughter and for herself. But her resolve weakens when the ex-husband who still haunts her heart arrives in Gentry to reclaim the family he lost.

Tagline: Reason says she was right to leave him, but the heart is no organ of reason.

Nancy said...

Christine, what a great idea! I hear more people fret over pitching than anything else. These are wonderful examples. The nutshell pitch generally is very hard for me. I've gotten better at the 25-word description over time. This may be why I so intensely dislike writing query letters, something I've repeatedly been advised I have to get over.

I love that picture of you and Tawny.

I haven't really thought about pitching yet, though I did go so far as to get appointments and decide which ms. to pitch. Agent Kristin Nelson had some great tips on her blog (Pub Rants) last year that I printed off and used but of course cannot find at this point. Will have to kill another tree and print them again.

I'm not as nervous about pitching as I once was. I figure that if I can accurately describe the GMC, and I usually can do that, they'll ask for something if it sounds at all like the kind of project they handle. If not, better not to waste either of our time.

I have the 25-word description (still working on that "succinct" thing) and a GMC statement each for hero, heroine, and villain. If there's more time, I put in contest credentials and paid writing experience as well as anything unique about the book or my qualifications for writing it (I've always wanted to say, "and really, I know all about this magic thing because I'm actually a mage," but I figure lying doesn't help *g*), but it really does all come down to the ms. in the end. No matter how great we make these projects sound or how many contest judges love them, if the editor or agent doesn't glom onto the writing, that's the end of it.

What I hate are group appts. where someone who hasn't focused on conflict and GMC or, apparently, anything else about the story rambles on and on and on and on and the editor or agent doesn't break it off. Unless the session started with an announcement that everyone could submit, in which case I don't care what I have to listen to. All I care about is getting the invitation and making a decent impression.

Nancy said...

I'm jaded about this. Can you tell? *g*

Seriously, I have the 25-worder and would like to have the tagline as a hook for that (Will be working on that between now and Friday). I also have the GMC sentences and a turning point plot summary. That way, I can expand on the story if the opportunity arises.

Most of the time, if you don't hurl on the editor's shoes or insult her appearance or ancestry or publishing house, I figure the odds are in the pitcher's favor.

Nancy said...

Limecello, congrats on the rooster. Sounds as though you have plans that will definitely wear him out. You go on that!

I also will put up with more of a downer ending in movies than books, though I still don't like it. And I really hate ambiguity, as in The International, which the dh and I rented. An excellent thriller up until the very end. I do like the good guys to very definitely win in thrillers.

Nancy said...

Becke, I can't tell you how I envy your ability to write queries. I truly loathe and despise doing it. But I couldn't sell toothbrushes to benefit the marching band in my hometown. Who doesn't need a toothbrush, for crying out loud?

I was better at selling chocolate--my mom left it on her desk, and people actually asked to buy it! So really she did that part. :-)

And I'm comfortable meeting people and talking to them as well as speaking in public, so pitch sessions don't bother me anymore. I'd far rather pitch than query anytime.

Nancy said...

Pissenlit, oh my gosh! That is so weird about Lonely Goatherd. I've been replaying that puppetry scene in my head all week, and I haven't seen that movie in years.

Donna MacMeans said...

Christine - Yes. When I pitched to Leah Hultenschmidt of Dorchester, she said "you had me at Victorian Striptease." But, alas, I owe that concise description to another writer friend who was able to see through the forest to find the trees. I think that's the hardest thing for a writer to do - pare down a complicated plot to a concise description of the core conflict.

Love that photo of you and Tawny BTW.

jo robertson said...

Great blog, Christine! Sound, solid advice for pitching, something many of us find very difficult.

Louisa Cornell said...

Sneaking out of my writing cave while my CP is on a plane. She checks to make sure I am writing and not blogging. What a tyrant!

These are some GREAT loglines! I have pitches for both of the books I'm pitching this year, but they're the standard paragraph ones.

How's this for a logline?

Jane Eyre with a Medium twist.

Louisa Cornell said...

For the other book I'm pitching I can only come up with a couple of OLD movies. Those of you more mature ladies will remember them.

Sunset Boulevard meets Presumed Innocent.

Deborah Blake said...

I'm going to Nationals (my 1st) and I'd love to win an hour of help :-)

I'm pitching two books (a paranormal romance suspense with a humorous voice and a humorous paranormal romance).

"Charmed meets Heroes"
"A modern witch accidentally brings King Arthur back to save the world. Oops."

Their titles are (respectively) WITCH EVER WAY YOU CAN and KING ME!

Thanks for the great blog.

Christine Wells said...

Hi PJ! I'm so looking forward to GODDESS OF THE HUNT. It sounds wonderful!

Julia Smith said...

*sweaty palms*

Okay - here's my pitch.

A Victorian England Les Miserables meets Casablanca, where Bogart's 'beautiful friendship' may be with Ingrid Bergman, after all.

A man too proud to live the life he's dealt.

A woman too beautiful to stay in the shadows - even when shadows keep her safe.

Branded as convicts and sent to the edge of the world, they can't escape a triangle that will test their love and their hard-won new identities.

By the way, Christine, great picture of you at last year's conference (I assume?) Thanks for this post on pitching. I'm going to check out those links, especially to Anna Sugden's Panic-Free Pitching. And I'm SO excited to win a copy of Wicked Little Game! I'll email you Monday from work.

Christine Wells said...

Becke, How about this:

An impromptu wish lands [two word description eg cynical divorce] Dorrie with a match-making fairy godmother [who sends her to a fantasy land?? to find her Prince Charming] in this contemporary romance based on the Wizard of Oz.

I'm just guessing at the details but maybe as a template that might work?

Hey, don't get nervous! I'm sure you will be fine.

Why don't you try writing it without the Wizard of Oz and Cinderella references and see how that goes?

Christine Wells said...

MJ, The Lonely Goatherd was in my head when I went out to dinner last night and I couldn't work it out where that came from at first! Thanks Limecello!

Christine Wells said...

Hi Janga, I think that's a great blurb. I can see immediately what the conflict will be.

Again, only my opinion, but if you got down to some specifics, I think it would be even more compelling. Can you be specific about the nature of the husband's celebrity? That would be an excellent hook. Also, what kind of woman is Dori? Just a two word descriptor before her name is fine, like "shy florist", or something like that. You can see how you can show conflict just by pointing out the different types of people they are.

I'd also be interested a very brief reference to the impact this celebrity's arrival has in the small town. Maybe you can't do it in your short pitch, but it's something worth mentioning during your pitch session.

Very nice tagline.

Hope that helps!

Christine Wells said...

OK, I just have to go and feed the starving hordes and I'll be back!

Tawny said...

Hey, fun picture *g* I'm so gonna miss signing next to you, Madame!!! That was the very best literacy event I've ever been at.

I have to admit, when it comes to pitching, I'm horrible. I was so grateful to sell because I thought it meant I didn't have to pitch any more. LOL - how wrong was I?

I'm supposed to be working on some snappy blurbs for my September release and so far I just look at the cover and sigh, and all I've come up with is "reunion in leather"

Seriously, pitching is not my forte.

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey Tawny, reunion in leather has lots of promise, especially if there's at least one hot guy in that leather!

Louisa Cornell said...

Here are the longer blurbs for my two.

Ravencrest is a house of dark places and darker secrets. Madeline Carston, vicar’s daughter and proper governess, is a woman who knows how to keep secrets. Some secrets, however, won’t keep. They come out and change lives forever.
After a near tragedy at the lonely mansion results in her dismissal as governess, a small part of Madeline Carston is relieved. Her attraction to the master of the house is only one more thing she must keep in the shadows. Through a lifetime spent denying her special gift, there is more than enough about Madeline that must be kept hidden.
Rumors of murder and madness reach Madeline and force her to decide if a child’s sanity is worth facing the handsome and cold lord of Ravencrest – Baron Tristan Monticourt, the man they call The Raven. The passion they denied four years ago still burns, but the secrets have followed them both to London and so has a murderer.

And the second one, for my third book is :

Cain Overley, Marquis of Ashworth has discovered that a murdered mistress can be a problem. Especially when it is your own. Matters can only get worse if your sole alibi is the mistress’s companion with whom you were having a passionate interlude the night of the murder. Sally Warren is much more than the simple lady’s secretary he believes her to be. She deceives him at every turn, but he’s lived with deception for years. When they are both implicated in the murder, they must work together to unravel the one deception that can put an end to their new found love and perhaps their very lives.

Christine Wells said...

Nancy wrote: I've always wanted to say, "and really, I know all about this magic thing because I'm actually a mage," but I figure lying doesn't help *g*

SNORK!!! I'd like to see the editor's face!

That's very inconsiderate to sit there and blather and take up everyone else's time, isn't it? I did a group pitch once but everyone was very professional.

Actually, most will ask for more if they do rep that subgenre, won't they? That's a comforting thought.

jo robertson said...

LOL, Tawny, "Reunion in Leather" certainly piques my interest. Are you sure you don't have a gift for pitching?

Intriguing titles for your WIP's, Deborah. Congratulations on your first RWA National. Lucky you!

Christine Wells said...

Nancy wrote: Most of the time, if you don't hurl on the editor's shoes or insult her appearance or ancestry or publishing house, I figure the odds are in the pitcher's favor.

Amen, sister!

jo robertson said...

Louisa, love "Jane Eyre with a Medium Twist"! And WTG on evading your critique partner while you sneak out of the cave!

Christine Wells said...

Thanks, Donna! You should take all the credit for that tagline. It's brilliant!

But you're so right about seeing the wood for the trees. I love helping other people with their pitches for this reason.

I think it is a very good exercise to do at many stages of the writing process, not just when the ms is polished and ready to go. It really helps you focus your story to know the pitch. It gives you tone, the nature of the conflict and character as well, all of which you can deviate from when writing the mess-in-progress if you're not constantly reminding yourself.

jo robertson said...

Donna, I so agree with you. I'm just plain lousy at paring my story down to the "heart" of it. I liked what Christine said about starting there, however, writing the logline first. That was something I'd never thought about.

Renee said...

I don't have the high concept down quite yet, but here are my tags.

She's a cigar smoking, gun toting, train robbing gambler, but it's his outlaw heart she threatens to steal away.


A witch or nuisance~can a Highlander turned English border warden save her neck without losing his head?

I'll definitely be in D.C. and would love the opportunity to sit with you.


Christine Wells said...

Thanks, Jo! We are all going to miss you at National this year.

jo robertson said...

Speaking of putting up with "downers" in movies, Nancy, I saw Dillinger today, mainly because like Tawny-Depp, I love all things Johnny. Christian Bale played Marvin Purvis, so that was cool too.

Anyway, even though I know how it ended, I just felt this overwhelming sadness when Dillinger died. Like, what's up with that? Obviously, this was an anti-hero movie.

jo robertson said...

Wow, Nancy, you are certainly more thorough at planning your pitches than I am! Good thing I have a year to prepare for next year's conference.

This has been a great post for preparing us. Thanks, Christine and everyone who contributed. I'm learning so much.

Tawny said...

Anyway, even though I know how it ended, I just felt this overwhelming sadness when Dillinger died. Like, what's up with that? Obviously, this was an anti-hero movie.

*sigh* I've been putting off seeing the movie for just this reason, Jo. Its hard to go sit through falling in love with a character when you know it'll have an unhappy ending. Call me a wimp, but I like my entertainment to end with a smile!!

But thanks on the reunion in leather props ;-) The heroine is the one in leather, although the hero does sport a very sexy mask LOL. I admire so much people who do those clever blurbs that combine this and that and come away with a snappy, memorable pitch!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Jo! Of course when her plane lands she is going to hop online, bust me and then I am in REAL trouble!

jo robertson said...

Emmanuelle, that's a great description and would certainly induce me to buy the book.

LOL on the naughty Sound of Music, Limecello. I was thinking Sound of Music with a Dennis the Menace twist.

Renee said...

Another fan of Tessa's Goddess of the Hunt. And since I have difficulty coming up with my own high concept, I'm not sure I could for someone else.

jo robertson said...

Love that tagline, Becke, about somewhere over the rainbow all hell breaking loose! It's true that the story and writing have to cut it, but you need to grab someone's attention first. It's getting harder and harder to do that!

Christine Wells said...

Hi Louisa,

LOL about sneaking out of the cave!! I hope the writing is going well.

Wow, Jane Eyre with a Medium twist sounds very intriguing! Thanks for sharing that. I know I'm going to see your books on the shelves very soon.

You know, I'm a bit iffy about the crossing two movies thing, but that's probably a personal preference. I wouldn't lead off a pitch session with it. I might give the blurb and then say, like X movie meets Y movie. That way, if they don't know the movies or don't get the juxtaposition, you haven't lost them from the start.

Are you interested in the one hour session? Should I put you in the draw? I know you already have an agent so you probably don't need another cook stirring that broth!

Christine Wells said...

Ooh, Deborah, I LOVE the sound of these books! You've made me want to read them right now, especially the King Arthur one.

Christine Wells said...

Julia, I love it! I think it sounds like a very compelling story and your pitch makes me want to read it right now. Who didn't want an ending where Bogey gets the girl?

One small thing--the movie juxtaposition plus the Victorian setting is just a little too much to lead off with, I think, although when you expand I can see where you're coming from. I think you might be better off getting rid of the Les Mis reference or (as I said earlier) leaving the movie comparison to the end of the blurb.

I think the trouble with the two movie thing is that I have no idea which elements of each movie go together. It can be confusing until it's explained. I'm also glad to see you've specified Victorian England as the setting. That's a popular setting and more likely to sell than a romance set in, say, Casablanca. *g*

But wow. That is a textbook blurb and I LOVE your character sketches, too. You have nothing to worry about.

Thanks for the compliment on the photo. I wish Tawny and I were going to be together again this year. SOB!

As for WLG, if you'll be at National, I can give you your copy in person.

Christine Wells said...

Yes, Tawny, it doesn't stop when you sell, does it? Reunion in leather. I like it!

I've written or rewritten every back cover blurb I've been given. Yes, I am a control freak. *G*

I'm going to be very lonely among the Ws this year, TD:(

Christine Wells said...

Louisa, those longer blurbs are fabulous! The Ravencrest one is very atmospheric, and does indeed remind me of Jane Eyre.

Cain Overley, Marquis of Ashworth has discovered that a murdered mistress can be a problem.

WOW! What a great opening line. Love it! You're going to rock the pitch session with these.

Christine Wells said...

Jo, starting with the logline has helped me a lot. After my first attempt at a ms (now languishing under the window seat) I realized I didn't really know what the story was about and the problem was not that I'm not good at thinking of hooks, it's that the story didn't have any. *g* It didn't have a proper focus. So now I always have a logline in mind when I write.

Christine Wells said...

Hi Renee, I think you're doing excellently with those taglines. I especially love the energy in them. I get a good flavour of your writing style right there.

You don't have to worry about the high concept, I don't think, if by that you mean the movie comparison. I hope I didn't imply that was a necessity. In fact it's probably the least necessary element of your pitching arsenal.

OTOH...Calamity Jane meets Butch Cassidy? I don't know. Just a thought:)

Becke Davis said...

Nancy, I don't think my query was all that great but I do like my tagline.

Luckily, I was at a meeting of my RWA chapter this a.m. and it was critique day! I was on a brainstorming team with Liz Bemis, Sienna Condy and Keri Stevens/Kaeding, and between the four of us, we came up with this for my elevator pitch:

Dorrie needs to find her first draft of L.Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz to save Emerald City, kitsch capital of Kansas. Her ex-lover needs it to save his academic career. Chaos ensues when an interfering Fate, who fancies herself a modern-day Glinda, attempts to weave matchmaking magic.


No luck with a short high-concept pitch, though.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Christine! And yes, put my name in the draw. I would LOVE and hour to pick your brain before I try to pitch my two books. Last year I went in to pitch my GH book and got to pitch my second book as well. This year I am pitching that second book as a GH finalist and trying to pitch the third book too.

My CP and I worked on the blurbs together. She is the BLURB QUEEN and I am merely her lowly apprentice!

Becke Davis said...

Christine - I just spotted your suggestions, thanks so much! See what you think of the revised version I just posted.

Becke Davis said...

And, Nancy, I forgot to thank you for the kind words. It's a major Imposter Syndrome day -- no biggie, just didn't final in a contest. I can roll with the punches, it's just frustrating because it means something isn't working. Won't be able to focus on it until I see the judges' comments.

Christine Wells said...

Jo, yes, I'm learning a lot, too. For example, I think Julia's way of having a sentence about each character, as in a movie trailer, works amazingly well.

Louisa Cornell said...

And I know what you mean about the movie premises. It is really hard if you have picked movies that are not current. So many people have never seen Sunset Boulevard, but it is required viewing her in Alabama as the star, Tallulah Bankhead was an Alabama girl. And Presumed Innocent is an OLD Harrison Ford movie with a killer twist at the end.

It is so funny because when the Bandits had a blog about turning movies into historical novels I did a takeoff on Sunset Boulevard that featured a hero called Lord Hotdayum being shot by his much older mistress. "I'm ready for my portrait, Mr. Gainesborough." We all had a good laugh, but that little spoof was the inspiration for The Deceit of Desire (aka The Manwhore Book)

Christine Wells said...

Tawny, I'm like you. I hate falling in love with a character and then having them die. I'm torn about whether to see that movie or not.

Christine Wells said...

LOL, Louisa, I wish I had the same respect from my boys as your CP has from you!

Christine Wells said...

How is it that so many of you got to read Goddess of the Hunt already?? I'm so jealous!!

Becke Davis said...

I'm having so much fun reading all these tag lines and elevator pitches. Makes me nervous about my own, but I definitely want to read the rest of these!

I ordered Tessa Dare's new book -- I keep hearing good things about it, so I figure it's worth a read. Did I tell you I got Christine's book the other day and had it finished by dinnertime? I always kind of feel bad about reading so fast, after all the blood, sweat and tears authors put into these books, but the good ones just FLY!

Congrats to Donna, too -- I LOVE The Trouble with Moonlight and I'm not surprised it's getting attention.

Christine Wells said...

Becke, one word. WOW. That's a fantastic pitch! Now I get what your story is all about.

You definitely don't need a session with me at National, but come and have a coffee all the same!

Becke Davis said...

I will be at the Bandita Bash, Christine, and watching those rsvps come in has been jaw-dropping!

I feel like I have split personalities, because I'm going to be there as myself, as Becke-Martin-the-struggling-fiction-writer, as Becke Davis, the Barnes & Noble moderator and now I'm also representing Romance: B(u)y the Book for contemporary romance and romantic suspense titles. I need a secretary to keep everything straight for me!

On top of that, I've spent the past week writing about one gardening article and/or blog a day because freelance writers aren't allowed to take a week off -- we just have to write faster. I'm going to be worn out before I even leave for the airport! (Not that I should complain; at least I'm not traveling from Australia!)

Renee said...

Christine, thank you for your suggestions. It's really hard to pinpoint my heroine, she's kind of a wounded Diane Fossey(Gorillas of the Mist)out to save all the little Orphan Annies from unsavory saloons. And my hero, well he's nothing at all like I imagine Butch Cassidy, but more like how Val Kilmer portrayed Doc Holiday, definitely on the quiet side.

Renee said...

How is it that so many of you got to read Goddess of the Hunt already?? I'm so jealous!!

:) In my case it was being at the right place at the right time.

Nancy said...

Becke, I know Liz Bemis. She does my website!

I'm sorry about the contest result. That's always disappointing. One thing that helps me in these situations is remembering that not everyone will love every book, and that doesn't necessarily mean the book is wrong.

You can't please all the readers all the time. Once you sell, you won't please all the reviewers all the time. There may well be useful tips in any contest feedback, sometimes painful but useful ones, but there may not. A ms. that doesn't final in one contest may win another. It's all subjective.

Looking forward to seeing you in DC!

Helen said...

Christine I am so excited and eagerly awaiting the postman, thank you so much.

These pitches and lines are great I want to read all of these books now you Guys are so good and for those who are going to DC to pitch best of luck to you all I wanna read these books I have everything crossed for you all.

Have Fun

Becke Davis said...

Liz did my website and my MySpace page, too! (

I'm so excited to see everyone at National, I will be falling all over myself.

Several of us at my chapter meeting today are going to be there, and you could which ones were going -- none of us could frame a coherent sentence! And, in my case, I swear my hair is going to be white by the time I get there!

Renee said...

Becke, I was so worried about my hair turning white that I had it dyed. ;) Actually, I wasn't worried. I just wanted to get my hair done and when I went in the hairdresser tells me she's putting super duper formula on to cover my gray. What? I have gray hair?! LOL

Renee said...

Helen, I'm going to D.C. and could use all the crossing I can get. Btw, I want to get my hands on those babies.

Can't wait to meet everyone.

Christine Wells said...

Becke, I'm so impressed with the standard of pitching today. Thanks so much for participating, everyone!

Oh, and I'm so glad you flew through WICKED LITTLE GAME. I have to laugh at your comment about the blood, sweat and tears. It's so true, but I'd much rather it took you an afternoon to read than a month!

Christine Wells said...

Louisa, your CP might be the blurb queen but you have to have written a book that lives up to it, so kudos to you!

OK, you go into the draw also. My dh, the random number picker, will give me the winning number!

Christine Wells said...

Becke, commiserations on not finaling but that does *not* mean something isn't working in your ms. You can't let it shake you.

WICKED LITTLE GAME didn't final in an Australian contest I entered. Then it went on to win other contests, plus my editor didn't seem to have the same problems with the ms that those contest judges did! Not finaling can often be simple bad luck. (Or bad taste on the judges' part.*VBG*)

Christine Wells said...

"I'm ready for my portrait, Mr. Gainesborough."

I remember that, Louisa! Wow, how cool that it sparked an entire novel for you. Actually, that's a great idea for a blog post, how we all spark ideas in each other and how much fun a plotting group can be.

Christine Wells said...

Wow, Becke, we're going to have to call you the Mad Hatter, you're wearing so many hats!

I know what you mean about being worn out before you get there. I've so much on my to do list today, I think I need to go and lie down. And I have to spend time with the family before I get on the plane tomorrw, too. Not that that's a chore, but it's so easy not to make time to do that when you have a lot on your plate.

Christine Wells said...

Renee, looks like Calamity Jane was waaay off the mark.LOL

Seriously, you don't need to do a movie reference. I was just kidding around.

Christine Wells said...

Nancy, very wise words about the subjective nature of contest judging. Sadly, the experience doesn't change once you're published. Only then it's reviewers, and they're publishing their subjective opinions for the world to see!

Christine Wells said...

Oh, wonderful, Helen. Glad you received my message. I'd say Vane will be at your house on Tuesday. Woohoo!

Christine Wells said...

Cute website, Becke!

LOL about your chapter meeting. I was trying to describe to my husband the excited buzz that pervades the lobby at conferences and he just couldn't comprehend it. He said, You wouldn't find us lawyers behaving like that at a conference. Hee, another reason I'm glad I'm not a lawyer any more!

Christine Wells said...

Renee, I got my first grey hair at 27. I was working crazy hours and I was in the office bathroom on a Saturday. I looked at my reflection, and there was this lone white hair. I freaked out and the lawyer at the next basin said drearily, "It's this plaaaaace."

Nancy said...

Christine, thanks. I used to pluck the gray, but if I did that now, I'd be bald! *g*

The one thing I miss about hanging with the lawyers is that there were NO wardrobe issues. Most of them were unlikely to notice and even less likely to care what anyone wore. The most difficult thing about RWA for me is getting the wardrobe stuff in line.

Don't even get me started on accessorizing!

I always pack too much due to wardrobe insecurity and so am resolved, this year, to avoid that somehow.

But I bought a bracelet at Chico's today. Ack!

Renee said...

Why is it when women get gray they're looking older and when me turn gray the look distinguished? Why is it their boobs don't sag and their butts. . .And I don't think I've ever seen a man with cottage cheese on their hips and thighs. And we're the ones chasing toddlers while carrying infants on our hips. Thank goodness my baby is now 11.

Becke Davis said...

Nancy - Chicos is sooo dangerous for an accessory freak like me!

Renee - I did try to dye my hair a couple of times but the color didn't take, even when I spent a fortune at a fancy salon. (And not when I tried to do it from a box, either.) The red just faded, and the white is sneaking in -- if I started pulling them out, I'd soon be bald.

Christine - It sounds like a good thing that you left the law (and gray hairs) to others!

Can I ask a protocol-type question about pitching? I've had an editor request a full and an agent request a partial. I've had plenty of rejections in the past, so who knows what will happen with these. What is the correct procedure if you meet another agent or editor -- should I go ahead and pitch and not mention that others are considering the story?

I wasn't able to schedule official pitch sessions but I already know some editors are going to be at a few functions I'm attending. I don't want to miss a chance to network, but I'm not sure what the "rules" are in this case.

Pat Cochran said...

Not an author, just thought these
taglines sounded interesting! LOL!

Snow White with a Cabaret beat...

Sleeping Beauty with a Carribbean

Pat Cochran

Lara Lee said...

Hi Christine! Thanks so much for these wonderful examples of pitches. This will be my first RWA conference and I'm sooooo nervous.

I have two books I want to pitch. The first is to Harlequin and I have the loglines although I'm not really satisfied with it.

Author Laney Barrett is reminded daily for the past five years that because she kept one brother's secret, she was driven away by the cruel words of the brother she loved.

Crossing paths years later with the woman who betrayed his dead brother aboard one of his cruise ships, can billionaire Dominic Dragonas see past his own guilt and grief to find the love that he has always sought, and the child he never knew he had?

And a oneliner a writing friend suggested:

A secret kept Laney Barrett from the man she loved. Can an even bigger secret bring them back together?

As for my other book, a single title historical suspense, I'm having trouble with the pitch for that one.

I'd love to be entered in your draw for hour session with you! Thank you!


PJ said...

Christine, I'm reviewing GODDESS OF THE HUNT, which is why I got it early. I'm jealous of Janga. She's read all three!

Terrific taglines out there, ladies. I want to see these books in print!

Janga said...

PJ, I have read only parts of Surrender to a Siren, but I have read Book 1 of Tessa's Stud Club trilogy, which promises to be every bit as good as her first trilogy.

Christine, I'm blessed to belong to a small group of writers who challenge and cheer one another. Tessa's part of the group. That's how I read her books early.

Nancy said...

Becke, I'm not sure whether Christine will be back tonight, due to the time difference. FWIW, my understanding of pitching in social situations is that it's not done unless the agent or editor specifically asks what you write and then follows up with more questions.

In other words, "what do you write?" is _not_ the same as "what would you like me to consider?" though it may be leading up to that. Always, always take your cue from them.

Many of them go to parties, etc., to relax, not to take pitches, and they don't expect or welcome pitches in those circumstances.

Someone else may have a different take, but that's what I've always heard.

A friend of mine ended up in a breakfast line at a conference in front of an agent, who started chatting her up, asking questions about what she wrote, more questions about the book, what was it like, who would she compare herself to, etc. At first, my friend had no idea who this woman was, not until the questions became increasingly specific--beyond the usual chatting to pass the time stuff-and she sneaked a peek at the woman's nametag. My friend walked out of breakfast with an invitation to submit. But the invitation came to her, so to speak; she didn't go after it.

I've heard of similar things happening in the workout room and in the smoking area at conferences.

Does that help?

Becke Davis said...

Nancy - That helps hugely. I think I would be way too nervous to bring it up unless someone asked, but I'm glad you clarified that.

As you have probably figured out, I'm a chatty person, and I'm far more likely to start talking about something totally unrelated and forget about the pitch altogether! It's a relief to know we're not expected to rattle off the pitch at the drop of a hat. This first time at National is just one big learning curve!

Nancy said...

Becke, the first time at National can be overwhelming, especially if crowds are not your favorite milieu. One thing I've found helpful is to hang out in a comfy chair in the lobby. It gets you out of the crowd, but people passing will sometimes stop to chat. Then people they know stop to chat, and before you're aware of it, you've met new people.

There's so much going on at National and so many people and so much to remember that it's kind of mind-boggling. Just realize that no one else remembers all that, either. Experience just lets you fake it better. :-)

And the workshops are on tape, so if you miss one, it's no biggie unless the topic is one you wanted to ask a question one, and most writers who're speakers will answer you question by email after you hear the CD.

If you need to, don't be afraid to go up to your room and breathe for a few minutes. Just don't start hanging out there.

I like people but cannot work a room to save my life, so I'm always grateful for you chatty people who get things going.

Nancy said...

Uh, I wrote: And the workshops are on tape, so if you miss one, it's no biggie unless the topic is one you wanted to ask a question one, and most writers who're speakers will answer you question by email after you hear the CD.

I meant "one you wanted to ask a question ON, and most writers who're speakers will answer YOUR question."

Aack! Too much time at the mall dealing with wardrobe issues.

Julia Smith said...

Christine - thanks for the pitch feedback. You see why I had the sweaty palms...

Unfortunately, I won't be at Nationals - but my cousin Julianne MacLean will be. She'll be in the literacy book signing room, if you want to give the book to her - if you see her. Otherwise, I'll email you from work on Monday. That's my most-checked email address - except for the weekend.

Christine Wells said...

Actually, Nancy, the lawyers I knew were pretty fashion conscious, especially the women. I much prefer not having to wear suits at conferences any more.

Cool on the bling! Looking forward to seeing it!

Christine Wells said...

Becke you should absolutely take the opportunity to tell editors and agents about your book if it's appropriate or if invited to do so.

I do think you should let them know that other editors/agents have it but not who has it. (Depending on who you're talking to -- an editor isn't going to be interested that an agent is considering it, of course.) If they know someone else has it, it will only make their competitive hackles rise. There's no expectation that you only try one agent or editor at a time these days. I hope you didn't give anyone an exclusive! Even if you did, you can still just talk about the book to another editor or agent and say you'll send it when the exclusive period is up.

I hope I'm making sense. This is my last day before I fly out and the children have been very emotional as well as all those last minute things to deal with!

Christine Wells said...

Pat...are you sure you're not a writer?LOL Those sound like interesting reads.

Maybe even on a par with a Naught Sound of Music!LOL

Christine Wells said...

Laurie, thanks so much for commenting and for being brave enough to tell us your pitch.

I think it's got the right elements and I love the one-liner. I am not an expert on category romance, but I'd also recommend you play up the parts that are important to the line you're targeting.

I got a bit confused with the brothers. I thought it was the heroine's brothers she was talking about. Can you clarify that?

Good luck! You're entered in the draw.

Christine Wells said...

Nancy, thanks for manning the ship while I was away. Had to do a huge grocery shop and then had a simultaneous melt-down from the 6yo and 2yo naughtiness to cope with!

But I hope everyone enjoyed the pitches and I'll post a winner before the conference.

If any of you see me at RWA, don't hesitate to come and say hi and we can chat about your pitch if you need to--even if just for some moral support. I wasn't sure how many I'd get today so I didn't like to promise time to everyone, but this seems like a manageable number.

Christine Wells said...

Julia, I won't bother Julianne with the book. I'll post it to you. Was so hoping we'd get to meet in person. Wah!

Julia Smith said...

Christine - me, too - Wah!

I'm planning to be there next summer, however. Let's hope...

Lara Lee said...

Thanks for the imput, Christine. I was trying to get it all in two sentences but I can see now that it might be confusing about the brothers. I'll go work on it some more.

Really great timing for this blog post!

Becke Davis said...

Oh Nancy, I didn't realize the workshops were available on tape -- hurray! I was frustrated because a lot of the ones I want to attend are in the exact same time slots.

Christine - Nope, no exclusive. At first, I thought you were only supposed to submit to one agent and one editor at a time. Now I know that's not the case but, for the moment, I still only have it with one of each.

Thanks, everyone, for all your help. Safe trips to you all!

Kit Donner said...

Hi Christie,
Just finished my 3rd book and plan to pitch to an agent at Nationals. This is all I have so far-
Intrepid heroine kidnaps wrong bridegoom.


Intrepid heroine (yes, I know, aren't they all) plans to kidnap her best friend to save him from a loveless marriage. Except her kidnapping plans go awry when the wrong bridegroom shows up.

Hey, if there's still a chance to chat with you, my hat's in the ring. Thanks, Kit