Friday, February 8, 2013

Pitch It

Have you written a book? Are you getting it ready for submission? Or is your book still just an idea in your head?

Either way, I'd encourage you to start thinking about a pitch.

For those who don't know, a pitch is a short sentence (or couple of sentences, at the most) which sum up your idea. I tend to think the shorter the better - Jurassic Park? Theme park with Dinosaurs. Jaws? Killer Shark on a rampage.

Basically, you need a good pitch for a couple of reasons.

The first is for those of you who haven't started writing yet. A pitch keeps you on track. It stops you from deviating too far from the story and turning it into an unworkable mess. Recently, I was working on the first draft of a medieval horror story and it all started to unravel. I hadn't written a pitch, and as soon as I sat down to do it, I realised it was really difficult because the story went in too many different directions. And that was my problem - I had to streamline the story and put more emphasis on the main plot. It's amazing how many problems putting something into pitch form can solve.

The second reason is a practical one, for when your book is on the shelves.

Working in a book store has given me lots of practice at pitching other people's books. Often customers ask me for recommendations, and I've noticed time and again that the longer I ramble on about a book's plot, and the more detail I go into, the more I lose them. You really have to hook your reader/customer with a single line, and once they're intrigued, THEN you can go into more detail.

And sometimes it takes practice. One of my favourite books is Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and at the start, I really struggled with handselling it, precisely because I loved it so much. I wanted to tell people all about it, but it was information overload. Now I sell it all the time by simply saying, 'It's about a boy who lives in a world where everyone's private thoughts can be heard out loud, and all the women have died out. One day he hears something he's never heard before - silence. And when he goes to investigate, he finds that it's a girl.'

Most people buy it.

The reason I'd encourage you to always be thinking about a pitch is not just so you can sell it to publishers, but so that booksellers can sell it to customers once it hits the shelves. There are some absolutely brilliant books out there that I can't sell because they're too difficult to sum up. Often the people buying kidlit are parents, and they don't want to know about every single subplot. They want to know what it is in a nutshell, so they can make a yes or no decision.

It might sound difficult to condense your brilliant novel with its various characters and subplots down into a single sentence, but the hard reality is that most people won't care. They want you to get to the point.

So have a practice at writing your pitch. Try to make it as short as possible, while still being intriguing. Think about whether a bookseller will be able to sell it in a sentence. Practice it on your friends and family. And most importantly, practice it on people who have never heard of your book. Try to get them to ask that all-important question: 'And then what happens?'

Recommended Reading: I highly encourage people to get A Decent Proposal by Rhonda Whitton and Shiela Hollingworth. It's an excellent book about how to write a proposal to a publisher, and I know that it was a huge help in me achieving publication. There's also a whole section devoted to pitches.

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