Friday, February 21, 2014

FRESH ON FRIDAY: What's in a Pitch?

CONFESSION: I have never, ever, sold a novel using a query letter. Truth be told, I don't believe I've ever written a query for a book-length work of fiction. 
But I've sold plenty of novels in face-to-face conversations with acquisitions editors: conversations that began with me making a pitch.
Most people think that the pitch for a novel is a description of the story. But we all know that trying to describe a novel in one brief conversation is an exercise in futility. If a novel can be easily described, then it probably doesn’t need to be a novel.

A good pitch should
be concise enough that,
if necessary, you could
fit it in a Tweet.
So, in a pitch, rather than describing the novel in its entirety, what you want to present is its premise. And—here’s the really important part—you want to present that premise with a “hook:” a distinction that sets this novel apart from the hundreds of others that the editor is going to hear about this year, and a reason that readers are going to clamor for that novel and not want to set it down.
For instance, I’m not certain how, exactly, Audrey Niffinegger pitched The Time Traveler’s Wife, or if she ever did a sit-down pitch at all.
But if I were pitching it, here’s how I’d do it:

I’m here this morning to talk to you about a book in which time travel is an essential element. But it’s not a science fiction story; it’s a love story. And it doesn’t concern itself with relativity and physics; it concerns itself with relationships. It does this by asking three questions.
The first question is this: What if time travel was not only possible, but unavoidable? What if it was an extremely rare and virtually unknown convulsive disorder; one that could strike the afflicted person at any time, without warning?
The second question is this: What would it be like to be such a person—to know that at any moment you might be snatched out of the present and deposited, naked and disoriented, at some point in your past or your future?
And the third question, and the question that is really at the crux of this book, is this:
What would it be like to be that person’s wife?

That’s the pitch—the entire thing. In this form, it’s only 160 words long. And if I absolutely needed to, I could reduce it to a single sentence:

What would it be like to be in love with a person who, at any moment, and without notice, could be transported away from you in time? 

That’s just twenty-seven words. In fact, that’s only 133 characters—brief enough to fit in a Tweet.
Pitches should be brief because they are meant to be conversation-starters: conversations that, if all goes splendidly, result in the party being pitched asking you for a proposal. And the proposal is where you describe the novel—or at least get closer to describing it.
Now go get warmed up. 
We need you to pitch.

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