The Book Pitch
In my experience, pitching your book is all about the logline. If you can sum up your book in one sentence that will make an agent say, “I have to know more!” you are golden.
So, the logline is not only a blurb with which to convince publishers your book can sell, it is also your “elevator” pitch, your go-to quippy summary of the book idea. I have failed at writing an effective logline more ways than I can count (because I get tired of counting after 100). Let me share what I’ve learned about the logline so far.
1) Choosing the building blocks for your logline
- Take a fresh look at the outline of your story. What elements are the most unique? If you are dealing in fantasy/scifi, perhaps the world is steam-punk meets star trek, or your antagonist has psychic powers. Or, if it’s a realistic novel, perhaps a family is under quarantine or one of your main characters wins the lottery.
- Pick out a few flashy words or phrases that hum all their own. “Steam-punk in a far off galaxy” or “winning lottery ticket” and line them up. You can even use post-it notes, if you’re a visual learner.
- Identify the stakes of your story. In other words, “character X must do Y before Z happens”. The desire of your protagonist should be relatable, and the Z looming over him should be as dire as possible, especially if you want your book to appear high concept. (I’ll tell you what I mean by ‘appear’)
2) Anatomy of the logline
- Now you’re ready to put together some possible loglines. Here are some examples of pitch formats I’ve seen.
- “[Popular Book A] meets [Popular Book B that’s completely different] in this [genre] novel, where [character C] must [do something far-fetched] or [suffer consequences D].”
- “[Character A] is doing [activity] until [huge conflict occurs] and forces him to choose between [old desire] and [new desire].”
- “A [genre] about a [spiffy-sounding character or group of characters] who discover [something that changes their world].”
- “[Doing some activity] should have been [easy/hard /terrifying/etc.], but [character A] never expected [out-of-left-field-twist].”
- Notice that a logline is usually one sentence. Keep in mind that, with such a tiny space to fit an entire book, every single word must be utilized to express protagonist, conflict, stakes, world, and twist (with an emphasis on twist).
3) Pitfalls of the logline
- Writing a question. Such as, “Will Susie get to school on time?” This is apparently a pitching no-no, because it implies weak writing. Maybe it seems gimmicky, but then again I think mashing together two absurdly opposite book titles is gimmicky. Who makes the rules? Not me.
- Too close to the story. It can be very tempting to love your protagonist so much that you want the pitch to be all about her, or to be so enamored with your own world building that you forget to introduce the conflict. Take a step back from your manuscript or look at your feedback from beta readers and identify what elements will be the most attention-grabbing, even if they don’t play as big a role in the story. Which leads me to my next point.
- Bogged down in capturing the book’s lesson. This I learned from a copywriter friend of mine, who recently found success pitching an idea for a TV show. If the reason you’re writing the book is to teach young readers about Greek Mythology, resist the urge to include that in the pitch. The pitch is about the story, and why a reader should care about the story. Fortunately, the reader may then care about Greek Mythology once he gets well into your book, but that’s not what got his foot in the door.
- "Twists" be damned! Ok, this is me. For two of three pitches in a recent Twitter pitch party, I decided that the themes of my story far outweighed any nonsensical, flashy phrases like “undead mermaid” or “flying polar bear” I could cook up. So I wrote pitches that emphasized how my protagonist learned to see herself as more than a potential wife, or how she learned selflessness, or how she wrestled with wanting to be adored by the public … you know how many agents nibbled on those two pitches? Zero. You know what pitch eventually got a request from two agents? This one:
Does she really save the kingdom with her hair? Well, no. She saves it with a magical object which she was wearing in her hair. But that’s ok, we’re just trying to get these agents in the door. Ideally, my query and first pages are so dynamite that they will do the rest of the work for me once I’ve got an agent’s attention.
- Utter confusion. Make sure that your logline is intriguing, but CRYSTAL CLEAR. Mystery is good, but confusion is bad. For example, one of my first logline drafts looked something like this:
"16 year old Tess Canyon, a fame-obsessed advisor's daughter, must learn to use a magical hair tie in order to save a kingdom with no weapons."
You see the confusion? Does the kingdom lack weapons, or does Tess lack weapons? Don't do this.
My Biggest Regret: not considering the logline before writing the book.
If you are like me and knew nothing about pitching before starting your manuscript, I sympathize. But honestly, for my next book, I will think very carefully about what snazzy, glittery, eye-catching nonsense my pitch will include first. It really can be as simple as touching on a buzzword like "mental illness" or making your protagonist a pirate princess instead of a renaissance princess. To me, those kinds of details are relatively frivolous compared with the character arc, the honesty of the emotions, or the overarching themes. As I mentioned in this blog post, it's ok to play the game to some extent.
For your reading pleasure, here is a parting list of loglines from movies you might recognize. Can you guess what titles they represent?
“In a future North America, where the rules of Panem maintain control though an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss's skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister's place.”
“A Southern simpleton has a bumbling hand in some of the 20th century’s biggest events in this touching story of love, courage over adversity and snappily-named shrimp chains.”
“A Parisian rat teams up with a wannabe chef with no talent to battle convention and the critics to prove that anyone can cook and open their own restaurant.”
“After making a wish at a fortune teller machine, a young boy becomes a grown man overnight and must cope with finding a place to live, finding a job, and adult relationships, with only the help of his ten-year-old friend.”
P.S. For a more complete look at a solid pitching strategy, I recommend this article from Writers Relief. Good luck!