The Process of Constructing a Pitch
Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on May 8, 2014
[Comments from 2021 are in italics, enclosed in square brackets, like this one.]
After the first year’s round of pitches, and the first few rejections by agents, I regrouped, re-edited some sections of the book, gave it a thorough trimming and polishing, and rewrote the pitch. Many times. My typical process when writing a pitch is to start with a (usually overly-long) description of the main characters and plot. It can be as much as two or three double-spaced pages (anywhere from 500 to 900 words). Then I work backwards, eliminating the unnecessary, while trying to make the book sound as interesting and/or exciting as possible (without fudging the truth, of course).
Example: In my second book [but first one published], The Jagged Man, I have four main characters (Two protagonists, and two bad guys). One of the bad guys is the Jagged Man (an 8,000 year old sociopath). He obviously has to be mentioned in any pitch, but the other bad guy is an assistant of sorts, integral to much of the plot, but no one needs to know about him at this stage, so all mention of him gets dropped from the pitch. In the first draft of the pitch for Jagged Man, I went into a lot of detail about the two protagonists (they work at the same place, Rice University; they begin dating each other partway into the book; one of them is helping the other with some tech stuff related to an ancient papyrus about a sinister “jagged man,” etc.).
All of that has to be reduced to a couple of short sentences or phrases, so a hundred words or more becomes (in the intro to the pitch):
“Sarah, a brainy techno-geek, and her historian boyfriend, John, match wits with the Jagged Man, an 8,000 year old sociopath, whose Dorian Gray metabolism has let him reach the 21st century looking like he’s only forty.”
Only 36 words for the initial description of the three main characters. Gradually, the rest of the pitch got shortened the same way until it was 200 words or less, hopefully describing the essence of the book in an accurate, attention-grabbing way without giving away the whole plot like I did with most of my pitches for If a Butterfly.
Then, a couple of months before I need to give the pitch, I record it and put a copy on my iPod and burn another on a CD, and walk around the house, and/or listen to it in my car, over and over for several days, until I start absorbing the content naturally and get used to my own voice speaking the words aloud. At that point I also begin to notice phrases that don’t sound quite right, or things that are missing. Usually ten or twelve revised recordings follow, trimming the whole thing down to under a minute. I try to be finished with that at least a month before the conference, but I have sometimes made changes a couple of days before I leave for the Writers’ League of Texas conference in Austin (where I have given all my oral pitches so far).
Note: 6-23-2014 — I did it again. I made a few changes to this year’s version of my Jagged Man pitch yesterday, so I only have a couple more days to learn the new version before I leave for Austin. Not a good idea.
Do you have a particular process that works for you when you’re constructing a pitch?
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