Friday, 28 February 2014

Pitch Madness Pitch Workshop!

With Pitch Madness fast approaching, I thought now was a good time to go through a little pitch workshop. First off all, I'm going to put together a pitch for you guys. Then, I'm going to ask you to put your pitch in the comments section, and I'm going to critique it for you - say what I think is working, and what isn't.


So let's use my latest WiP as a starting point (and hope that when I send it to my agent, she loves it!!).

Step One - The One Line Hook

It is absolutely vital that you can sum your book up in one line. This is the line that an editor will use to sell your book to the other people in the publishers, and that your sales rep will use to hook a potential bookseller. So don't underestimate the power of a good hook. In fact, many agents and editors have been known to say: "If you have a good hook, then that's half the battle.


A logline is one line that boils down your narrative to its core purpose. So let's break this down - what forms a good hook (aka logline)? Actually, it's pretty simple. A good logline should show CHARACTER, GOAL, CONFLICT. That's it. The clearer and more simple you can make it, the more high concept your work becomes. And high concept sells well. If you can't sum up your work in one sentence, you might want to consider whether it's your logline writing skills or your book itself that needs work. A good site to browse when thinking about loglines is this one: http://www.raindance.org/10-tips-for-writing-loglines/ That should give you some good ideas.

Alright, let me show you my logline for my YA Folklore Mystery (the length of a Pitch Madness pitch):

An isolated teen's brother washes up dead on the shore of their tiny island, but when she investigates the murder, it seems more than one person on the island is determined she doesn't solve it. 

So we have a character (the teen), the goal (to solve the murder) and the conflict (people on the island stopping her from solving it). Simples. Now, you try.

Step Two - The Pitch

It is very important you don't move onto this until you have written the logline. Don't be lazy. I'm serious. The logline is ridiculously important. If you don't have that, then you will have a weak, unfocused plot. You only have one chance at this. You want the agent to understand the story completely. Remember, they don't know your story like you. So it's your job to get your information across as CLEARLY as possible. That's really important too. To be CLEAR. Soooo many new writers have fancy, wordy, beautiful sentences in their pitch and it has no clarity so the agents pass. If you need to forsake stylistic flourishes for clarity. If you can add some style whilst still being clear, then of course do. In addition, do not be mysterious in your pitch. Don't be obtuse. Your story has mystery naturally by having a character, a goal and a conflict. No need to be confusing.

Ready?

This is where you are going to take your logline and work it into a full pitch (for a query). In a pitch you can add details - your character name, what makes your story unique, setting, etc.

Okay, so following that theory, here's mine:

Sixteen year old Lucy’s brother washes up dead on the shore of their Scottish island. The islanders say he broke the curse of the mythical selkies, bringing their wrath. Others say he ran off with a fabled kelpie woman and drowned. And whispers about underhand dealings leading to his death drift around the harbour, ship to ship. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Lucy decides to find out what really happened the night he died – accident, murder, or legend come to life. But the more she delves into it, the more she realises that not everyone wants her to find out the truth. 

This is the pitch I will send my agent. In addition to achieving what the logline achieved, it also tells her about the character (Lucy, teenager, determined, investigative), the setting (a Scottish island), and the unique angle (a blend of myths, legends and folklore).

So there you have it! I hope this helps, and I look forward to seeing your pitches in the comments below!

92 comments:

  1. Logline:
    When eighteen-year-old aspiring opera singer, Ash’s love dies, he’s devastated until she returns six months later to possess his soul. Now he wants her gone. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD meets PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh now this sounds intriguing! I like the comp titles you have here, as it gives a strong sense of style. The punctuation is off in your first sentence though (your first comma shouldn't be there). Also, could you be more specific with how his love dies? Name her too? This will help an agent to connect more with the character.

      Delete
    2. Also, what's stopping him from getting her gone? Not strictly necessary but worth it if you have room for more than three sentences (perhaps for your query).

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Fiona. I don't know how that rogue comma ended up in there. I wanted to have room for the comp titles and right now it's exactly 35 words.

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    5. New version:
      When Ash’s lover and vocal coach Isabette dies, he’s devastated until her spirit returns. When she kills to further his opera career, he wants her gone. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD meets PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

      Delete
    6. Version 2:
      Ash is devastated when his lover and vocal coach Isabette dies. She returns and he harbors her spirit until she kills. Now he wants her gone. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD meets PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

      Delete
    7. I love the first version of the new one! It has everything I would be looking for in a pitch!

      Delete
    8. After his vocal coach and lover Isabette dies, 18yo aspiring opera singer Ash is heartbroken---until her spirit returns to possess him. When she kills to further his operatic career, Ash’s love turns to horror.

      Delete
    9. Again, this works really well, but I think the last line doesn't do the conflict justice. He has to get rid of her is stronger than his love turning to horror, IMO. The action of getting rid of her is what drives your narrative, IMO.

      Delete
  2. Logline:
    17-year old Dallas Langdon loves zombie movies...until she encounters real life (erm, undead) flesh eaters and must flee to safety.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like this pitch, but do you have a fresh twist on the zombies in your book? Zombie books are in a saturated market at the moment, so if there's anything you can do to show what makes your submission stand out, that would really help.

      Delete
    2. Thanks so much! Another attempt:


      17-year old Dallas Langdon loves zombie movies. But when she encounters real life (erm, undead) flesh eaters, she must flee to safety with only a giant pizza cutter as a weapon.

      Delete
    3. Hi. I think the pizza cutter detail here adds the humor you need to show the type of book this is. I don't think you need the (erm, undead) part, as it doesn't add to the voice in a strong enough way, and your flesh eaters line covers the technicalities. Is there a particular object other than the zombies standing in her way? What else is stopping her get past the zombie? Or is it just the zombies themselves?

      Delete
    4. Thanks so much for doing this!
      Not sure if this one will work (afraid it might be a little long winded), but hopefully it will add in something else that makes it stand out.


      17-year old Dallas Langdon loves zombie movies. But when she encounters real zombies, mistaken by the public for flu victims, she must flee to safety with only a giant pizza cutter as a weapon.

      Delete
  3. Logline:
    Separated by decades of war, Ricky and Samuel’s experiences as Ugandan child soldiers intertwine to prove love survives death, hope exists in the darkest corners of hell, and one boy’s story can guide thousands home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm also considering replacing "Separated by decades of war," with "Based on a true story,".

      Delete
    2. I like this pitch, Keely, but I think the conflict needs to be brought out more. As it stands, we have resolution in the pitch as opposed the conflict. The pitch should ideally ask "if" hope and love can guide thousands home, not that it does.

      Delete
    3. Thank you, Fiona! Here's my revised log line.

      When Ugandan child soldiers Ricky and Samuel’s lives collide, they must discover if trust can survive captivity, if hope exists in the darkest corners of hell, and if one boy’s story can guide thousands home.

      Delete
    4. This is much stronger. The only small issue as this makes Ricky sound like he is still a child. However, it might be hard to fix this to reflect otherwise, as it will give away the entire story. As so much is spent in retrospect, it may be easier to keep it this way. Pop me an email and we'll discuss further.

      Delete
  4. When Alex undertakes an internship with the Xavier Corporation, the last thing she expects is to be risking her future career to help a sentient cyborg, named Zentis, escape the iron-fist control of his creators.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My concern here is that I don't know *why* she wants to risk her career for Zentis. I like the premise (cyborgs are cool!) but I think we need to know why the stakes are important to Alex.

      Delete
    2. When Alex undertakes an internship with the Xavier Corporation, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with a sentient cyborg and risk her career to help him escape the iron-fist control of his creators.

      Two words too many, but it this better?

      Delete
    3. This is better. Knowing she's fallen in love makes the stakes real for the character, You could get the word count down by changing "When Alex undertakes an internship with" to "When Alex interns with".

      Delete
  5. Here is my attempt at a logline for my upper MG fantasy, DARKENWEAR, INC: FAETHERS VS. SCALES. This is tricky and getting it down to 35 words for Pitch Madness is tough.

    Logline:
    13yo Persephone’s becoming a dragon and if DarkenWear, Inc. catches her, she’ll end up a designer handbag or a fabulous pair of shoes. DW’s imprisoning magical creatures in their fashions—and they must be stopped!

    Thanks for the help!

    Shawn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the flavor of this pitch - lots of voice and a great premise (sounds super fun). However, I stumbled over your first sentence as the "...becoming a dragon and if DarkenWear, Inc. catches..." section doesn't read easily. It took me a second read to go back and understand the sentence. You might want to think about rewording this.

      I absolutely adore the concept though!

      Delete
    2. Fiona, thanks for the feedback! Wow, that 35 word limit for Pitch Madness continues to challenge me. What do you think about this? I think this is clearer, while keeping the voice intact (I hope). I also added a hint of the villain in there. This is a great exercise! 35 words exactly!

      13yo Persephone’s becoming a dragon. Even worse, DarkenWear, Inc.’s imprisoning magical creatures in their fashions. If Persephone’s caught, she’ll end up a designer handbag or fabulous pair of shoes—the feathery fashionistas must be stopped!

      Delete
    3. Oh gosh, I adore this!!!! This is absolutely spot on!

      Delete
  6. Here's my attempt at a 35-word pitch for a YA Paranormal:

    Everyone's entitled to a little me-time—even demons. But possessing a sixteen-year-old human has some nasty side effects, including curfews, developing morals and falling for a snarky atheist with muscular dystrophy.

    Thank you so much for your help!

    Natalie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like that you flip the conflict on the head, but I think the inclusion of the curfews as a problem can go. It doesn't match up with the tension from the other two conflicts. Also, while you have conflicts, we don't have stakes. What is the worst that can happen to this demon if he/she doesn't fall in love or does develop morals? How will this affect his life?

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much for your feedback, Fiona! I've been so intent on keeping the voice, I completely neglected the stakes/conflict. I hope this version is clearer:

      Possessing a teenager was always going to have some risks. Matt expected the curfews, but not developing morals or falling for an atheist with muscular dystrophy. What would his dad, the Devil, say?

      Delete
    3. This is much, much closer, as I get a real sense of voice and conflict. I'm also getting a clearer idea of the stakes, too. However, if I'm being fussy, I'd still like to have the stakes clarified more. Yes, the reader will assume it's bad if his dad (the Devil) finds out - but what exactly does Matt think the worst case scenario would be? Will dad stop him from entering the mortal realm and he'll never see his love again? Will dad threaten to make sure his love doesn't see the next year? Clarifying even more will really make your hook stand out.

      Delete
    4. Illegally possessing a teenager was always risky. Matt expected the curfews, but not developing morals or falling for an atheist with muscular dystrophy. And God forbid He finds out Matt wants to stay human.

      Added a little more info, but it's still implied. Is this better though? And thanks again!

      Delete
    5. This is almost there, however, I think there is still room for a little tweaking. We need the "what happens if" in this pitch. Also, the language itself can be tightened to say the same thing in less words. For example:

      Possessing a teenager is risky but Matt doesn't expect to develop morals or fall for an atheist with muscular dystrophy. And if He finds out Matt wants to stay human (insert consequence here).

      Hope this helps. :-)

      Delete
    6. It helps a lot! You're a gem for hosting this workshop, Fiona. I can't thank you enough! Now 4th time lucky:

      When Matt possessed a teenager for fun, he never imagined himself wanting to stay long-term. But after orders from above to desist, he must decide: return to Hell a demon, or risk it all a human.

      One word too many though :(

      Delete
    7. This is it! If you cut the word "himself" from the first line, then you're bang on the nose for word count!

      Delete
  7. Here is a first attempt. Any advice is appreciated!

    Grad-student Hans has discovered a secret about Beethoven which will make one killer thesis, but he had to go back in time to find it, and returning home with it may not be an option.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi. I love Beethoven, so this caught my eye. However, my concern is in the regards to the mechanics of stakes. While him not returning home is a great stake to have, I'm unsure as to why he might not get home. Can you clarify that? Also, in the first sentence, I think it should be "he HAS to go back in time" as opposed to "he HAD to go back in time."

      Delete
    2. Thanks Fiona. Here is a completely different approach:

      200-year-old music, love letters, and the Time Train bring grad-student Hans face to face with destiny. Falling for a 19th-century Viennese beauty? Not part of the plan. Letters To Juliet meets Back To The Future.

      Delete
    3. I actually think your true pitch is locked between these two pitches. The important details are - Beethoven, secret to make thesis, love with the Viennese beauty, and him not wanting to leave the past because of his new lover (at least, that's what the pitch infers to me). This is close - but still needs a little polishing!

      Delete
    4. One more try...

      23yo grad-student, Hans discovers an unknown symphony. When his research takes a time-traveling turn to Vienna, 1820, passion blooms. Hans must decide; keep his 19th-century Viennese dream-girl or rocket to 21st-century research fame.

      Delete
    5. This is fab! Really works a treat. You have character, conflict and stakes! Congrats!

      Delete
    6. Thanks so much Fiona. I really appreciate your time. I love writing pitches...they are quite the challenge! :)

      Delete
  8. Alright, here is my attempt currently:

    After sacrificing her life to save a friend, Addisyn's angelic afterlife should be all clouds, halos, and harps. If only someone had mentioned that to the dark-winged angel manipulating her to incite a war.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've managed to fit a lot in a little space, and a good sense of style. However, I think you need to highlight your stakes more. What is the worst that can happen if she does incite a war? Is the worst she has to lose her afterlife heaven? If so, that needs to be clearer I think. If not, then you need to clarify.

      Delete
  9. Hi Fiona, thank you for hosting this!
    Can you advise on mine?

    A dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland as Alice falls into a medieval world filled with monsters. Alice sets to find her way home but only to plunge into a war between monarch and rebels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You could tighten this up a bit, I think. You have a lot of good elements working for you here, but you have room to highlight your MC's action a little better, and tighten the prose at the same time. For example:

      Alice falls into a monster filled medieval world and becomes caught in a war between monarch and rebels. She must (insert action) or (consequence). ALICE IN WONDERLAND retelling.


      Just a suggestion to kick start some ideas for you. :-)

      Delete
    2. Thanks :) Does the pitch sound intriguing enough?

      I made some revisions:

      A dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland has Alice falling into a medieval world filled with monsters. Alice searches for a way home, but instead finds herself caught in a war between monarchs and rebels.

      Alice falls into a medieval world and becomes caught in a war between monarch and rebels. She must fight to get home or trapped in forever in carnival of horrors. ALICE IN WONDERLAND retelling.

      17yo Alice wakes up on a violent battlefield in a medieval world where dragons govern the skies and demons rule the land. She must find her way home and survive from predators preying on humans.

      This is for pitmad:
      YA Alice in Wonderland retelling, set in medieval world. Demons, war and a heroine disguised as a man.

      Delete
    3. The second one is the pitch that works, IMO. It gives everything you need to pull a reader into reading the book. And I really love your pitmad. Disguised as a man? I'm in!

      Delete
    4. Thanks. I just hope i have a shot at this in Pitch Madness :)

      I wrote another one, maybe comparing titles might sound better? *clueless*

      Alice in Wonderland meets Graceling. Set in modern-day London, until Alice wakes up in a medieval world thrusted in the middle of a battlefield. Demons, war and a reluctant heroine disguised as a man

      Delete
    5. I actually think the other pitch works better in the wording, though the Alice In Wonderland meets Graceling are good comp titles. Perhaps blending those two pitches with a little tightening of words might help.

      Delete
    6. Thanks,

      So I think this finally works (will play with the words):

      Alice falls into a medieval world and becomes caught in a war between monarch and rebels. She must fight to get home or trapped forever in carnival of horrors. ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets GRACELING.

      Although I kinda wish I can include demons and dragons but ah well. It sounds YA though, does it?

      Delete
    7. Yes!! This is it. Yes, the demons and dragons are cool, but the core of the plot is more important! Nice job!

      Delete
  10. I feel like I've been looking at this too long, so I really appreciate you giving this workshop!

    When Baylie learns a genetic anomaly, not schizophrenia, is responsible for the monsters haunting her, she must choose between others with the same gift and the best friend they insist is one of the monsters.

    I want to believe the stakes are inherent—losing her best friend, trusting the wrong people—but like I said, I'm too close to it and I've been staring at it for too long!

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! :-) I don't think you need to put "not schizophrenia" as it sounds like a qualifier of what your book is not, and that isn't a good thing. I'm guessing you've had trouble with people thinking your book is that, or that you're worried about them getting that impression, but it actually shows a lack of confidence in your pitch.

      You could simply tweak that line to say "When Baylie learns a rare genetic anomaly". Schizophrenia is seen as a more common anomaly these days, so I think by putting "rare" it will rule this out.

      I think you could also clarify this concept a little. If she learns it's a genetically anomaly that's responsible for her seeing the monsters, then she wouldn't believe her friend is a monster, so her choice would become fairly easy - her friend.

      If you can clarify this, it would help.

      Delete
    2. Ah! Nice catch! The MC is actually a diagnosed schizophrenic, so it's important in the story that the monsters aren't just hallucinations. I'll have to find a way to make that less confusing or scrap it and come at it from a different angle altogether.

      Thanks!

      Delete
    3. You could clarify something along these lines: "When schizophrenic Baylie learns a rare genetic anomaly..." Then you have clarity.

      Delete
    4. I lose the mention of her rare genetic trait, but I think it's less clunky this way:

      When Baylie learns the monsters haunting her aren't the schizophrenic hallucinations she thought they were, she must choose between others who can see them and the best friend they insist is one of the monsters.


      Here's one from a different angle that hopefully gives more of a fringe science vibe:

      A girl who can see and drift between worlds must choose between a home with others who share the same rare genetic trait and her otherworlder friend who they believe means to invade Earth.

      Delete
    5. I think out of the two, the first one in this post does it for me. Although the second version clarifies about the worlds, the first one has a more powerful element of conflict to it, IMO. I'd go with that one over the other.

      Delete
    6. Thank you so much for your help!

      Delete
  11. Wow this is really awesome of you.

    It is one thing to steal clothes and boyfrinds, but when 16 yr old Allie steals her twin sister Madie's soul, Madie must team up with an unlikely Ally, a Demon to save herself.

    Thanks very much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like this idea. Very unique. You have a typo on "boyfrinds" and "Ally" shouldn't be capitalized. I also think you need to clarify WHY she stole her sister's soul? This seems like a major point to miss out. Hope this helps!

      Delete
  12. Hi Fiona! Thanks for volunteering to help with our pitches! I swear I've been staring at mine for hours and I have no idea what it says anymore:)

    When eighteen year old Brooklyn meets Daniel, her need for blood, pain and ink evolves to more—until she loses control of it all. With Daniel’s love, she fights to regain her sanity and herself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey! I love the dark elements in this pitch. They do a good job of intriguing the reader. However the concept isn't quite clear enough for me, as this raises too many questions. For example, why does she have a need for blood, pain and ink? It almost sounds paranormal and vampire like (which I don't think it is). Also, why does her need evolve? I think you need to boil this down to the bare basics first, with the facts, and then add in the pretty language second.

      Delete
    2. Definitely not a vampire story:) Here's another try...

      18yo Brooklyn is a tattoo artist in search of, not love, but a man willing to endure the pain of her needles. Until Daniel comes along causing Brooklyn to trade one obsession for another.

      Delete
    3. I think this is quite a tricky pitch. There is a lot I like, but I don't think it's coming through quite strong enough in regards to her conflict and stakes. While it sounds very pretty language wise, it's not quite doing it's job. I think the first thing you need to do is a) name your character (which you do), b) name their goal (which you do), c) name the conflict (which you allude to, but you actually say she does trade one obsession for another, whereas I'm assuming she has to CHOOSE if she wants to swap one for another, which is an important difference), and d) name the stakes - her sanity (from the last pitch)? Why would she lose her sanity over tattooing and choosing between ink and this man? This is the part that isn't so clear to me. If you can fix that bit, then you'll have nailed this, IMO.

      Delete
    4. Thanks Fiona! I'll keep working on this:)

      Delete
  13. Angry 16yo Roc follows bad girl Kels into a drug deal that sours and ends in murder. Roc finds himself sentenced to a virtual reality rehabilitation that will either prove his innocence or his guilt.

    Thanks so much for reading and critiquing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This has a really unique concept behind it, however it lacks a little plot drive. At the moment, it reads as though only the virtual reality rehabilitation will decide his fate. What are his choices? What does he choose to do? What is his influence on the plot? If you can show what his decision is in the novel, then you have your conflict.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Fiona,

      Thanks a ton for the suggestion.

      16yo Roc follows bad girl Kels into a sour drug deal that ends in murder. Roc chooses virtual reality rehabilitation over prison but when circumstances unexpectedly turn, Roc may never prove he’s not a killer.

      Delete
    4. Oh this is much better. I get a good vibe of your conflict and stakes here. If you can, you could clarify "circumstances unexpectedly turn" (how?). But other than that, this looks really strong.

      Delete
  14. Pitch:

    When fourth grader Josh and friends can't abolish homework, even after suing the town over labor laws, they must find ways to make work meaningful or drown in a sea of worksheets and test scores.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh this screams MG to me! However, I'd love to see a little more voice in this pitch. You do have what you need conflict, stakes, etc. But I'm getting the feeling this will be a humorous book, and if so it needs to have the voice ramped up a little more to really make it pop.

      Delete
    2. Thanks - that was going to be my question - because you're right - it's a humorous book. Thanks!

      Delete
  15. Hi, Fiona! Thanks so much for giving your time to us!

    When 15-year-old Grace’s childhood sexual predator stalks back into her life, her façade of faith and perfectionism shatters, leaving her with one choice: destroy her family with the truth, or self-destruct with the lie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have almost everything you need in here. Character, conflict and stakes. But I'd like to see more goal - is it simply to survive it? Is it to punish her predator? Is it to try to heal? If you tighten up the word usage on the first part of the pitch, you might have room to clarify. Other than that tiny quibble, this looks really, really good. Right up my alley! :-) (but you might have known that already! ;-) ).

      Delete
    2. Great point. Thanks for your spot-on feedback, Fiona!

      Delete
    3. I hope you don't mind looking at the revised version...thank you!

      When 15-year-old Grace’s childhood sexual predator returns, her shield of faith and perfectionism shatters, leaving her one choice: heal with the truth but destroy her family, or self-destruct with the lie of misplaced guilt.

      Delete
    4. Yup. You got it here. Well done!!!

      Delete
  16. Hi! Thanks so much for helping polish our pitches!

    17-year-old mermaid Lia is safe in Malibu’s secret community of land-dwelling Mer. Then an evil siren brainwashes the boy she loves and Lia must embrace dark Mer magic to save him—by sirening him herself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tobie. There is a nice twist on your mermaid concept here. I do think you need to clarify why embracing her dark magic is also a bad thing. We know that if she embraces the dark magic she can save the boy she loves. But what's the worst that can happen? She exposes her secret community? She becomes evil? This will help up your stakes.

      Delete
  17. My two cents based off our conversation on twitter: Seventeen-year-old mermaid Lia knows because of Ariel Mer can dwell safely in secret on land. When a dark siren brainwashes her love, Lia must embrace dark Mer magic to save him—by sirening him herself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you both for the feedback! I've tried to incorporate both your notes. What do you think of this?

      17-year-old mermaid Lia hides in Malibu's secret community of land-dwelling Mer, safe from Ariel's curse. When a siren brainwashes the boy she loves, Lia must risk turning evil to save him--by sirening him herself.

      Delete
  18. This is much tighter for me. I like that I have the conflict and the stakes up front. Nicely done!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you for your guidance, Fiona!

    ReplyDelete