The Pitch is a writer's best friend.
Why? Because it's what you'll use every time someone asks you to tell them about your book. Agents, editors, elevator folks, Great Aunt Martha. Whoever.
So you need to polish it and since it's verbal, shorter is better. No more than 25 words total, 10-15 is better.
Short, sweet, memorable. That's what you're going for--hey, I didn't say it would be easy!
There are several different types of pitches. Here's how I define them:
~ELEVATOR PITCH: a very quick, easily memorable way to let someone who has never read your work know what it's going to be like (note: not what it's about, but what they can expect).
For my debut medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, it was: ER meets Grey's Anatomy
Implying that it has the edgy realism and non-stop action of ER, but also focuses on relationships like Grey's Anatomy.
I think elevator pitches were invented by all those ADD Hollywood types
It's your down and dirty answer to: what is your book like? It's a comparison, *not* an explanation or description.
The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known (like Indiana Jones) or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read
~PREMISE: This is your short (25 word or less) description of your story.
More than a basic description of plot, though, your premise should work by getting the reader to ASK questions, thus building emotional velcro by getting them involved.
Need examples? Check out TV Guide and how they describe movies--the perfect short description designed to entice and create interest.
Remember, the goal of all of these pitches is to give the reader an emotional promise of what they will experience in the book.
It's not about details or character names….it's all about evoking emotion in your audience.
And one of the best ways to do that is by using a high concept pitch….
~HIGH CONCEPT: also quick and dirty, but here you're going farther than a simple comparison or description.
Instead of comparisons you use ICONs or universal concepts to connect your fictional world to the world of your audience. This creates emotional velcro with your audience, leading them to be interested enough to want to know more!
To do this, you need to do two things:
First, find a hook. This is the unique spin that you have put on your story. This means narrowing your search to one small part of your story. Start with your blurb, usually the hook will be apparent there. If not, keep looking
Basically you're boiling your novel down to one and only one unique concept--whatever it is about your story that will create an immediate emotional connection or spark interest.
Note: often this isn't your main plot line. Often it's the inciting incident or a unique detail that you expand upon in your world building.
Second, tie this unique hook to the larger world by using universal icons and feelings, implying that society at large is affected. Something that brings this hook specific to the time and place of your novel into the ordinary world of your audience.
You're building a bridge here, connections, emotional velcro....whatever you want to call it, it needs to be so easy to grasp that ANYONE can feel it immediately. No thought involved.
One of my favorite high concepts: ALIEN's. It was: Jaws on a spaceship.
The unique hook = spaceship. Unique because no one has been on a spaceship, it's something unfamiliar to the ordinary audience.
The universal icon = monster (Jaws). Everyone has had childhood fears of monsters under the bed.
We all know and understand fear, nightmares, terror. In fact, a large segment of the movie going audience (Alien's target audience, in fact!!) pays good money to feel these emotions!
Add the two together and we have a universal fear of monsters combined with nowhere to run (trapped on a spaceship). A powerful one-two punch!!!
Feel how it evokes an immediate visceral response as well as intrigue???
The audience hearing this high concept immediately squirm in their seats, ask themselves: where can the people on the ship run? How can they fight the monster?
AND, the movie makers tied this high concept into their advertising by using a tag line of: In space, no one can hear you scream....
But note--there is no mention of character names, no long, involved psychological profiles, nothing except the bare essentials needed to pique the audience's attention.
That's the beauty of the high concept, it strips everything away except what you need to intrigue your audience.
It's an emotional promise.
It does NOT tell the story (unlike the premise sentence). Instead, it creates the same emotional response in your reader that your novel will evoke by using irony.
Another example. David Morrell's SCAVENGERS used as its high concept: a scavenger hunt (unique hook) to the death (universal icon). The tag line used in advertising: Some secrets should remain buried...
Pretty obvious David's audience are lovers of thrillers/suspense, and wouldn't that audience immediately respond to that high concept? Be intrigued, think, hmm...I want to read that book, wondering what this master of suspense has in store for them.
Stephen King is also brilliant with high concepts. CUJO: rabid dog (hook) terrorizes town (universal icon). SALEMs LOT: vampires (unique hook--at the time) terrorize town, CARRIE: prom queen (hook) terrorizes town....okay, anyone think King is writing sweet romance? Or has he earned his title of the King of Terror?
So much depends on knowing your audience that it's hard for anyone else who hasn't read the entire book to create a high concept for you. It all depends who your target audience is and what kind of emotional experience you want to promise them.
For LIFELINES, my high concept is: An ER doctor saves the wrong patient.
Let's dissect it. ER doctor = universal icon (we can all see a doctor as soon as you read that, right?)
Unique twist = saves the WRONG patient
Feel the sense of irony? Implied irony really helps to make a high concept memorable. It helps you to connect to the idea, feel intrigued, want to know more.
This high concept actually only addresses one teeny, tiny plot point in the book--but it re-creates the emotional response that the book promises. A world where even good doctors are powerless to save everyone, a world where saving a life can end up costing more lives, a world where no one is immune to danger…..
All that from seven little words!!! That's the power of a high concept.
Often, because the high concept is such a tiny taste of the entire book, as writers, we get frustrated because we're looking at the big picture. We just spent months with these characters, we want to share them with our audience, expand on them, not boil them down to a bare skeleton
But think of it this way--if you distill your story into a compelling high concept, then the reader will spend hours with your characters and story as they read....after they pay their money for the book, of course, lol!
The high concept isn't a synopsis or blurb, it's merely a way to give your audience a sneak peak of the emotions they'll feel while reading your book.
And not every book lends itself to a high concept, so don't get too frustrated if this doesn't seem to fit your work!
No matter which kind of pitch you begin with, you'll end up using all of these during the course of the publication process.
Again your goal isn't to give away everything but rather to raise interest and more questions in the listener's mind.
Try starting with your theme or premise, add in your main character and their goal and main obstacle.
A good place to start is….you guessed it, your 25 word premise describing your book!
This is hard, very, very hard!! Be patient, keep trying, brainstorm power words, re-arranging and most importantly practicing saying them aloud.
Pitches are verbal so they need to sound smooth, natural, not awkward or stilted.
The only way to learn how to do these is dive in and give it a try!
Go ahead and post your "perfect pitch" in the comments--I'll comment on them, but I'd also like everyone who posts a pitch to comment on at least two others. Explain why they worked for you or why they didn't.
Format your pitch as: I'm pitching a (fill in the genre) titled (title). Then dive right in!
Have fun with it!
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.
Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to www.cjlyons.net.
In the middle of a New Year’s Eve blizzard, the staff and patients of Angels of Mercy Hospital are held hostage by armed gunmen. Their target is Dr. Gina Freeman, who is holding vigil over her wounded fiancé, Detective Jerry Boyle. Stranded outside the hospital is ER physician Linda Fiore, whose past holds the secret the hitmen are willing to kill for. With the cold-blooded killers in control, no one may live to see the New Year.
Break Free From the Slush Pile, presented By CJ Lyons, MD, runs from January 3 - January 17, 2011