Janet Sumner Johnson
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The Pitch

Sep 20, 2010 Uncategorized 22 comments

Back in June, I entered the pitch for my book in a contest and won. I was shocked and elated!

The thing is, when I saw the contest, I wasn’t going to enter. I looked at the agent’s bio, and didn’t think she was interested in fairy tales. But my husband, being the wise man he is, asked, “Well what harm is done if you enter and don’t win?”

So I pulled out my pitch, which I’d edited and revised and played with after reading Elana’s blog:

“With his country at war, Prince Bob, Prince Charming’s failure of a little brother, is desperate to prove himself and finally escape his brother’s shadow.”

I was about to post it, but that nagging little voice in the back of my head made me doubt. I’d read Nathan Bransford’s blog on pitching and came up with this:

“When war breaks out and Prince Bob is demoted from his captain’s post, he prevents a mutiny, stops a traitor, and leads the army to victory to save the kingdom.”

But to me, it felt flat. So I pulled out the one I’d gotten some good feedback on it at Seekerville:

“Prince Charming’s little brother must overcome a mutiny, a traitor, and his own ineptitude to prevent the downfall of his kingdom.”

And while I liked it better, I still doubted. See, a few months back, I read through some winning pitches on QueryTracker.net, and one of them read something like this: A post-apocalyptic glee club.

It says nothing about the plot. ‘So how could it win?’ I asked myself. Then came the lightbulb.

A pitch is one sentence. How can you really tell someone about the plot in so few words? But see, a pitch isn’t meant to tell the whole plot. That’s what a synopsis is for. A pitch is meant to capture someone’s interest. Make them want to read your book.

That’s when I decided to break a few rules. Think outside the box. I stopped focusing on the plot, and started focusing on what I thought was unique and intriguing about my story. Here’s what I submitted:

“Before Prince Charming rescued Snow White; before he faced her evil step-mother in a knock-down, drag-out battle, he faced his biggest challenge to date: training his inept little brother, Prince Bob, to be like him. This is Bob’s story.” 

While I still got a rejection letter in the end (albeit a very nice one), the pitch did what it was supposed to do: catch the attention of the agent. I definitely think I have a better concept of what makes a good pitch. 

So what makes your story intriguing? Can you turn that into a winning pitch? I’d love to hear yours!


22 Responses to β€œThe Pitch”

  1. I struggle big time with the pitch (mine's on my blog). I entered the Adventures in Children's Publishing contest earlier this month. Part of the contest involved critting each other's pitches and queries. It was amazing how much info people wanted in that one little sentence. But they still wanted it to be short. That's like squeezing the refrigerator into your wallet. πŸ˜‰

    I remember the contest (I can't remember if I entered). Sorry about the rejection.

  2. Joanne says:

    Oh I just love your last pitch, it definitely captures my attention. Who wouldn't want to read about this sibling thing going on here! I'm not sure which are harder to write, a pitch or synopsis. But that pitch, when it's done right, definitely opens doors.

  3. Angela says:

    What a great pitch you came up with. It has loads more voice than any of the others.

  4. Pitch is sooooooo dang hard, but you nailed it (and I'm still a bit partial to the first one you posted too).

  5. That was wonderful–showing the evolution of your pitch and why you changed it. Great job!

  6. Whew, pitches are definitely tough to write. You did a fabulous job though! I love the final one that you submitted. πŸ™‚
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  7. Patti says:

    I loved seeing the progression you made with the hook. I really like the last one. It sets the tone for the book.

  8. Thanks for sharing this process. Great stuff. I remember when you won this contest. Your final pitch seriously POPS. I love it. You've inspired me to rework mine. I went to a conference on Saturday and other writers asked me what my book was about. I was like — "Uh, duh…" Pitches are VERY USEFUL. πŸ™‚


  9. Bekah says:

    I agree with the pitch- that's the way it's supposed to be! Short and sweet. Just tell us what's unique and give us the hook, then we see the query. Yours sounds fun- Prince Bob LOL

  10. Laurel says:

    I hate to be the nay-sayer, but I've read chapters of your wonderful, fun story and I think this final pitch does disservice to the fabulous character Bob is, and to what made me love your work. This pitch feels like a bait-and-switch. It gets me excited about Charming's adventures and sounds like it's going to be a hilarous romp from his POV, then suddenly, this is Bob's story. I don't really connect to Bob with this set up. All this tells us is he's inept and probably has sibling issues. But Bob is so much more! (You took first in my writing contest, so you know how attached I am to this guy!) Is there some way to reframe this so that the focus is more on Bob? His self-deprecating humor is incredibly winning and I'd love to feel that in your pitch.

  11. Kenda says:

    I'm going to bookmark this post and review–I have a face-to-face pitch with an agent coming up in October and, tho I've been studying all I can get can my hands on, this is so helpful! Thanks you πŸ™‚

  12. Tamika: says:

    Hi Janet:) I'm glad I stumbled upon your place! Good for you for stepping out of your comfort zone, and what an adorable husband to nudge you along.

    I've never actually formulated a pitch, but I have dabbled every now and then.

  13. Candyland says:

    I love to see how it evolves! Yay for you! My pitch won a few contests but I've sort of lost hope in the story.

  14. Oh I loved your pitch!! I enjoyed most seeing how you shaped it and improved on it. Your the one to talk to when I need my pitch improved!!

  15. Oh, I still have to pitch novels. Sometimes verbally, over the phone, at a moment's notice. So note to self: always have your pitch ready. You never know when someone is going to ask you what your book is about.

  16. A great pitch is so hard to write, but I do think you're right, it doesn't have to encompass all of the plot, which has been my hold up. It's all about making someone want to read the story so that's what I'm trying to focus on as I rework the loglines for my two stories.

  17. Lynn says:

    No pitching yet but you'll be the first I may send my trial too! Loved reading how your pitch changed from blog information.

  18. I love the evolution of this pitch, Janet and thanks for sharing it. I have to agree with Laurel in that the language – your voice – is all spot on, but it's about the wrong character. I want to see you do this with Bob and I know you can.

    I hate pitches. Loathe them. Here's mine, but I haven't had to use it yet: In a land where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors, Liu Jie must choose to sacrifice his family or his country.

  19. Great pitch and a great post. Thanks for the link to Seekerville.

  20. I loved your pitch! They are really hard…I had to come up with two that were 25 words or less for the conference I went to last weekend…tough.

  21. I loved reading the evolution of your pitch! Not sure who I should feel sorry for, Charming or Bob. LOL

  22. Thanks for sharing your pitch and the changes as it evolved.

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