Grand Slam! How to Write a Winning Pitch

As promised, today’s post takes a look at how to write an effective pitch for your manuscript. There are many good ways to do this, and many ways to intrigue an editor, agent, or reader, so I do not claim thisway is the only one.

It is, however, the one I used–effectively–when pitching my Shinobi mystery series, and the one I teach when working with other writers.

Again, to be clear: I do not claim this is the only way to success. It’s simply the one I’m teaching.

A winning pitch  – regardless of how it’s written – does one thing: it makes the listener want to read your book.

At the end of the day, that’s what we’re after, so keep that goal in mind. If your pitch doesn’t manage that, it fails, regardless of the method used or the words the pitch contains.

Constructing a pitch is easier when we work with a real topic, so I’m going to use my debut novel Claws of the Cat, as our example.

Start putting your pitch together by culling four important elements from your work:

1. Who is the protagonist? Describe him (or her) with 1-2 adjectives.

For example: Hiro Hattori, ninja detective.

2. Who is your active antagonist?

The active antagonist isn’t necessarily the same as the evil genius behind the master plan or the murderer who created the corpse that sets the mystery in motion. The active antagonist is the person, place, or thing the hero is fighting against for most of the novelthe thing that creates “the stakes.”

In Claws of the Cat, the active antagonist is the victim’s son, Nobuhide. When his father is discovered dead in a teahouse, Nobuhide threatens to kill a geisha because the girl was the last one to see Nobuhide’s father alive. When Hiro’s Jesuit friend, Father Mateo, tries to save the girl, Nobuhide threatens to kill the priest as well.

The real antagonist, of course, is the killer Hiro and Father Mateo are seeking, but I can’t disclose that individual’s name in the pitch (it pretty much ruins the book to do so, and unlike a synopsis, the elevator pitch does not reveal the ending of the story.)

So, since I can’t reveal the killer, I have to go with our visible antagonist: Nobuhide, the victim’s son, who is also a policeman.

3. Stakes! (Preferably, through the protagonist’s heart).

Note that I haven’t asked about where the hero started the journey, how many quirky talking teapots (s)he meets along the way, or why there’s a pregnant emu at the turn from act 2 to act 3. For purposes of your pitch, it isn’t important.

What does your protagonist have to accomplish before “the end,” and why will the world fall apart if he or she fails?

Returning to Claws: If Hiro doesn’t bring the samurai’s killer to justice in three days’ time, Nobuhide will kill the geisha and Father Mateo. Bad enough. But it’s also a fact that Hiro’s own life is tied to the priest’s, and Hiro will have to kill himself too if Father Mateo is killed.

In other words: find the killer, or both the protagonist and his Jesuit friend will die.

Those are the stakes.

And that brings us to the fourth and final thing you have to cull from your novel – and this one can be the most difficult of all:

4. The High Concept.

High concept is premise. It’s what makes your story unique. It’s a concept with mass appeal that you can sum up in 1-2 sentences.

For example: Claws of the Cat’s high concept is ninja detective. A longer high concept idea for the book would be “Holmes and Watson in samurai-era Kyoto.”

Get the idea?

High concept is not necessarily your pitch, but a pitch created with high concept in mind will always be stronger than one which ignores it completely.

If you’re struggling with high concept, try the “What if” method. Summarize your story in no more than 15 words, the first two of which must be “What if?”

For example: “What if a ninja had to catch a killer to save a priest?”

Or “What if a ninja solved murders instead of committing them?”

Tune in next week for Part 2 of our elevator pitch workshop, in which we transform the pieces into a grand-slam pitch!

Do you have an elevator pitch for your work in progress? Between now and next Wednesday, your homework is to pull these four elements out of YOUR work and get ready to pitch like a pro!

And remember: if you leave a comment on this post, or any #Publishing Law Wednesday post in the month of June (meaning any post tagged as #Publishing Law and dated from now until June 30) I will enter you in a drawing to win a signed ARC of my upcoming shinobi mystery novel, Claws of the Cat!

And, of course, the legalese: To be eligible to win, you must be at least 18 years old, leave a valid name and email address in the comments and and live or have a mailing address in the US or Canada. No purchase necessary to win. Odds of winning vary with entries received. One entry per household. One winner will be drawn at random from eligible comments.

6 thoughts on “Grand Slam! How to Write a Winning Pitch

  • June 12, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I am always second-guessing myself when it comes to my query. I keep getting the nicest rejections that go into detail about my writing style and the unique use of language, alas… no acceptances. It is something I feel in my gut, the idea that my books good be featured in prime places in Barnes & Noble. I’ve never been one for conceit, but I adhere to my feelings and know that to make this a reality, I need some help. Perhaps my query doesn’t live up to the ms beneath it.

    • June 12, 2013 at 8:22 am

      *could (typing fast while at work)

    • June 12, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      You could very well be right that it’s your query that’s causing you trouble, especially if it’s not getting you the requests for reads that you think your work deserves. You might want to try revising it, with an elevator-pitch style opening instead of whatever you’re using, and seeing where the query goes from there.

      Also: if you believe your work is ready, hang onto that belief. Keep writing, but don’t give up on that manuscript either. It took me many years and many manuscripts to get to “yes” but through it all I believed I had what it took to make the dream a reality. I believe that if you want it, you can too.

  • June 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Great session! I read it twice. My take-away? A good pitch is a glorified synopsis, wet sanded and polished for maximum effect.
    Thanks for the education!

    • June 12, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Great take-away, Michael! It sounds like you’ve got the idea exactly.

  • Pingback: Elevator Pitches: If You Build it, They Will Come. | Spann of Time

Comments are closed.