In my last writing post, I took the first step of developing a story from an idea by writing a logline. The next step is to expand the logline into a pitch.
The pitch is the paragraph or two you would put in a query to entice an agent to request pages — or, if you’re self publishing — the blurb on the back of the book that entices readers to buy the book.
You might also see the pitch called a summary or even a synopsis (though that last term is incorrect — a synopsis is an entirely different beast).
Why write the pitch now?
The pitch is usually written after the book is finished when the writer is preparing to query (or self publish). Why write it now? Because the pitch shows whether you have the elements of a commercial novel.
Not every novel will have an exciting, compelling logline. Some stories are more quiet, less “high concept.” But every story can and should have a compelling pitch. If not, there is likely a problem with the book itself.
Writing the pitch at the beginning ensures you get ahead of that problem. Finding out the stakes are too low or the protagonist’s goal is too nebulous is a HUGE problem when you think you’re finished and ready to query.
When you write the pitch at the beginning, you can fix such issues before they become massive problems.
Before I write a pitch, I answer eight questions:
- What’s unique about the protagonist? My main character is a former soldier, now a reporter. He’s suicidal and a heroin addict. If you’re writing a Romance, what makes your romantic lead stand out as different from other romantic leads? If you’re writing teen fiction, what makes your protagonist stand out in a sea of other teen protagonists?
- What’s the story goal? What does the protagonist want? This is the backbone of the plot the entire story is built on.
- What’s the conflict? Why can’t the protagonist have what he wants?
- What’s the crisis/black moment? This is the moment just before the swing into the final act when all seems lost.
- What choice must the protagonist make? To get what he wants, the protagonist has to make a choice. The best choices are gray — where there are positive AND negative consequences for either/any option.
- What’s the twist?
- What terrible horrible thing will happen if the protagonist fails? Stakes, folks. You don’t have a story without stakes. Not all books are life and death, but it must FEEL like life and death for the protagonist.
- Why should the reader CARE? What’s the emotional hook? Your reader might not ever be in your protagonist’s shoes (especially if you write fantasy or sci-fi), but they can empathize with human experiences like losing a loved one, finding your way as a new adult, or having your livelihood threatened by something out of your control. What universal human experience is your protagonist experiencing?
Putting it together
The pitch is crafted using the answers to the above questions. You don’t necessarily have to use one hundred percent of your answers, but a compelling blurb tends to have most of it.
I found this fill-in-the-blank template for a back-of-the-book blurb online:
It seems ridiculous to think a fill-in-the-blank formula would be useful, but I found it surprisingly so! The formula gives me a starting point, and from there I can change things around until I have a compelling pitch.
Note that a back-of-the-book blurb is a bit more salesy than a pitch to an agent.
Tip for success
Specificity. This is not the time for clichés and generalities. If your blurb sounds like it could be one of any number of books in its genre, you need to start over.
Focus on the story. Don’t focus on backstory and character to the point that you forget about what happens in the book.
I’m honestly struggling with my pitch. The pitch I’ve written captures the main plot accurately, but it doesn’t capture the tone correctly. At its heart, my new WIP is a story about faith and its impact, good and bad, on damaged people. I’ve got more work to do!
That, by the way, is fine. I have established that I have the conflict and stakes and other elements I need for a commercial novel. I have plenty of time to rewrite this pitch — and I’ll keep noodling with it now. I want to be able to use the pitch as a guiding star as I develop and write the novel.