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Windup for the (Story) Pitch
by Mia Zachary
No matter how good a story you’ve written, it will never see the light of day unless you catch an editor’s or agent’s attention. In order to do that, you’ve got to become good at the art of the Pitch and, honey, I don’t mean baseball.
You might have about two minutes to dazzle an editor with your premise. These are people who’ve read thousands of manuscripts and they’re experts at getting to the bottom line – is this story marketable?
So, how do you convince someone with the power to get you published that you’re worth their valuable time? Give them the High Concept, a description of the situation from which the story develops, the overall premise combined with tried and true marketing hooks to create an intriguing blurb.
- The premise or setup is the situation at the opening of the story.
Some sample premises: job promotion as reward for illegal act; discovery of dead body; a family secret; unexpected pregnancy; imminent revelation of a lie; a threat or assault.
- The characters need to be briefly introduced by means of their occupation, goal and conflict. For example, a police veteran counting the days until retirement gets a new rogue partner.
- Hooks and buzzwords are phrases that stand for a concept as well as the actual meaning. Some familiar hooks: marriage of convenience/ fake engagement, secret identity/mistaken identity, best friends to lovers. Some common buzzwords: reunion, affair, revenge, danger, murder, deal/agreement.
- You won’t have time or room for a detailed explanation of what is keeping the characters from reaching their goals or falling in love, but there should be a hint of conflict in your blurb.
An example using my first novel, RED SHOES & A DIARY:
“Alex is more than happy to take Meghan to his bed, but into his heart is another matter. Hot on the trail of a money launderer, his mission comes first.”
Here’s the teaser I used in my cover letter for RED SHOES & A DIARY: “Meghan Foster wants a wildly passionate affair, like the ones she writes about in her diary. Alex Worth is the kind of guy fantasies are created for. But the ideal man isn’t always what he seems. Especially when he’s using her own imagination to seduce her!”
Again, this has hooks- an affair, diary of fantasies- and some buzzwords- wildly, passionate, fantasies, seduce. In this teaser you find out a little more- Meghan wants a fling, Alex is a stud- but I also raised some questions- what is Alex’s secret and how did he get hold of her diary?
Once you have a marketable blurb that you’re happy with, think of some ways to use it. The first way is in a query letter to an editor or agent. Since the standard letter is only one page long, this is a great place to use that power paragraph.
The second way is during a face-to-face meeting. Write your blurb on an index card for reference during the appointment. If you get nervous, it’s short enough to simply read aloud. Other places to use your teasers include business cards, books marks, flyers, email signature lines and postcards.
Think of your pitch as the back cover copy of the story. Read some of the book jackets on your shelf to get a feel for how much information to put in and pay close attention to how the style of the blurb echoes the tone of the story itself. Your blurb should be a power paragraph that contains an opening hook, an interesting setting, believable characters, a compelling situation with realistic motivations, and a cliffhanger ending that will make the editor request the manuscript.
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