Pitching Your Stories

This comes to you a little later than hoped as, like many it seems, we have been a little laid up with colds and flu over December and then we hit the madness of Christmas and the New Year.  Speaking of which, Happy New Year and hope 2017 will be a happy, healthy and productive year for all of you.

Anyway, I had earlier promised to post some highlights of my recent Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference so I thought I would start with pitching, especially as this also ties in nicely with recent Twitter pitches that I have taken part in over the past few weeks.

pitch

At the conference I attended a pitching session with Benjamin Scott who said that ‘our goal in pitching is simply to excite another person about our story… whether an agent, editor, parent or reader’.  Simple, huh?  Why is it then that as soon as somebody asks what our book/story is about, many of us struggle to summarise it, or can turn into gibbering idiots?  (I find the latter tends to happen to me, especially when you throw an agent into the mix!)  He continued that ‘the expectation should be that sounds like an interesting idea, tell me more’ notthis is going to get me an agent, publisher, make me the next JK Rowling.  These lower expectations immediately lessen the pressure.’

Pitching is therefore just presenting your work in the best possible light for maximum excitement, but you should bear the following in mind;

  • You can choose to pitch – it’s never compulsory
  • Relax – having a prepared pitch makes it easier to relax
  • Versatility – a good pitch is useful for many things
  • Creative aid – when constructing one it can act as a great developmental tool as it helps identify what’s at the heart of your book
  • What is the peril, the conflict, and the consequences?

Conflict is the beating heart of the story and what happens is an expression of the conflict.  So avoid listing what happens, e.g. ‘Steph goes to her brother, then her mother, and then the bank to borrow money.  Lastly she goes to a drug dealer,’ and focus on the conflicts at the core of the story instead.  Avoid using bespoke and confusing story language, distill the best bits, ignore the subplots and try to focus on the heart of the story.

A good pitch should introduce the main protagonist, give an indication of target audience and genre, lay out the core conflict and leave people wanting more, i.e. what is happening, to who, and why?  What is at stake?

Also perhaps, is it similar in style to any other books on the market?  Or can the writing style be likened to other authors (this can be particularly helpful if it is similar to another author you know the person likes, or perhaps already represents).  One technique can be to use XXX meets XXX, something which is also apparently quite popular when pitching scripts to Hollywood.

You have probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’ concept, where you should be able to summarise your book in the short space of time it would take to ride in a lift between floors (in the unlikely event that the agent/publisher of your dreams just happens to get in the lift with you).  This is similar to a paragraph synopsis, which I’ve also seen some writing competitions ask for alongside your writing sample.

To challenge yourself even more, it seems that Twitter pitches are becoming more common as well.  These are organised events with a designated hashtag where you have to tweet your pitch in around 136 characters (to leave sufficient room for the appropriate hashtag), and where agents and publishers are able to dip in and out and favourite any tweets that grab their attention.  This is in effect an invitation to submit directly to them and skip the dreaded slush pile.  A recent example was organised by Emergents CIC Ltd and XPO North in Scotland, with the hashtag #xpo (followed by the appropriate letter for your genre of book).  Or look out for #PitchMAS, which takes place each December and was set up by two US authors.  It’s a long-shot, but if you don’t put yourself out there then you never know!

Now, back to the conference.   I’m not holding myself up as an expert by any means, but thought you may be interested in seeing what I came up with during the breakout session.  In general it seemed to do the job, with both Benjamin and our surprise guest, Imogen Cooper of the fantastic Golden Egg, giving me decent feedback and encouragement.

The Maze Runner meets Alex Rider in a contemporary upper MG thriller featuring a sinkhole, a sinister cult and a secret bunker of trapped children.  When disillusioned 15-year-old Will sees a sinkhole appear in their living room and swallow his twin brother and sister, this is no simple freak of nature.  Sunk! is a story of siblings, where one is being hunted above ground and the others are trapped below the earth.  Where can you turn when you’ve been betrayed by those you trust the most?

I’ll leave things here for now but will lay out some valuable words of wisdom from one of our keynote speakers, Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, in my next post.

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2 thoughts on “Pitching Your Stories

  1. Great post, Elizabeth. I like the phrase about ‘exciting’ someone with your work…it’s so easy to lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve amidst all the humdrum concerns and technicalities of actually getting the words onto the page!

    1. Thanks Sandra, it was a really useful and interesting session and the chance for some of us to actually practice our pitches to industry participants was invaluable. But yes, to excite people with our writing has to be the ultimate aim.

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