Thursday, June 28, 2012

Writing a Short Pitch

I'm currently in the middle of querying my third novel, and this time I'm doing it right--sending out queries in small batches, waiting for responses, and tweaking my query and pages based on the feedback I receive. But as I'm sure Tom Petty would agree, the waiting is the hardest part.

One of the things that helps pass the time is entering writing contests. These are a recent discovery of mine. Fabulous people in the online writing community generously donate their time to run contests on their websites, blogs, or even Twitter.

I've participated in four contests over the past month and have gotten several requests from agents to see partial or full manuscripts, which is super-exciting (and helps ease the pain of waiting for query responses!).

A lot of my waiting time has been taken up with putting together pitches that fit the guidelines of each contest. I thought it might be fun to take a look at a few of them.

My comments on each pitch are in blue.

First, for comparative purposes, here's my long pitch (the one that goes in my query letter).

Long Pitch:

Remy Bardin’s parents invented a drug that extends human life by two hundred years—as long as you can pay the Company for those daily pills. Society has fragmented into the long-timers who live in constant fear of losing everything, and the short-timers who would do anything for a few extra years.

Remy isn’t worried—he’ll have a guaranteed supply of the drug when he comes of age next year. But his perfect life dissolves when an old man who threatens to expose his father’s secrets winds up dead. Remy can’t help but wonder what his parents had to do with the old man’s death, and what secrets they could be trying to protect.

After breaking into their lab in the heavily-guarded Company stronghold, he finds out things that make him question the morality of his existence… and he must decide if a few hundred years can possibly be worth the price.

I've gotten a decent request rate on my queries, so I know this pitch isn't too bad, but way too long for most pitch contests.

Three Sentence Pitch:

Remy Bardin's parents invented a drug that extends human life by two hundred years, which is why society has fragmented into the long-timers who can afford the pills and the short-timers who would do anything for a few extra years.

Seventeen-year-old Remy's got a guaranteed lifetime supply of the drug, but his perfect world falls apart when an old man threatens to expose his father's secrets and then is murdered.

After breaking into his parents' lab, Remy finds out the horrible truth behind the drug... and he must decide if a few hundred years can possibly be worth the price.

I took out a few details from the first paragraph and combined two sentences into one. Not too bad.
The second paragraph was harder--I spent a good long while trying to figure out how to get all the details into one sentence. I had to cut the part about Remy wondering what secrets his parents are keeping, but I felt like it was at least implied by the shorter sentence.

The last paragraph was technically only one sentence already, but I felt like it was a bit long for a short pitch contest, so I tightened it up.
I must have done something right, because this pitch won me a blog contest and a full manuscript request from an awesome agent at a top agency!

One Sentence Pitch:

When a privileged teenage boy learns the horrific truth behind a miracle drug that prolongs the life of the rich, he must try to bring down the all-powerful Company from the inside.

Here's where it starts to get reeeallly tricky. Distilling the whole plot of a book down into a few paragraphs is hard enough--but when we're talking one sentence, it seems impossible.

What worked for me was to really think about the core of the story--what did I say when someone asked me what my novel was about? I wrote a line or two off the top of my head to answer that question.

Then I started looking at the individual words. In a pitch this short, every word counts. At first, it said "a spoiled teenage boy", but then I thought about the exact concept I wanted to get across and changed it to "privileged"--which really is a better representation of the character's background (and bonus: a less generic word).

Twitter Pitch:

A teenage boy learns the horrific secret behind a life-extending drug and must try to bring down his parents' company from the inside.

And you thought the last one was bad... this pitch, for a Twitter contest, had to be no more than 135 characters long (Twitter allows 140 characters, but 5 were needed for the contest's hashtag-identifier).

I started with my one sentence pitch and started cutting. But even after I got rid of all the extra words, I still had too many characters. Then it was time to look at shorter ways to say the same thing. "A miracle drug that prolongs the life of the rich" became "a life-extending drug". "The all-powerful Company" became "his parents' company", because I saved 4 characters!

This pitch also got me a request for material. Despite its length, I think I spent just as long on it as any of the others.

Have you had to work up short pitches for your manuscripts? Do you find them easy or difficult?

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