On Writing: The Experience of Writing a Pitch
for the First Time
This week definitely has been an interesting first step: writing and submitting a pitch.
If you’ve been around NaNoWriMo recently, you may have been aware of a recent event called Pitchapalooza.
Pitchapalooza works like this: you write a 250 word pitch for your book and send it in. 20 pitches are randomly selected, and two professionals will give feedback and constructive criticism on how to make each of those 20 pitches even better.
It’s a really awesome opportunity. Plus, an even cooler part is that they’ll pick one winner in the end who gets an introduction with an agent or publisher right for your book.
And doesn’t that sound dreamy?
[ The ‘success stories’ on the Pitchapalooza page for this year are very, very dreamy ]
I’ve spent the front half of this week working my butt off to write what I hope is a good pitch, and I sent it in right before the deadline on Wednesday.
But before this… I had no idea how to even write a pitch. I still don’t quite have any tools under my belt, aside from a slightly better understanding of some basic guidelines.
Pitch writing is something you’ll very well run into in the Book Publishing Sphere™.
So, as someone talking about her journey on the road to publishing so that we can all learn from the inevitable mistakes and hurdles I’m bound to face, I figured that this would be an awesome experience to talk about.
So… what even goes into a good pitch?
This was definitely something I didn’t know even a smidge about.
I knew the motive of a pitch, the ultimate goal: to hook the person reading it into feeling like they must read your book and need to know more. To perfectly pique the interest of an agent, publisher, or really anyone.
Oh, wow. I already see myself using my favourite, most adored word up there: “perfect”. There it is.
I have a love-hate relationship with the word perfect, if I’m being completely honest. The idea of being perfect is dreamy, desirable, something absolutely wonderful.
But there… is no such thing as perfection? Even though as humans it’s something we stumble after so often.
(Let me tell you: the only perfection comes with something like getting a math equation right, because math has a right and a wrong. But often in life… there is no black-and-white answer to everything. Life is a mix of greys and unknowns, and there is no “one size fits all” standard to everything that you can compare and aim for when there are so many different standards and kinds of things.)
I knew the point of a pitch, but I didn’t know about what to think about putting into it.
The professionals who run Pitchapalooza, the Book Doctors, have a good lineup of tips for writing a pitch.
A great pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.
When you think about it, it makes sense. All of the words count– especially when you have such a small limit of 250. You want to do everything you can to hook someone into needing to know more, and my dad’s phrase about, “If it’s not helping, it’s hurting” is totally relevant.
Their other tips were really helpful, too. Things like:
Make us fall in love with your hero. Whether you’re writing a novel or a memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
as well as
Make us hate your villain. Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
If the point of a pitch is to make someone very, very interested in your book, this seems obvious. Of course you want someone to care about your protagonist, and you want someone to despise your villain– enough that they need to pick up your book.
I mean, why would I want to read a book if I didn’t really care about the main character or villain because they didn’t really seem interesting at all?
There were other important tips, too, like:
A pitch is like a movie trailer. You start with an incredibly exciting / funny / romantic / etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
Leave us with a cliffhanger. The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
It all makes sense, doesn’t it? It definitely did to me, when my mom and I combed through their tips.
Hmm… but pitch writing also sounds easier said than done, doesn’t it?
…was very messy, at first.
My mom and I thought to tackle it first from the perspective of a short synopsis. Which is sort of similar to a pitch — in a way, at least.
But that quickly changed, because to do that I’d need to have my plot outlined first. I have the novel’s plot, but… only written in novel form.
It may be a fun time to mention that I’m the biggest poster-child example of a panster you may have ever met.
[ Which, if you’re unfamiliar, means that I’m someone who doesn’t plan stories before writing them. ]
This was a very good time for me to write out an outline of my plot. For someone who’s worked on multiple versions of the same story since 2015, you’d think I’d have had it all written down, but apparently not at all. *throws glitter*
I spent a lot of the time pouring out a big, long outline so that then I could pull back later and feel better about writing about the events from it.
And I think that’s a good idea, moving forward, that I learned: knowing your plot inside and out and analysing it before you write a pitch is immensely helpful.
Immersing myself in my plot before writing anything in the realm worked really well for me, because I had everything right there at the front of my brain: the inciting incident, exactly how my character arcs overlapped and wove, which characters had more importance in the plot than I’d realised, the who, the what, the when, the why, and the how.
For someone who’s been writing her novel over the span of multiple years, re-immersing definitely helped.
Writing that outline had been preceded by my mom and I heavily editing my plot, as well. We’ve been doing a lot of developmental edits, the kind of constructive plot edits to fix plot holes, stitch up arcs, finding ways to strengthen this and improve that, etc etc. Even more so, I definitely needed to write an outline since I had all of those changes.
Then the funny thing is… that short synopsis I was going to write was never fully written.
I’d marked three spots on my outline that I felt were the important details I needed to introduce at the least, for starters.
[ Not without our new kitten literally diving for my legs right after, and promptly not allowing me to get work done <3 ]
You couldn’t have my story without:
a) Jack, and his situation with his memories
b) His friend Eli, who also seems to not be from this planet either
c) Callix, their alien ally, who plays a massive role, and who the plot wouldn’t exist without.
Which was a starting point! And I thought, alright, now write a synopsis.
Which turned into my brain saying okay, you must write a pitch, stop trying to write a synopsis, so halfway through it merged back into a pitch.
…and I quickly fell into a lovely, absolutely brilliant trap known as the pursuit of perfection.
(Which was not aided by the fact that I couldn’t keep working that night thanks to the dizziness my sinuses were inducing, thank you very much sinuses.)
Can you be perfect at something you’ve never done and know nothing about?
Silly question. The answer is no.
Even deeper, that question is actually a trick question, because there’s no such thing as a perfect pitch– or synopsis, or summary, or novel, or anything ever (aside from maybe equations and some sports?).
There probably would be a perfect answer on how to write a perfect synopsis, if:
- It weren’t dealing with words, of which we have so many and so many uses for.
- We were all writing the same story, and every story was Exactly the Same™
- (which… we aren’t? We’re all writing our own stories, and no two stories are the same.)
So for me to have expected myself to be perfect was ridiculously silly. I have a tendency of overthinking things, and thinking so hard about something that it takes the fun out of it and makes doing that thing like moving sludge.
[ *insert some sort of glittery sludge visual aid?* ]
There’s seriously no way I could have been perfect. Because there’s no such thing.
It’s trying to reach a standard without knowing what it is? It’s me, a person completely new to novel pitch writing, expecting myself to be able to write a perfect pitch without having written one or seen many exceptional ones?
But I still held myself to that standard and got super worked up over it.
Which kinda meant that my first draft sounded completely unlike me at all. And was very much garbage. (I wrote this is garbage at the top of the file.)
(I even named it garbage)
I mean, listen to how cheesy this sounds:
Fast-forward into the life of Jack MacKenzie– or maybe, the lack thereof, because Jack remembers nothing from before he woke up in a hospital room.
*makes spooky hand gestures* So intruiging.
Alright, maybe I’m a little bit hard on myself.
[ An understatement. 11/10 would understate again! ]
But I still wanted to get better. And I was getting very caught up in the idea of being “perfect”, still, because I wanted to have the best chances of being chosen.
(I mean, who wouldn’t want to be chosen?)
So, it turned into me rewriting that pitch over and over. I reread pitches on their site from past Pitchapaloozas, tried to study up on what they said was improvable, and what they said was doing well for the pitch.
(Which is an excellent strategy, by the way. The pitches on their site all have feedback, and they have old livestreams where they revealed their feedback available, too. It was a really good resource.)
At the end of the day…
I think things went okay in the end, actually. I ended up with a pitch I’m pretty proud of, after struggling so many times over and over. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but it helped me identify what was important in my story, and it also helped me get a better understanding.
And I learned things from it! A lot of personal lessons (or at least, recognised them), but I still learned them nonetheless.
I continuously keep running into similar life lessons like I did when doing this. The one about perfection isn’t just making an appearance for the first time– it’s made many appearances before.
A good idea for future me: I need to stop expecting things of myself when it’s something I’ve never done before.
Because how can I?? If I’ve never ridden a bike before (which is actually a true fact, I never really learned how to ride a bike), how could I possibly expect myself to go get on one and do perfectly?
Don’t almost all people fall off bikes when they first learn how to balance on them? [ *strokes chin thoughtfully* ]
Another good idea? Don’t wait to do something last minute, future me. Bad idea, very bad idea. Waiting to try something you’ve never done before (aND EXPECTING YOURSELF TO DO IT PERFECTLY?) about two days before a deadline?
…Very bad idea, don’t try it again. 11/10 would not recommend.
In the end, though, in terms of the pitch I sent in, it ended up taking me trying to relax about 3 times, included a lot of stress and panic, and eventually turned into me writing things that came out of my fingers and sitting with the fact that it was okay to suck right now, that I could edit it later.
And I think I got an okay pitch, actually! One of the tips had been, to an effect, don’t write a pitch that reads like a book report! And I really don’t think it does, for which I’m super grateful.
I had my dad, who has no idea what my novel is about, read my pitch, and he did not think it sounded like a book report– and he thought it was okay, thankfully! Not like a book report.
Even though I have no idea whether I’ll get selected or not when they do their webinar in 2 weeks time, I think this experience was incredibly healthy and worth it.
A very interesting… kind of messy, but still important nonetheless step on my journey to getting this book out there.
And I’m proud of me for it.
in conclusion ✧:･ﾟ✧:･ﾟ
I think writing a pitch is a really good exercise, and I’m glad I could do it. Maybe I’ll get picked, maybe I won’t be, but I’m still super glad for this experience.
The professionals said it can take a long, long time to hone in on a pitch and get it right– that it can take maybe even 6 months. The fact that I got something in a short amount of time, got a start going, is something that I’m proud of myself for.
And I think it’s a really good thing to practice, even if you aren’t pursuing publishing like I am. (Re: writing a pitch.)
Plus, it gives you something you can tell people when they ask what your novel is about (if you’re comfortable!) instead of being like me and kinda flailing in response with something like “Yeah, haha, um.”
This was my next step for my writing journey.
What are you working on?
Let me know in the comments below!
I love to talk with other people about their writing ^-^