Crafting Your Book Pitch

Crafting Your Book Pitch

So you’re a writer with a polished manuscript, you keep hearing about these pitch contests on Twitter, and you want to try your hand at one. Or maybe, when someone asks you that dreaded question, “What’s your book about?” you want to be able to respond simply and succinctly instead of stammering through some half-baked answer that goes on forever and ends up totally confusing and/or boring the question asker. (I’ve totally been there. It’s not fun.)

Good news though! I’m here to show you how to craft a simple, hook-y book pitch in less than 140 characters. One that’s easy to memorize and have ready to rattle off when someone asks you The Question.

Let’s get to it…

There are only two rules for constructing a compelling book pitch:

1. It must contain three components: character + conflict + stakes.

2. It must be as specific as possible.

Got it? Great.

Using those two rules, I’ve constructed a formula:

Compelling Book Pitch

=

[character]

+

[conflict]

+

[stakes]

Or, to be more specific:

Compelling Book Pitch

=

[character description and/or motivations]

+

[character’s specific goal]

+

[the horrible thing that will happen if she doesn’t achieve her goal]

Your pitch doesn’t have to follow this formula exactly. You can move all these things around if you want. I’ve even seen some excellent book pitches that only have two of the three

components, but they’ve managed to get their unique voice across, or something cool about the setting or magic system. That’s totally fine. Feel free to break the rules if it makes the pitch stronger.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. How do you boil your entire novel down to just these three things? I’ve come up with an easy way to do just that. Go ahead and answer the following questions (the more succinct your answers, the better):

Who is your main character, what does she want, and why?

What is your inciting incident/what kicks off the action?

What’s your character’s goal and what will happen if they fail to achieve it?

I’m going to use my own book to answer these questions and show you how I arrived at the pitch I used for Pitch Wars last fall:

Who is your main character, what does she want, and why?

Asha is the king’s prized dragon hunter. She kills dragons because a particularly deadly one burned her as a child and brought destruction and death down on her home.

What is your inciting incident?

My inciting incident is when the dragon who burned Asha as a child reemerges for the first time in 8 years and her father makes her a deal: bring him its head and he’ll cancel the marriage he arranged for her.

What is her goal and what will happen if she fails to achieve it?

Her goal is to kill the dragon. If she fails, she’ll be forced to marry someone she doesn’t want to marry.

Now that we have our answers, let’s break them down into each category

CHARACTER

-burned by a dragon as a child, Asha is now the king’s prized dragon hunter

CONFLICT

she must hunt a deadly dragon

STAKES

if she fails to kill it she’ll be forced into an unwanted marriage

And now let’s put those all together….

MY PITCH:

Asha, the king’s prized dragon hunter, must hunt a deadly dragon and bring her father its head or be forced into a political marriage. #NAMEOFPITCHCONTEST

That’s it! Easy peasy, right? 😉

If you have questions, ask them in the comments and I’ll answer there.

If you want to read more about pitch construction, here are some extra resources:

http://tracichee.com/post/117084312047/query-tips-8-pitch-structure

http://www.rachellegardner.com/pitching-your-novel/

http://www.scriptologist.com/Magazine/Tips/Logline/logline.html

http://www.raindance.org/10-tips-for-writing-loglines/ (Take #2 with a grain of salt, since some agents say they want character names in a pitch.)

Kristen Ciccarelli is a YA fantasy author who writes about bloodthirsty dragons, girls wielding really cool weapons, and the transformative power of stories. Find her on twitter at @twocentsparrow or over at her website (www.kristenciccarelli.com).

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7 comments

  1. Very helpful! Problem? This is more an emotional journey and less “if/then” I think I can do it in the required words but it’s so much less flashy than the dramatic fantasy driven stuff others seem to be presenting. Any ideas how to hook the emotions in so few words?

    1. Hi there! Great question.

      Whether you’re writing “flashy fantasy driven stuff” or trying to capture a more emotional journey, your character should still be acting out of a wound to get the thing they want most, and there should always be obstacles in the way of them getting the thing they want. Conflict is key in an emotional journey or a plot-driven epic fantasy. Conflict stems out of character wounds and wants, as well as obstacles in the way of those wants. There should still be character, conflict, and stakes in an emotional journey, basically. So, what’s your character’s wound? How does that wound a) inform her (emotional) need and b) motivate her to get that need met? What is stopping her from getting that need met? What happens if that (emotional) need doesn’t get met? (<-this is your stakes)

      Let’s take The Great Gilly Hopkins as an example. Not epic fantasy, but rather: very emotional middle grade.

      Gilly’s mother doesn’t want her, Gilly only thinks she does because her mother sends her these letters suggesting so. So Gilly decides she must sabotage every foster home experience she’s placed in because her mother’s love is the only love she has room for and they’re going to be reunited soon. But it’s a lie. Her mother doesn’t want Gilly, and they’re not going to be reunited, and the thing that makes it such an emotional journey is that over and over we see Gilly sabatoging the chance at being loved by her foster family until she finally comes to her big realization at the end: her mother doesn't actually want her. That's the big, juicy emotional core: Gilly's need to be loved and her inability to accept that love from anyone but the mother who'll never give it to her.

      So, a pitch for Gilly’s emotional journey might be something like this:

      Gilly must sabotage her new foster family or she’ll never be reunited with the only who really loves her: the mother who gave her up.

      Gilly must reject the love of her new foster mother because she only has room for one: the mother who insists she still loves Gilly, despite not wanting her back.

      Or something. Those are both really rough, but hopefully it gives you an example of a pitch for an emotional journey and might help spark some ideas in you? Let me know if you have any more questions!

      -Kristen

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