Friday, September 27, 2019

Here’s the Pitch—It’s a Hit! Crafting Your Novel's Pitch Line

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A great pitch line is useful for more than just selling your novel.   

Pitching your novel makes most writers cringe, but it's actually one of the first things we learn to do. Telling someone what our story is about happens even before we write it. A pitch is just a more professional version of that.

I’ve chatted about pitches before, so let’s cover some new ground today.

A pitch means several things (the terminology is used interchangeably), so let's clarify what I mean first.

A one-line pitch is the elevator pitch.

It's what you say when someone asks "what's your book about?" A pitch paragraph is the entire description of the novel (and the bulk of your query). A query hook is the same thing. I'm talking about one-lines pitches in this article. They can be either spoken or written.

Now let’s look at what makes a good one-line pitch.

1. A good pitch is short. 

One sentence usually, because you have to be able to whip that sucker out every time someone asks, “So, what’s your book about?” This holds true even after you publish (actually, even more so after you publish).

A common mistake with pitches it to make it "one sentence" in the technical sense, but it's not something you can actually say in one breath. One sentence on paper isn't the same as one spoken sentence. I can write a 67-word one-sentence pitch I couldn't recite without a pause.

No one can remember a long pitch.

(Here's more on 8 Secrets to Pitching Your Novel Like a Pro)

2. It conveys the core conflict of the novel. 

No matter how many other cool subplots and themes you have in the story, the core conflict is the big kahuna driving your plot. Note the word “conflict.” Unless it's a very character-driven novel, character arcs usually don’t play a strong role here, even though they are important to the book itself. Which sounds more compelling?
The story of a girl who travels a magical land with three new friends and discovers there’s no place like home. Or…

A farm girl must evade a vengeful witch to help her dysfunctional friends and find her own way home.

Or my personal favorite… Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again (quoted from John Scalzi’s “accurate but misleading” AMC column)
Of course, you do have to make sure your pitch accurately describes your novel. If your pitch is accurate but misleading, you’re going to disappoint your reader. Be true to your story, but also look for the most compelling aspects of your conflict.

3. You can visualize the book from one sentence. 

This is what they mean by “high concept.” You instantly get a sense of the entire book from that one sentence. While not everything is going to be high concept, the more evocative your pitch, the more likely you’ll have someone respond “ooo that sounds good.”

(Here's more on Three Things to Know Before You Pitch in an Online Pitch Event)

So, how do you write a high concept pitch?

Step One: Identify who your protagonist is and what’s unique about them.

Try listing three or four things you might use in your pitch. The most critical things someone would need to know about this person (or people if you have an ensemble cast).

Step Two: Identify the most important things about your story.

Make of list of three or four of these. They can be anything you want, not just plot or world details. Next, if you had to choose just one of those details to tell someone, which would it be? Odds are this is your core conflict, but it could be details about the situation.

Step Three: Identify the twist in your story.

You have an interesting person with an interesting trait, and something interesting about the world they live in or the situation they find themselves in. Now list how these two things are connected.

Your conflict will come into play here, and there’s a good chance it’ll be your inciting event. Why? Because inciting events are the setups for your novel, and that when the “line in the sand” is drawn. Character faces problem and decides to act. They cross that line and the story begins.

Step Four: Put it all together so it sounds interesting.

This is the hard part, because “interesting” is so subjective. You can have all the right pieces in the right places and still not have a pitch that will make anyone want to read the book. Formulas will only get you so far here, because uninteresting details make for an uninteresting pitch.

One reader did ask me how to write a pitch that sounded like you and not like all the other writers out there. Truth is, one-line pitches do sound similar. While your query will capture your voice and style, the pitch itself follows a basic structure. It’s okay if it sounds like something you’d read in TV Guide. That means you’re probably doing it right.

(Here's more on Pitch, Please! – Three Tips to Improve Your Elevator Pitch)

How do you figure out what a good pitch sounds like? 

Believe it or not, a great place to read a lot of pitches is Netflix. On their site, you can click on the green plus sign on the left of the movie graphic and it gives you the pitch line description about the movie. Some are pretty good and make you want to read more. Others are pretty bad and don’t grab you at all. You can also try the Internet Movie Database for quick pitches for your favorite movies.

Sadly, there is no similar site for books, which is a shame.

Let’s look at a few random pitches from movies:
High school student Dave decides to transform himself into a masked crime fighter – and becomes an Internet star. (Kick Ass)
When you break this down you get: High school student Dave [The protagonist] decides to transform himself into a masked crime fighter [What’s important about the story ]– and becomes an Internet star [The twist. The anonymous youth becomes famous.]
An elite assassin learns that someone from his past has put out a contract for his now-tranquil life. (Killers)
Breaks down to: An elite assassin [The protagonist] learns that someone from his past has put out a contract for his now-tranquil life. [What’s important about the story]

See what’s missing? There’s no twist here. No sense of conflict. Where’s the “and then?” Having seen this movie (which was better than I expected) I know the twist is that he then has to explain it to his kinda-boring wife. The “never longed for excitement” wife now has to dive into the “way too much excitement” life of her assassin husband. Just as he was trying to get out of that life by marrying her. Granted, that’s a lot to sum up in a pitch, but it can be done. Remember, you don’t have to say all of that, just suggest it.
To save 10-year-old Lilith from abusive parents, a social worker brings the girl into her own home – only to learn Lilith isn’t what she seems. (Case 39)
Break it down: To save 10-year-old Lilith from abusive parents, [What’s important to the story] a social worker [The protagonist] brings the girl into her own home [A second detail]– only to learn Lilith isn’t what she seems. [The twist. I know nothing about this movie besides this pitch, but I can already see the girl is the trouble here, not the parents. Odds are the parents are fighting for their lives in some way.]

This one has all the right pieces, and a little extra to show that you do have some flexibility with these. There’s conflict and a suggestion of how the movie is going to unfold.

However, there’s nothing unique enough here to make me want to see it. The plot is pretty common, and “isn’t what she seems” can be any number of things. This is a great example of a pitch that uses a cliché that doesn’t actually help it any. It sounds cool at a glance, but the more you think about it, the more you realize how little it says about the story.

Another one along these lines…
Slacker Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski gets involved in a gargantuan mess of events when he’s mistaken for another man named Lebowski. (The Big Lebowski)
Break it down: Slacker Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski [The protagonist] gets involved in a gargantuan mess of events when he’s mistaken for another man named Lebowski. [What’s important to the story]

And again we’re missing the twist. See how flat a story can be without it? Also note that this is basically “a guy gets into trouble due to a mistaken identity.” Do you have any idea what the story is past that? Is it a comedy? A drama? Is this a series of hilarious shenanigans or a gripping drama? No clue based on this, yet this film is a well-loved cult classic, so obviously there's more here. But if this is all you know about it, you might never bother to give it a try. A good pitch tells you enough to get the whole book.

Let’s look at one I think works fairly well.
A meek bank teller discovers a magical ancient mask that unleashes his deepest desires -- and gives him superhuman abilities to act on them. (The Mask)
Break it down: A meek bank teller [The protagonist] discovers a magical ancient mask that unleashes his deepest desires [What’s important to the story] -- and gives him superhuman abilities to act on them. [The twist]

What I like about this pitch is the word choice. “Meek” conjures up a particular type of person. “Unleashes” suggests setting something free. Unleashing the deepest desires of a meek person has a lot of potential for conflict. Pair that with the twist – superhuman abilities – and you suddenly see where this can go. Meek goes wild. It accomplishes a lot by the words chosen.

Do you need a pitch line in your query? 

There’s a lot of advice that says open your query with your pitch. Personally, I think a pitch in a query is like introducing yourself after you’ve been introduced. A query and a pitch do the same thing, just in different formats. Save the space for a few great paragraphs that describe your novel. The one-line pitch is more for those elevator encounters and when folks ask you what the book is about. Opinions are mixed here, so if you want to open your query with your pitch line, feel free. But you don’t have to. There’s just as much advice about jumping right to the hook as starting with a pitch.

Whatever you choose, being able to describe your novel in one sentence is a skill you’ll find valuable the entire life of the book.

Do you have a pitch line? What do you find most frustrating about them? Want feedback on yours? Feel free to share. 

*Originally published October 2011. Last updated September 2019.

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Nice post!

    I'm no where near done with my book, but I gave the pitch line a shot, anyway. How did it turn out?

    "On the run superhero must catch a murderer to prove her innocence in her parents’ homicide—her only clue: a note left by a long-dead serial killer."

  2. Oh my God, I would LOVE some feedback. Here's one attempt, that's straightforward, no twist:

    Estranged uncle helps his grieving nephew train an injured retriever for a field trial.

    If I want to go for the twist, I change it quite a bit and it gets really long:

    Estranged uncle helps his grieving nephew to fulfill the boy's father's dying wish to win the local field trial, but it may cost the boy the thing he loves most in the world -- his dog.

    Ideas and feedback would be MUCH appreciated.

  3. Ooooh. Unrefined and a bit clunky, but:

    A girl from the lowest caste discovers the key to saving what remains of the water in her desert world, but she'll have to break the centuries-old curse on her people to do it.

    @Kathie S. -- I'm intrigued! That sounds like it would be right up my alley.

    @Melissa -- I think what trips me up are how many familial relations you're mentioning, which leaves me pausing to figure out how everyone is related. Maybe just "Estranged uncle helps fulfill his nephew's wish to win the local field trial... " ? Or if the boy's father is the uncle's brother, maybe, "Estranged uncle helps fulfill his brother's dying wish by helping his nephew..." ?

  4. Thank you so much! This was really helpful. I added a "twist" to mine: Love to know what you think, this is MG magic realism:

    Haunted by her GI father’s past and her Vietnamese mother’s legacy of displacement and violence, a thirteen-year-old girl discovers her parents’ ghosts are all too real.

    I think all of the pitches above are quite good. Melissa, I'd try combining your two ideas, maybe:

    Estranged uncle helps his grieving nephew train an injured retriever for a field trial, but it may cost the boy the thing he loves most in the world -- his dog.

    If the protag is the boy, you'd start with him. I don't know if this is adult or middle grade, but if it's middle grade, you begin with boy.

  5. Okay, I'll give it a shot, too. Here's my rough, long-winded attempt:

    After getting dumped from the army in the face of war, Prince Charming's inept little brother is determined to prove himself, but he gets more than he bargained for when he stumbles on a traitor and a plot to kill the king.

    @ Melissa, I really like Gail's combination of the two pitches.

    @Gail, I really like the twist at the end, but I got a little lost at the beginning. I didn't realize her parents were dead until the twist, so I'm not sure I got a good sense of the story.

  6. Thanks for the feedback.

    My pitch as written is that it comes across as middle grade, probably with the boy as protagonist. And that's a problem because it's mainstream fiction, and the uncle is the protagonist.

    I tried a somewhat different angle here to attempt to focus on a facet of the "adult" conflict:

    A wayward traveler clashes with his sister when he agrees to help his grieving nephew turn an injured retriever into a champion.

    @Kathie -- I think this great.

    @Becky -- What catches me here is I'm thrown by the connection between saving water and a curse. I'm not sure "from the lowest caste" adds anything to the elevator pitch, though I bet it's important in a query.

    @Gail -- I may be misunderstanding the plot, but how about, "A thirteen-year-old girl thinks all that's left of her parents is a legacy of trauma and violence -- and then she meets their ghosts."

    @Janet -- How about... "Prince Charming's little brother wants to shine as brightly as his famous brother, but his inept attempts are lackluster until he stumbles upon a traitor and a plot to kill the king."

  7. I'm new here, but here's my pitch. I think I need some help.

    High school student Jamie tries to end the rumor that her sister's recent death was a suicide but is sidelined by her guilt over the role she played in the tragedy - and wonders if the rumor might be true.

    @Melissa - I think your last pitch (A wayward traveler...) is the best and definitely sounds like an adult story.

    @Janet - I like Melissa's suggestion for your pitch

  8. I've found writing pitches before the book to be as helpful as queries. It really quantifies your ideas.

    Kathie, I like the mix of a superhero and serial killer. You don't usually see that two things combined. I also wonder what the note means and how she's connected to the killer.

    Melissa, I like your shorter pitch, but agree the twist part feels long. But I like the idea there. Perhaps find ways to tighten that up. Maybe just say it fulfills his father's dying wish, but it could cost him the dog. Look for ways to trim words. Gail's suggestion is a good one there.

    If the uncle is the protag here, try clarifying it so the problem is the uncle's. He has to help his estranged and grieving nephew, etc. What does Uncle get out of this? What problem is he trying to overcome that helping the boy solves? The second pitch feels more adult and the uncle story.

    Becky, I like!

    Gail, I like the idea, but I stumbled over the "displacement and violence" part. Father's past and mother's legacy has a nice balance to it that flows well. I also find I want to know what it means that the ghosts are real.

    Janet, I like! What really sells it for me is Prince Charming's inept little brother.

    Amanda, welcome to the blog! Picked a good day to happen by :) I like the conflict of the suicide rumor, but then I get a little lost. Actually, it works nicely if you just end it at tragedy.

    Sounds like a lot of cool books in the works.

  9. Janice, I love your idea of writing down several possibilities from each category. Options are always good. :D

    The short pitch is so difficult for me, but here goes:

    "Black market ipseity shifts are dangerous, but Marissa will do anything to escape the identity reassignment agents hunting her, including wearing a stranger’s skin--too bad she ends up inside an infected body.

  10. Ooh, this is great! here's my attempt:

    When a mouse actress vanishes the new drama club director, Donovan Starlow, is sure she has been kidnapped -until she reappears and accuses Donovan of being her abductor.

  11. Such great examples already! Here's my attempt:

    After ridiculing her last suitor, Princesa Anna-Maria must marry a beggar. They travel to his alpine homeland where he tries to keep her safe and unaware of his true identity until he can reclaim his throne as the rightful king.

  12. Thanks everyone! I'm glad it turned out well.

    @Janice: It's actually really interesting to think about how to get things across in as few words as possible. When I started writing, I thought of my super-powered people more as wizards than superheroes, but when I sat down to write the pitch, it was a lot easier to get the feel I want by changing terminology.

    @Becky: It sounds like a good premise, but I feel like you could streamline a bit at the beginning. Maybe like--

    "A poor, social outcast discovers the key to saving the last remaining water on her desert world, but to do that she'll have to break the centuries-old curse on her people."

    @Amanda: I feel like your conflict is confused in this pitch. I guess that's partially because I don't see how 1, whether or not it was suicide would be in any doubt, or 2, why suicide would be stigmatized enough to try and cover it up if it was. Was it accidental death? You might try mentioning that.

    @CherylAnne: I really like that one. It really brings in a lot of nifty ideas.

  13. I have been really struggling with a logline! You are right on time as always with help. This is rough, but here is my try.

    A meek girl breaks curfew and touches a whispering stone that unleashes her ability to ‘bolt’ by lightning through time and space, only to find cursed bolters crave her powers for their own. But to harness her dangerous gifts, she must risk trusting another bolter.

  14. Good advice, and perfect timing for me! Now I'm going to read up on queries....

  15. Cheryl, I'm big on options. Until you get in there you don't always know what will work. I love your pitch, but it sounds more like the opening to a query than a one-line pitch. The pitch is supposed to sum up what the novel is about.

    Chicory, I like!

    Amelia, I like the idea of a princess having to marry a beggar, but I get a lost as to what the story is actually about. Perhaps look at what problem Anna-Maria faces now that she has to marry that beggar?

    Glacier, I like the idea, but it feels a little long. You might not need the second sentence.

  16. Kathie S., thank you so much! That's not quite accurate to the story, but it's close enough for me to tweak a bit and I really like the way it reads. :)

  17. @Kathie & Janice, thanks! Did I mention how tough these are for me? LOL. I'll keep at it. :D

  18. Janice, you know this is something that really just tries my patience, but since I can't escape them, I may as well be brave and go for it.

    Everyone, but honest, but kind.

    1.When a spunky genius adventuress, and a curmudgeonly camel, are forced to rely on each other for survival, they form an unlikely friendship that has the potential to save their world's future, as well as heal the wounds from their bitter pasts.

    2. A plucky frontier bear moves to the city, eager to seek his fortune, by sharing his music with the world, and discovers while achieving his dream won't be easy, it can be a lot of fun!

    If they're too vague, that only emphasizes why these one-liners are so not my innate strength, and are more fun (if not less forgiving) in the actual book.

    Whoever can be this short and not unfairly vague deserves a Nobel Prize.

  19. This has been the *beat head against wall* problem that I've had since finishing my MS... getting the plot into even a query-length paragraph is painful... a one liner? OUCH! Thank you for the advice.

    So, here are a few approaches that I've tried:

    "Sara's summer before senior year was quiet until meeting the strange boy in the woods who called her the key to his freedom-- now she's fighting time and her friends to try to save the world."


    "Sara's world was turned on end, leaving her wrapped up in a world of lost kings and a limbo where time stands still- worse, her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her."

    Granted, if it were up to me and I didn't have to write in a plot...

    "The history books say that he was handsome… the problem is that the history books were right."

  20. I would love some feedback on my pitch:

    "In a world where magic has been outlawed, a retired courtesan, having tracked down a legendary, forbidden manuscript, must uncover the secrets contained within before her life comes to an untimely end."

    Thank you kindly!

  21. @emberchyld I think version two has more of a hook and sounds very interesting. :D

    IMO, this --> "her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her." is awesome conflict, where as "saving the world" is a bit generic (and we know that she probably will end up saving the world so the stakes don't blow me away.) What I don't know is how it will turn out between MC and her friend, so it really hooks me. Maybe you could add what the best friend is trying to stop her from doing?

    Alos, in the fist line in version 2, could you add the reason MC's world is turned upside so it's a bit less vague?

    Sounds like a great story! Good luck with it.

  22. Cheryl, these are hard, so no worries. On the bright side, you have an awesome opener for your query or synopsis. You'll get there!

    Taurean, kudos for giving it a shot. I know how these frustrate you. #1 hooks me more because it has more conflict. I love the curmudgeonly camel, though. I can see this character already. And the "potential" to save the world. Like they could if they could overcome their issues and work together. #2 has some cute things, but lacks conflict to show what part won't be easy. You might try saying what that is instead of that it's fun. But I like that he sets off to find his dream, and has to overcome things to do that.

    Emberchyld, the line "her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her" really grabs me. As does "fighting time and her friends to try to save the world." The conflict in those is quite compelling. You might try opening with something a little more specific as to what she's doing that is making then try to stop her.

    That last "handsome" line rocks. You can use that for something called a tagline. Kinda like a slogan. It could be on the cover, but you'd use it a lot on your marketing materials. I have samples (scroll down) of cards and bookmarks I printed with my tagline if you're curious. A tagline is very handy to have for your marketing efforts.

    Paul, I like the pieces, but they feel a bit disconnected as is. I'm not sure how they relate. Perhaps focus more on the conflict and less on "having tracked down a legendary, forbidden manuscript." That feels like backstory to me. How does the outlaw magic play into this? And is she dying or is someone trying to kill her?

  23. GREAT post, Janice! I've been struggling with pitches/queries/hooks/etc. for a while now--I flatter myself that I write literary fiction, and the fact that whenever someone asks "what's your book about?" my response is an invariable and totally un-cool "uhh..." tends to support that. After reading your post I came up with this one:

    A conservative and upper-class Mexican woman’s world spins out of control one summer when an unexpected lover forces her to question the structure of her life and make an impossible choice—a lifetime of regret, or a free-fall into the void of possibility.

    REALLY looking forward to feedback on this--no mercy, huh? Hard critics now save me TONS of embarrassment later :)


  24. Cheryl and Janice, thank you for the critique! Here's what I came up with based on your advice (hope that I didn't make this too long now):

    "Sara learns that she is a Temporal, the key to saving a lost king from a limbo where time stands still and now she’s fighting time to try to save the world- worse, her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her."

    and @janice I'd LOVE to use the "handsome history" as a tagline. Here's to hoping that agents and editors like my pitch/query/MS enough so that I can use it!

  25. Such a great post!
    These are things I always find so hard, and I usually make everyone think my just-finished book is so boring because I can never get it out in just a sentence or two. So, here's my attempt:

    A young ballerina must overcome her own insecurities and fight against her parents to pursue her dream of dancing professionally - but doing so means risking someone else's life.


  26. Thanks for the feedback, Janice, this will really help me key on how to be more concise without unfairly misleading what the story is just to "prove" I have a plot behind this pitch that holds up.

    I agree #2 needs more work, but it was hard to be short and yet accurate about the story, without sounding either shamefully derivative or too specific or obscure, but I'm glad #1 didn't sound as hokey as I feared it might.

    I'm finding that alliteration, wherever possible, can help keep concise lines like these from getting wordy, while also helping you be clear and direct.

    I plan to lend my hand at critiquing the other one-liners soon, not the best judge of this kind of thing,since I barely grasp it myself, but I will try.

    Ciao for now,

  27. Guilie, most welcome! I think pitches are even harder than queries. And we end up using them so much more frequently. I like the pitch. It might be a little long when you actually say it out loud, but you can tighten it to fix that.

    Emberchyld, better, but you might have too many specifics this time (I know, it's such a rough balance!) Perhaps try something like... "A girl discovers she's the key to saving a lost king from a limbo, and must fight time and her best friend to save him." Focus more on the conflicts and goal maybe?

    Kajsa, I know that feeling. I'm starting to come up with pitches before I do anything else these days. I like yours! How does dancing risk another's life? Very intriguing.

    Taurean, you have have to be an expert to crit a pitch. That's the beauty of them. The story either grabs you or it doesn't. You can just say what you find compelling what was confusing, because a reader will have that same reaction.

  28. Janice, you said-

    "You can just say what you find compelling what was confusing, because a reader will have that same reaction."

    Well, isn't it also true that what some find confusing/uneventful, others find fascinating?

    I think much of the frustrations comes when it's not a general consensus, but you have no better way to say it, taking into account how short something must be.

    Of the pitches I read, some of the ones that worked for me didn't for others.

    I have a problem with giving glib statements about something, because often I'm wrong, (When it pertains to my stuff, anyway) but if there's no right or wrong answer here, how can you know if it's an "Everyone or just you" problem then?

    Or to put it a simpler way, how does the "Personal yet universal" thing apply here?

  29. Taurean, yes, but you have to remember that not every book will appeal to every reader. As long as you're honest about what you feel, you're giving good feedback. What the writer chooses to do with it is up to them. Bottom line: does the pitch make you want to read the book? If you can say why it does or doesn't, you're offering helpful feedback.

    All feedback is personal no matter who it comes from. If you don't feel comfortable with a technical critique, don't give advice on what to do to fix something. Just say what you liked and what didn't work for you.

  30. Okay, onward to evaluating the pitches I didn't write-

    @Kathie S.
    Like Janice, I liked this one also, not normally my kind of story, but nothing here as is turns me off. Janice give you some good tips, I'm sure you'll click with someone for this.

    As a dog lover, this already caught my attention, but while I'm not a expert on dog breeds, I was confused about what kind of retriever you mean. Golden, Lab, mixed breed, etc.

    Not necessarily crucial, but as a pitch it's fine to me, though in a future query, you'll want to ID what breed of dog, especially if the dog's height or features are critical to that specific breed or type of dog, and add to the complications of training him in addition to recovering from his injuries, which from the context of the pitch sound severe. You'll want that to be noted where it counts. Good luck.

    I'll come back later for the rest.


  31. Janice, (I think my comment was lost in livejournal permission granting approval limbo! If I'm repeating myself, I apologize!)

    Thank you so much for the guidance so far! It really is like trying to do a sit spin in skating-- too up, too down, too fast, too slow, too forward, too backwards, and you're on your bottom. I'll try this one more time and then I'll stop with my commenting/begging for help :-)

    "Sara learns that she is the key to freeing a lost king from a prison beyond time- unfortunately, her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her."

    Only kept the "Ancient society" line because it seemed to grab attention upstream. If that line is too clutter-y, I'll keep it for the query letter.

    Thanks again for all of your help-- between the post and everyone's comments, I've learned so much about this persnickety aspect of the writer's craft!

  32. Emberchyld, you are most welcome. My niece skates, so I actually know what you mean there.

    I like, and the ancient society works. Provides a little world building.

  33. Thank you, Janice! I really appreciate your help on this (and all of the other advice on your blog. I'm sucking it up like a sponge!)

    :-) I've just spent 1/2 a lesson on my bottom, so the skating analogy is close to my heart. Good luck to your niece!

  34. I think I've managed to tweak my elevator pitch into something that's effective and coherent.

    The original version, from above:

    "In a world where magic has been outlawed, a retired courtesan, having tracked down a legendary, forbidden manuscript, must uncover the secrets contained within before her life comes to an untimely end."

    The latest version:

    "In a world where religious fanatics rule supreme and magic users are hunted, a retired courtesan must uncover the secrets within a forbidden manuscript to save magic from total annihilation and return the Gifted to power."

    I think I've taken a huge leap forward, but would love to hear thoughts!


  35. Paul, sounds good. What does the courtesan stand to gain by returning magic and helping these people? That might be something worth playing with.

  36. A chunky country farm girl takes a job caring for pigs in a fat research lab. She falls in love with the pigs but when her Paris Hilton obsessed mother comes down with diabetes, she has to choose between her loyalty to science and her mother’s health.

    1. Interesting. What kinds of things might make her *not* choose to help mom? Could be some fun conflicts there.

  37. I need help with mine. I'm still working on it but this is what I have so far.

    A once “Had It All” Brandon, abrasively becomes disrupted with his marriage after finding out his fertility prospects. And with his twin brother in the know, things begin to take shift between he and his wife, leading on to suspicions of an affair inside of the family

    1. I like the concept, but the pitch itself is a little hard to follow. I suspect you're trying too hard to make it sound a certain way instead of just saying what it's about. Perhaps try to state the problem plainly, and then seeing what you can add to flesh it out if it needs it?

      You might also try starting with a "when," such as "When Brandon discovers..." since that gets his problem right up front.

      Good luck!

  38. Janice, I have been struggling with my hook, but after reading your tips I came up with something new this morning:

    When an impulsive engineer is put in charge of managing an international supply crisis, she taps into her unexpected genius and femininity to solve problems in ways the Detroit old-boy network could never imagine, yet her logical approach to love gets her into trouble every time.

    Would love feedback!

    1. I like it. I can immediately see the type of story this will be (and I can totally see the movie with Renee Zellweger), where the conflict will come from (her "girly" ways vs the old boy engineer way), and where she needs to grow to find love (ditch the logic and be more impulsive like she is at work).

      Works for me.

  39. Wow, such great advice! A little late, but I could really use some feedback on the pitch for my first book. If anyone is still reading the comments, I would really appreciate your help. Thanks! The pitch is below.

    A less-than-ordinary cop uncovers the reason for the flood of missing people, then discovers she may be the cause

    1. I like the hook of it (the cop is the cause of the missing people), but the line itself stumbles a little. It says she's at fault twice (uncovers the reason. discovers she's the cause), so you'd gain some extra words if you cut the repetition. "Less than ordinary" is also fun, and is makes her out to be utterly boring and plain, when she's anything but.

      You might try being a little more descriptive about the missing people (as in , this is her goal and what she's doing), and then end with the "she's the cause."

    2. Thank you for the feedback! I tried revising it... Here is the (hopefully better) new version

      People are disappearing for no apparent reason, and it is the job of this less-than-ordinary cop to figure out why- until she realizes she may be the cause

    3. Better. For a working pitch this is good, as you don't need perfect details for yourself. For an agent/editor pitch, you might looks for ways to be a little more specif about the conflict and stakes.

  40. Hi,
    I'm not sure if this thread is still active but if it is I'd love some input on this pitch!

    Hazel and Max are promised to others, but their love will not be denied. Flying in the face of family, duty, and even common sense, they risk everything to be together. When they secretly marry they believe their future is secure. But they didn't plan on Hazel's stepfather, who will stop at nothing to destroy her.


    When Hazel and Max secretly marry, they believe their future together is secure. But they didn't plan on Hazel's stepfather, who will stop at nothing to destroy her.

    Thanks so much!

    1. They're always active, even if it takes me a day or two (or more) to respond :)

      I'll focus on #2 since this is aimed more at one-line pitches. I like both parts on their own, but they don't feel like they match. What does the stepfather trying to destroy Hazel have to do with them secretly marrying? Perhaps try to connect the conflict and stakes more to show what the core problem of the novel is.

  41. Any advice on writing a hook for a story with multiple POV characters? My work in progress has three of them and they have almost no direct interaction, although their plots are nonetheless inextricably interwoven. Anyway, here's my attempt at hooks for each of the plotlines seperately:
    A relapse in Paige’s anxiety brings with it disturbing supernatural events, and her only chance for survival may lie in the secrets her old psychiatrist was keeping…
    When his childhood friend disappears, Zay puts his vlogging skills to work exploring the double life she led, and finds himself embroiled in a conflict between beings she called gods…
    Esther makes a deal with a reality-warping disaster in the making in order to survive a recon mission gone bad, but the promise she makes brings doubt to her quest to avenge her husband and daughter…

    1. That's tough, because they sound like three different books (though I like all three). A fourth line that shows how these are all connected would probably bring it together though.

      To hit a one-sentence pitch, you;d probably have to be more generalized, like "three people face..." and show what they have in common with the conflict.

  42. Hi Janice - so amazing you are still monitoring these threads YEARS after first starting them. Your tips on this are so helpful! Thank you! Here's my 653rd attempt :)

    Set on a world where first-born children are so violent they're exiled to a distant moon, a stranded teenage Firstling must convince a clever military officer to aid her escape -- while not letting on she’s the daughter of an enemy he’s sworn to kill.

    1. The beauty of email :) I get a notice of new comments. Some weeks it takes me a few days to respond to things (or longer if it's a super hectic week), but I do try to keep up with everyone.

      The pitch works. I think it's solid enough to keep you on target while writing it, the goal and conflict is clear, and I can see generally how this will unfold.

      I have plenty of questions about the world and story, but that would provide some follow up material during a verbal pitch.

      My only concern (and it might not even matter) is that I wonder if the protagonist is violent and "bad" or if she's different. I assume she's not like all the others or she wouldn't be the hero, but that's not shown in any way. If you could find the right adjective to show she's different, that could help. But I wouldn't muck up the pitch trying to fit a lot in. This makes me curious to know more, and that's the key part.

      Funny, I just yesterday sent a manuscript to my agent that also deals with "firsts," but don't worry---it's a TOTALLY different everything from yours :) Just a world where birth order also plays a role.

    2. Awesome blog and brilliant advice and examples.
      Here goes nothing:
      "An ambitious young princess plots to get to the throne and seeks the help of her greedy cousin, Duke Horace. He is in control of a bloodthirsty demon, who will kill anyone on command.
      In a world where magic is rare and demons are merely a myth, we will join one who has no choice but to take part in the humans’ affairs.
      What does it take to be a Queen? What is the Price of the Crown?
      A tale of betrayal and loyalty, family and bloodshed and a pinch of romance."

    3. The first one is off to a good start. I can see who the protagonist and antagonist are, though I'm not sure what the conflict is yet. Are the others the same book?

  43. Are you still open for feedback? I just found this article and writing a pitch helped me clarify where I want to go with the story I'm in the middle of planning.

    "When a mysterious explosion kills someone close to her, a mercenary sets out to find the culprit, only to stumble across an ancient conflict that spans the entire world- and beyond".

    Although I'm not sure if adding "beyond" is a good idea. At the beginning of the story neither the reader nor the pov characters know that there even is a "beyond" and the reveal that there is is inevitably tied to a huge spoiler, in addition to being a spoiler itself... I feel like something like that shouldn't be in an elevator pitch?

    1. I am. It's pretty good.

      If it's just for you, and beyond is fine. It'll remind you of the bigger picture. As a pitch, I'd probably leave it off and show a little more about the conflict. It's a great setup, so now, what's the issue preventing the protagonist from succeeding?

  44. Thank you for posting -- definitely packed with helpful hints.

  45. I just discovered your blog and will delve more deeply into its wisdom in the coming months. Thank you for sharing your experience and taking an interest in burgeoning writers!

    I arrived here looking for tips and tricks in composing an effective elevator pitch and found your post really incisive and systematic. Back in 2015, I attended my first Worldcon in Spokane and quickly discovered that I was not prepared for the "What's your novel about?" question at all. A fellow fantasy writer kindly clued me in after I had rambled for a minute or more. "Umm, yeah, it's, you know, kind of complex and tough to sum up but I think it's really interesting and...oh, text message from your agent, eh? Sure, I can wait...I mean, I'd give that top priority know, if I had an agent?" Fiddles awkwardly with sunglasses as the ship of opportunity sails off.

    I've been honing my manuscript and occasionally tinkering with an elevator pitch ever since. If this thread is still active, would you do me the kindness of reading my latest attempt and sharing your thoughts? I hope to attend the next Worldcon in San Jose and redeem myself:

    "An ex-soldier and his heretical wife flee the wrath of the ruling church and struggle to find peace with each other—while beyond the veil of mortal sight, sinister forces plot to use them as pawns in an ancient war."

    Thanks so much!

  46. Off-target here, but can mysteries be included in the Women's Fiction genre?

    1. Very late to this question (sorry!) but replying for those who might have the same one. Yes, as long as the tropes of women's fiction are also there. Many WF novels have some type of mystery in them.

  47. What about novels that follow multiple characters? that aren't single-story concept? loss of culture or cultural clashes? surviving an epidemic through the eyes of multiple people? historical fiction is full of vast panoramic narratives. How do you pitch those?

    1. Those usually focus on the larger issue, and mention the cast in an ensemble way, such as, "a group of X" or "Three Y." Or they pick the main protagonist and show it from their perspective.

  48. I'm pretty sure this is way too long, but can't seem to condense it down or change it without giving too much info :( So much harder than writing the actual novel!!

    All she wanted was the truth, but the lies were piling up, just like the bodycount. Toni was digging for the truth, but some lies are best left buried. When she realises her father was more involved than she could ever imagine, she finds that the man she thought she couldn’t trust ends up being the only one she can.

  49. I realize all these comments are years old, but on the chance that someone might reply to this and give me some feedback, here's mine:

    "An absent-minded retiree is visited by an other-worldly creature, and finds herself unwittingly involved in a mission to save the universe from going out of tune."

    1. Interesting. I like the idea of a retiree pulled into an other-worldly mission, and I'm curious how the universe could go out of tune. This has a Douglas Addams feels to it, which makes me think it's humorous SFF.

      It’s still a bit vague to show what the conflict and personal stakes is about, even though I do have a general sense of the story. If you could get a few more details and eliminate some of the vagueness, it would help show the story better. But it’s a great start!

    2. You are 100% correct about the humour and the Douglas Adams vibe, so I guess I've done something right. Thanks for the feedback!

    3. Oh good! It totally felt that way. Good luck with this :) It sounds fun.

    4. Here's another try. Not sure if this one is too wordy now?

      "Linda Pumpernickel's lackluster life gains new purpose when she is visited by an other-worldly creature and embarks on a mission to save the universe from going out of tune, but to do so, the absent-minded retiree must outsmart a megalomaniacal cult leader."

  50. Just like Danielle, I'm commenting just in case someone can help me out with my one line pitch! I'd really appreciate it!
    I'm actually between all of these (my story is a romance btw)

    1. When the lead singer of a rising band loses her ability to write songs she has to fake date her oblivious past rival and let go of her tragic past in order to help her band succeed on their debut.

    2. After losing her ability to write, the lead singer of an up-and-coming band has to fake date her ex-girlfriend's famous ex-boyfriend in order to help her band succeed, learning to let go of her tragic past in the process.

    3. After losing her ability to write, the lead singer of an up-and-coming band has to fake date her ex-girlfriend's famous ex-boyfriend in order to help her band rise to the top.

    Thanks in advance and good luck to all!

    1. Here are my thoughts:

      1. When the lead singer of a rising band loses her ability to write songs [I like this as a conflict] she has to “fake date her oblivious past rival” [Not sure what this means, though I like how they get forced together by her problem] and let go of her tragic past in order to help her band succeed on their debut. [Is the past related to why she can’t write songs anymore?]

      --This one seems like it might have a fun setup, but I can’t see the conflict and story yet.

      2. After losing her ability to write, the lead singer of an up-and-coming band has to fake date her ex-girlfriend's famous ex-boyfriend in order to help her band succeed, learning to let go of her tragic past in the process.

      --Not as strong as the first one, and I have more questions about the exs here.

      3. After losing her ability to write, the lead singer of an up-and-coming band has to fake date her ex-girlfriend's famous ex-boyfriend in order to help her band rise to the top.


      Overall, the setup looks fun, but I’m still unclear on what the problem is and how these details relate to each other. The conflict appears to be her inability to write songs. But how does fake dating help her get her ability back? And rising to the top seems too general and vague, since this is what every band wants.

      If her problem is she can’t write, then that’s what’s keeping her from “the top.” So the romance should help her get over her issues and be able to write again, while she’s falling in love. And that will help her “get to the top” or whatever that specifically means in the book.

      I suspect this is all there, it’s just not clear in the pitch yet. Hope this helps!