Diane, thanks for agreeing to share your technique and your Friday with us!
Hi, Mel! It was great meeting you at RT! Thanks for inviting me here to Title Magic to talk about my Sure-Fire Six Step Pitch, a method for cramming a beautifully layered book into a ten-minute pitch.
Once upon a time, I was [more or less] happily employed writing non-fiction. Then I ran into a real-life story, which hit me over the head and demanded that I retell it as a romance. After years of struggle, I found myself at my local chapter’s annual conference holding an appointment with the only editor in
Talk about pressure? I was scared spitless! What could I possibly say to convince her to buy my manuscript?
My first breakthrough was realizing I didn’t need to convince her to buy my manuscript. This appointment was like a business meeting, almost like sending out a resume. I wanted her to be so smitten by my pitch that she’d ask me to see my manuscript, which is a much easier thing to pull off than selling it.
Whew! My breathing started to slow down. But I still had that ten-minute appointment staring me in the face. Ten minutes…
Breakthrough number two: treat this appointment just like a business meeting. Use time management and presentation techniques from business. Ten minutes is basically the same amount of time it takes to present SIX PowerPoint slides.
Ah ha! In my ten minute appointment, I could present
A TOTAL of SIX slides,
Each containing FIVE bullets,
Preferably 6 words per bullet but no more than 20 words per bullet.
Just to make it more fun, every word counted, even the small ones like a, and, of, the, etcetera.
Are you with me so far? Great!
But what on earth would I fill my six slides with?
Breakthrough number four: I asked my buddy, Treva Harte, the editor-in-chief of Loose-Id Publishing. After some brainstorming over really good Thai food, we came up with the following.
Number One: Always tell the genre, your manuscript’s approximate length, targeted line (if you know), and your name and contact information (however casually you want to say it). Treva gets very testy about this last bit. Me, I’ve heard legends about pitches being given for “the brunette drinking mojitos in the bar.”
Number Two: Always tell what makes your manuscript special. Focus on conflict, emotion, and what makes your manuscript unique.
This all sounded like really good stuff but I still only had ten minutes and six slides! I loved my characters! I could bore my friends for hours with my plot. I had albums of pictures of my setting. How on earth could I condense this?
Breakthrough number five: Code words. (To borrow a phrase from spy novels.) Every genre has its own set of “code words” which summarize important aspects of the story. If I used code words, I could say a lot about my story in a very few words. If I combined code words or contrasted them, I could heighten conflict and emotion.
For example, everyone has a pretty good idea of what a “modern day Cinderella story” is, when describing a romance. Poor girl meets rich boy, nasty stepmother gets in the way, yada yada yada. Right? “Navy SEAL” is a code word for hero, which has different implications from “English duke.” Similarly, “The Ton” is a common setting for Regency romances, as is the “royal court” for medieval romances or “high society” for twentieth-century romances. While similar, each of those settings has their own rules, which are subtly different to the cognoscenti, and a futuristic author would carefully select which one she wanted to base her world on. Code words can come from almost anywhere, including movie or book names.
Now I could see where I was going! It was hard, though, and it took me over four hours to write that ten minute pitch. I came up with an outline for those six slides along the way, which friends have used.
Hey, I was on a roll! I came up with a two-minute pitch by reducing each slide to a single bullet.
Gritting my teeth, I came up with a ten-second pitch by reducing those six sentences to a single sentence. (One clue: genre and length each became a single word. I got setting down to a single word, too, because my manuscript was a historical.) Of course, it’s easier to come up with a ten-second pitch if you start with the code words. For example, the pitch for my fantasy ménage is “THE MUMMY meets MURDER ON THE NILE – and the men who loved her then still love her now.”
What do you think? Does this sound like something which could work for you and your manuscript? One friend uses it as a test for how well she understands her manuscript, even when she’s not planning to pitch it.
Good luck with your pitch!Diane Whiteside