Please join me in welcoming award-winning medical suspense author CJ Lyons as she explains the secrets to successful pitching, tips to engage an editor or agent, and reveals the creation of a high concept. As a pediatric ER doc, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. CJ loves sharing the secret life of an urban trauma center with readers. She also loves breaking the rules; her debut medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, is cross-genre to the extreme, combining women's fiction with medical suspense with thriller pacing with romantic elements and is told from the point of view of the women of Angels of Mercy's Medical Center. Publisher's Weekly proclaimed LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), "a spot-on debut….a breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" and Romantic Times made it a Top Pick. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net
CJ is a rather recent addition to the LowCountry Romance writers, but you couldn't tell from her level of involvement--or her feeling like a member of our group! She has taught classes at Thrillerfest, RWA National, and, of course, here in Charleston. Her first book, Lifelines, came out almost two months ago and I'm in the middle of devouring it right now (I go in order when reading my TBR pile--I'm a little bit behind). So, please enjoy...
CJ has received requests for manuscripts every time she pitched. She’ll help you feel more comfortable during your pitch session and more confident with your pitch.
If you'd like feedback on your own work, feel free to share a one paragraph summary of your manuscript, your pitch, and if you have one, your high concept in the comments.
The Pitch is a writer’s best friend.
Why? Because it's what you'll use every time someone asks you to tell them about your book. Agents, editors, elevator folks, Great Aunt Martha. Whoever.
So you need to polish it and since it's verbal, shorter is better. No more than 25 words total, 10-15 is better.
Short, sweet, memorable. That's what you're going for—hey, I didn't say it would be easy!
There are several different types of pitches. Here's how I define them:
--an elevator pitch, a very quick, easily memorable way to let someone who has never read your work know what it's going to be like (note: not what it's about, but what they can expect).
For my new medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, it is: ER meets Grey's Anatomy
Implying that it has the edgy realism and non-stop action of ER, but also focuses on relationships like Grey's Anatomy.
I think elevator pitches were invented by all those ADD Hollywood types
It's your down and dirty answer to: what is your book like? It's a comparison, not an explanation or description.
The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known (like Indiana Jones) or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read
--another pitch is more descriptive. Start with your book's hook line (also known as "tag line" or "log line").
These are those throw away lines that scream at you from book covers. Also look at movie posters and ads--they use hook lines a lot.
JAWS: don't go into the water, ALIENS: in space no one can hear you scream, etc.
These hook lines are useful in query letters to hook the reader and transition into your blurb.
For LIFELINES, the hook line is: July 1st, the most dangerous day of the year.
Notice what a hook line does that's different than an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a comparison. A hook line gets the reader to ASK questions, builds that emotional velcro by getting them involved.
For LIFELINES, readers might ask: why is July 1st the most dangerous day of the year? What will happen then? Who is in danger? What kind of danger? Etc
These hook lines are also great to use on websites, business cards, etc. Often, they'll end up on the book's front cover.
Okay, so you have a hook line. Sometimes that's all you need, the conversation will evolve naturally from there. Other times you use it simply to attract attention and move into a more detailed description. So be prepared, either way.
--high concept pitch: also quick and dirty, but here you're going farther than a simple comparison.
Instead of comparisons you use ICONs or universal concepts to connect your fictional world to the world of your audience. This creates emotional velcro with your audience, leading them to be interested enough to want to know more!
To do this, you need to do two things:
First, find a hook. This is the unique spin that you have put on your story. This means narrowing your search to one small part of your story. Start with your blurb, usually the hook will be apparent there. If not, keep looking
Basically you're boiling your novel down to one and only one unique concept--whatever it is about your story that will create an immediate emotional connection or spark interest.
Second, tie this unique hook to the larger world by using universal icons and feelings, implying that society at large is affected. Something that brings this hook specific to the time and place of your novel into the ordinary world of your audience.
You're building a bridge here, connections, emotional velcro....whatever you want to call it, it needs to be so easy to grasp that anyone can feel it immediately.
One of my favorite high concepts: ALIEN's. It was: Jaws on a spaceship.
The unique hook = spaceship. Unique because no one has been on a spaceship, it's something unfamiliar to the ordinary audience.
The universal icon = monster (Jaws). Everyone has had childhood fears of monsters under the bed. We all know and understand fear, nightmares, terror. In fact, a large segment of the movie going audience (Alien's target audience, in fact!!) pays good money to feel these emotions!
Add the two together and we have a universal fear of monsters combined with no where to run (trapped on a spaceship). A powerful one-two punch!!! Feel how it evokes an immediate visceral response as well as intrigue???
The audience hearing this high concept immediately squirm in their seats, ask themselves: where can the people on the ship run? How can they fight the monster?
AND, the movie makers tied this high concept into their advertising by using a tag line of: In space, no one can hear you scream....
But note—there is no mention of character names, no long, involved psychological profiles, nothing except the bare essentials needed to pique the audience's attention.
That's the beauty of the high concept, it strips everything away except what you need to intrigue your audience.
Another example. David Morrell's recent book, SCAVENGERS used as its high concept: a scavenger hunt (unique hook) to the death (universal concept). The tag line used in advertising: Some secrets should remain buried...
Pretty obvious David's audience are lovers of thrillers/suspense, and wouldn't that audience immediately respond to that high concept? Be intrigued, think, hmm...I want to read that book, wondering what this master of suspense has in store for them.
Stephen King is also brilliant with high concepts. CUJO: rabid dog (hook) terrorizes town (universal fear). SALEMs LOT: vampires (unique hook--at the time) terrorize town (universal fear), CARRIE: prom queen (hook) terrorizes town....okay, anyone think King is writing sweet romance? Or has he earned his title of the King of Terror?
So much depends on knowing your audience that it's hard for anyone else who hasn't read the entire book to create a high concept for you. It all depends who your target audience is and what kind of emotional experience you want to promise them.
Often, because the high concept is such a tiny taste of the entire book, as writers, we get frustrated because we're looking at the big picture. We just spent months with these characters, we want to share them with our audience, expand on them, not boil them down to a bare skeleton
But think of it this way--if you boil down a compelling high concept then the reader will spend hours with your characters and story as they read....after they pay their money for the book, of course, lol!
The high concept isn't a synopsis or blurb, it's merely a way to give your audience a sneak peak of the emotions they'll feel while reading your book.
And not every book lends itself to a high concept, so don't get too frustrated if this doesn't seem to fit your work!
But no matter which kind of pitch you use, you'll probably need a more fleshed out description. Something that conveys very quickly what kind of book this is, what it's about (or who it's about) and what stands in their way.
Again your goal isn't to give away everything but rather to raise interest and more questions in the listener's mind.
Try starting with your theme or premise, add in your main character and their goal and main obstacle.
This is hard, very, very hard!! Be patient, keep trying, brainstorming power words, re-arranging and most importantly practicing saying them aloud. Pitches are verbal so they need to sound smooth, natural, not awkward or stilted.
The only way to learn how to do these is dive in and give it a try!
Thanks for reading!