Pitch tips

The first question I always ask when I’m helping someone write a pitch is: What is interesting about your book? Usually the answer falls into one of four categories: character, plot, setting or voice.

Then I have a place to start.

Sometimes setting sells the story.

A novel that is character-driven is going to have a pitch that is character driven. For example, here’s the start of a pitch for Kim van Alkemade’s best-selling novel, Orphan Number Eight. “In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage whee Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research.” This is a novel about a terrible decision Rachel has to make, and the pitch flags that the novel will focus on her character.

By contrast, Ben Winters’ pitch for his novel, The Last Policeman, grabs you with his unusual plot (although his characters are also quite compelling): What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway? Detective Hank Palace has faced this question since asteroid 2011GV hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.”

Stephanie Merritt’s novel, While You Sleep, features an arresting location, and so her pitch doesn’t even mention the protagonist until the second paragraph: “On an isolated Scottish island, the McBride house stands guard over its secrets. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there; just last year, a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.”

The last example comes from a pitch I wrote for my first novel, The Fiction Class. I felt the story had a sort of humorous tone, and I wanted to get that across in the pitch, and so I wrote this: “On paper, Arabella Hicks is more than qualified to teach a weekly fiction class on New York’s Upper West Side. She’s an author herself, she’s passionate about books, she’s even named after the heroine in a Georgette Heyer novel. So why do her students seem so difficult? And why can’t she find an ending to the novel she has been working on for seven years? Arabella’s beginning to suspect that it’s because her mother, Vera Hicks, is driving her insane.”

So how about you? What do you consider the strength of your story?

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