Friday, 4 October 2013

Perspectives on Pitching

So that was the SCBWI Agents' Party. Phew. I was so pumped-up afterwards that I couldn't get to sleep for hours, so please excuse me if I start rambling or stop making sense altogether.

At the start of the evening, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to remember my pitch, by the end I could have delivered it backwards while tap dancing (which would have been memorable, but unlikely to further my career). So I thought I'd share my thoughts today on novel pitches - what they're good for and what they're not so good for.

Let me digress for a second (don't say I didn't warn you) and tell you about the rug in my wife's art studio. She has a rule that when she's standing on the rug, she's allowed to say anything she likes about the picture she's just completed, which usually consists of variations on the phrase "I am a genius!" But if she's not standing on the rug, then she's usually squinting critically at the canvas and worrying about her colour choices. Now, my wife is far more talented than me, but just for a moment please allow me to stand on my metaphorical rug and say My one-line pitch is really great!

Ahem. Thank you for letting me do that. I'm especially pleased because I allowed this book to come together organically, whereas for the last novel I had a ten word high concept pitch before I even started writing (probably to the detriment of the finished book). But I suppose what is constant there is my need to have a strong pitch (or hook) for the book so I can quickly communicate what it's about.

Pitches are useful at all stages of the publishing chain. You pitch to an agent, they pitch to an editor, the editor pitches at an acquisitions meeting, the sales department pitches to book buyers. Sometimes, that pitch even turns up on the back of the book! Much like getting the manuscript right before you first submit, it's also worth honing your pitch alongside it.

Writing a pitch is something that authors often moan about, but I have to say that I find it a lot easier than writing a book. There are so many less words for a start! To come up with a winning pitch, I've realised that you have to leave vanity behind. Yes, you might be a serious artist, and your book might work on so many intellectual levels, but that's for the reader to discover. Pitching is about boiling down your rich and complex story to the barest essentials, and hopefully also relating it to an existing concept that the pitchee will understand. This is why the "It's X meets Y" pitch is king, no matter how reductive that comparison might seem. Yes, you might hope that your concept is cool and original, but the more different it is, the harder it gets to describe without putting the listener to sleep.

Strong pitches are fantastic for getting your work in front of the noses of publishing people. But that doesn't mean that they'll actually connect with your writing and want to take you on. In fact, sometimes an attention-grabbing pitch simply means you get rejected a lot more quickly - I recently submitted to an agent on a Sunday evening and had a rejection by noon on Monday. Don't get me wrong, it's great not to be kept hanging on, but that 6-8 week wait can also give the comfortable illusion that an agent has taken time to think about your work before saying no.

Anyway, that's enough waffling from me. I'll leave you with an example pitch for this blog that I just put together, to show you how easy the process can be:

Who Ate My Brain is a blog by an ex-zombie about writing, worrying and occasional satire - it's Woody Allen meets Dawn of the Dead.

Please feel free to stand on a rug while making your comments.



  1. So glad you enjoyed the night and that you made a great success of it. Fingers crossed for the future, Nick. Have to say, even reading about pitching makes me break out in a cold sweat...

  2. From the long tracking shot at the beginning of The Player: "It's Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman"