Writing a Damn Fine Proposal #2 – Pitching

So a couple of week ago (yeah, I know I’m late with this but the writing comes first), I talked about synopses. Now, we’re going to spend a bit of time with something shorter, but no less fiddly to write – the pitch.

Pitches are different beasts. They’re designed to be short and hooky to catch the attention of an editor or an agent. And not only that. They can be used by authors to hook readers as well. You can tweet them, put them on Facebook, put them in advertising copy etc. In other words, writing a decent pitch for your book can be useful for a whole lot of things, not only a query letter.

Anyway, just so you know, I don’t find a good pitch easy to write. That being said, when I was unpublished I did win several contests with pitches I wrote, so I guess I’m not too bad at them. But distilling your fabulous book into 140 characters, or two sentences or whatever, is HARD. Sometimes it’s easier to write them when you HAVEN’T finished the book. Also, it can depend on the book. Some books are easier to write pitches for, while others don’t have obvious hooks and can be really difficult to pin down.

What’s that you say about hooks? A hook is the basis of every good pitch. It’s the selling point, the unique thing about your story that makes it different to all the other stories out there. A hook is NOT the same as a trope. A trope is a convention or framework you can hang a story on – friends to lovers, older brother’s best friend, secret baby, etc. But a hook is what makes YOUR friends to lovers story different from all the other friends to lovers stories out there.

I did tell you this wasn’t easy right? 🙂

I’ve found a good way to figure out your hook is to think about who you’re pitching to. Editor? Agent? Direct to reader?  If it’s an editor or agent, think about what that particular editor or agent is looking for. Go to their websites, follow them on Twitter, whatever, then craft your pitch not only to emphasize you have what they’re looking for, but also why YOURS is different.

For example, a couple of years ago, I did a pitch to Mills and Boon for the Presents line. Now for Presents, they were looking for traditional stories with ‘a new twist’. Which meant my pitch had to include ‘a new twist’. Luckily for me, the story I wanted to pitch had a  twist that was obvious from the get-go: it was a sheikh story and my heroine was an oil baron.  I hadn’t read a Presents with a female oil baron before and I thought that was  different enough to make it interesting and hopefully catch the editor’s attention.

If you guessed that my hook was that oil dude was a woman, you’d be right.  🙂

Right, so once you’ve figured out your hook, then you have to write the pitch. And what you don’t want to do with a pitch is make it a really, really tiny synopsis of your whole story. A pitch is designed to pique interest, to generate questions not answer them. To make the editor/agent/reader go ‘hey, this looks interesting. I want to know more’.  So what you want to include is your hook, a glimpse of your character,  and their conflict/set-up (with a pitch the conflict is usually external)

Down below is the pitch I wrote for the Presents pitch competition:

 Oil baroness Lily Harkness isn’t so much steel magnolia as titanium cactus. She’s used to living in a man’s world and she plays to win. She wants exclusive oil rights to ensure her company remains at the top and she’s not walking away empty handed.

 Sheikh Isma’il al Zahara rules his country his way. Always in command, he has his own plans for his country’s oil and it’s not just about the money. But he’s intrigued by the buttoned up business woman who’s come to his country to strike a deal.

 Lily’s control is tested when Isma’il turns his charm on her but it’s the darkness beneath the Sheikh’s easy facade that threatens to claim her…body and soul!

So as you can see, I’ve got my hook (lady oil dude).  I’ve also got glimpse of her character (titanium cactus not steel magnolia. Playing to win). And I’ve got a hint of the external conflict (exclusive oil rights). Same with the hero.  (Always in command. Own plans for his country. etc).  This pitch got picked in the competition so it was pretty successufl. We don’t talk about the R on the actual story though… 😉

Tip: I find it’s easier to craft a pitch when you emphasize your characters’ external opposition to each other. Like above: Lily wants the oil rights, but Isma’il has his own plans. It’s an good way of giving the editors a taste of what/how your conflicts might operate.

But what about if it’s for Twitter? Like #PitMad? Well then the challenge is on, my friend, because you have only 140 characters to get it right. And when it’s that short, all you want is the hook.


Prickly oil baroness vs commanding sheikh. She wants his oil rights. He wants her soul. Who will win the first round?

Or this (from my GR ad for Having Her – which was my most successful ad ever):

She’s got the snark but he’s got the control. Who knew her best friend’s older brother would be so hot? Or that she’d love being his slave?

 In that one I have the trope (best friend’s older brother), plus my hook – a master/slave relationship. This one was for readers rather than editors so I was trying to think about what would pique a reader’s interest. And slave loving with her best friend’s dominant older brother appeared to be just the thing. 😉

So, what if you can’t find the hook?  Well, some books are ‘hookier’ than others. I have certain books that don’t pitch well mainly because the hook is less apparent. For example, my first Billionairen novella. It’s a one night stand billionaire/virgin book. So far, so like every other billionaire book out there. What’s the hook? Well, my virgin is the daughter of a crime lord and a hacker. Apart from that? It’s kind of my voice and the characters that make the story different and that’s hard to put in a pitch. The third book in the series, my hook is way more obvious. It’s even in the title. Billionaire Biker. A mash-up of both billionaires and bikers, that I’m hoping people who are fans of both might like. 🙂

The other thing to note about a hook is that if you think you don’t have one, then it could be time to start looking deeper into your story. Is it too generic? Are there ways you can twist it to make it less so?

Anyway, I’ll share with you the pitch that worked the best of all for me and it’s one I can’t even claim credit for it since it came from my agent. When she pitched my Nine Circles books to editors, her attention getting line was ‘billionaires in motorcycle boots’. I heard from several eds that that line in particular was enough for them to want to hear more. And the funniest part about it? In the initial partial, my hero wasn’t even wearing motorcycle boots!!

It’s all about atmosphere…But that’s for my next blog post on proposals.

Till then, pitch away! And if anyone has tips to share or questions, just leave a comment….


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