May 27, 2010

Getting Your Novel Pitch-Ready: What I Learned at Pennwriters

I mentioned in an earlier post that CJ Lyons gave an amazing seminar on pitches. Basically, she told us to whittle our books down to as few words as possible. This helps us to understand what our book is really about.
There are different kinds of pitches. I gave a ten-minute pitch at the conference to an agent. That's a pretty long time. With those, it's important to let the agent ask questions and let it be more like a conversation. Otherwise, the agent will probably lose interest. (I'm not sure I would want to listen to myself for ten minutes straight.)
But you may have also heard about elevator pitches. These are pitches that are so short, you could give them to an agent if you were caught in an elevator with them--maybe 15 seconds. The goal is to give them just enough that they want to know more. CJ said,
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
Start with your tag line/log line/hook. This is one sentence, as few words as possible, while evoking as much emotion and imagery as possible. If you're familiar with archetypes, this would be perfect. For example, we had one guy give his pitch, which included "creationism" in it. CJ said "God exists" is more powerful. Everyone has some idea of what God is, where creationism takes thought. Many don't know what it means. Keep it simple.

The hook that CJ helped me make for Shadow Bound is:
A ghost comes back from the dead to save the girl he loves.

Okay, so you have a hook line. Sometimes that's all you need, the conversation will evolve naturally from there. [It did for me.] Other times you use it simply to attract attention and move into a more detailed description. This is where that 15-25 word story summary mentioned above comes in handy. The hook line hooks the reader into wanting (or asking to hear) the short summary.

CJ Lyons loves to help writers, so she gave us a handout with a ton of useful resources. First, she listed some books (the comments in parentheses are from me):
Noah Lukeman THE FIRST FIVE PAGES (read it. loved it.)
Stephen King ON WRITING (a must-read)
Christopher Vogler THE WRITER'S JOURNEY
James Frey THE KEY
Donald Maas WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (another must-read)
Dwight Swain TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER (this, for me personally, is my all-time favorite, most helpful book.)

Next, she gave some great websites:
Association of Author Representatives (check out the FAQ for great questions to ask potential agents)
Publisher's Lunch (industry news)
Buzz, Balls, and Hype (book marketing advice)
Backspace (writers forums and articles)
Publishers Weekly: news, blogs, features, deals, reviews
QueryTracker (an absolute must for anyone submitting to agents and now publishers!)
Nathan Bransford (an agent at Curtis Brown, great blog, wonderful links to everything!)

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth, CRITICAL CONDITION, due out December, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. Contact her at


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Thank you for sharing, Emily. These are wonderful links. Just visited AOA.

CJ Lyons said...

Emily, I'm so happy my workshop was helpful!!! Can't wait to see your story hit the bookstore shelves!

Unknown said...

salarsen: It's a great site, but it's so full of information, it can be overwhelming. But I'll definitely use the FAQ when the time comes!

Cj: thanks so much. You're such an inspiration.

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