With the ACFW Conference coming up in less than two weeks, lots of folks are fretting about their pitches. One or two lines? How can I reduce my entire 400-page novel into one or two lines?
The first and most obvious answer is to stop trying to tell absolutely everything in those two lines.
A pitch tells what the book is about–not its theme, not its subplot, not its overall take-away value. And definitely not every single plot point along the way from start to finish. The first step to developing your pitch is to strip the entire novel to its most basic, bare-wood plot. It’s not going to be pretty or particularly grabbing, but it gives you a starting point.
After I read Tosca Lee’s Demon: a Memoir, I wrote: “The story, at its most stripped-down, basic plot, is about a demon who takes on various human forms and appears at different times to tell his story to an editor at a publishing house. And it’s about the man to whom he tells his story.”
If I were designing the pitch for it, I’d write something like this: “As an editor in a large publishing house, Clay is used to being accosted by eager authors. But when a demon wants to tell Clay its story, the hook is irresistible: ‘My story is ultimately about you.'”
There are three elements in that pitch: the character in his usual state, the change or threat to that state, and the hook–all told in present tense.
If I strip Give the Lady a Ride to its unvarnished plot, it’s a romance about a New York socialite who inherits a Texas ranch she plans to sell until she starts to fall for the bull rider who runs it. The pitch: “When a New York socialite inherits a Texas ranch, she plans to sell and return home quickly. But when she starts to fall for the bull rider who runs it, she wants to extend her time in Texas, and can think of only one way: ‘Teach me to ride bulls.'”
[Snippit of the character’s life] + [but when] + [hook] = pitch
Often the hook is delivered in the form of a question. For The Cat Lady’s Secret: When Emily’s reputation is ruined in Houston, she returns to her hometown and her high school sweetheart. But when her past threatens their relationship, she finds her only hope lies behind the walls of a state prison, but can she face the trip?
What is your book about? Who is the main character? What is her life like before the inciting incident? What is that incident–the “but when” that shows the change she’s required to make or the threat to her status quo? Finally, what is the question you want foremost in your readers’ minds? For Demon: how could a demon’s story possibly be about Clay? For Ride: will the bull-riding heroine win the heart of the foreman? For Cat Lady: how can a trip to prison help–and will she go?
Once you get your pitch figured out, practice it. Write it down and tape it everywhere your eyes land daily. The bathroom mirror, the refrigerator door, the computer screen. Learn it well enough that you can snap it out in an instant, because if you’re going to the conference, you’ll have plenty of opportunity.