Pitches and hooks? Gah - get to the point, wummun!
A blog-reader, Sarah from the Slushbusters blog, asked me to say something about pitches because they're running a Polish your Pitch comp over there. [Not in Poland - yes, I was confused, too.] So, I will say something. Inevitably, I will say several things.
First, the word "pitch", in this context, means, "the short, snappy thing which will beautifully and compellingly describe your book in such a way that no agent or editor who handles such books could possibly pass on by and no reader who reads such books could possibly not read it." Sometimes when we say "pitch" we mean "the whole approach and submission". That's not what we're talking about here.
So, your hooky pitch describes your book in a very few seconds [because that's all you may get]. It is never too early to work out how you will pitch your hook as you never know when you might need it. For example:
- At any point during the writing of your tome, someone may say to you, "So, what's your book about, then?" [They always call you "then", for some reason.] You will blanche internally, and possibly externally. If you don't have a hook, you will then start gabbling and using phrases like "sort of", "and then", "kind of", "well", "oh, and also", "but the thing is", "to cut a long story short", "mysteriously", "and meanwhile, while all that's going on" and, finally, "well, I can't really explain but it'll all become clear when you read it." And your audience will have drifted away to cut its toe-nails.
- At many points after publication, the same question will be asked.
- But, way before that happy point, you certainly need it when you first approach an agent or editor formally.
- You may even bump into such a person in unforeseen circs, and you may suddenly feel the urge to pitch your book there and then. If you start waffling now and getting involved in sub-plots, you've lost your fish.
- Also, your agent will need to pitch it to a publisher and your editor will need to pitch it to the sales and marketing people, who wouldn't dream of actually reading your book. They need your hook and it needs to be simple, because they like simple things.
- Sales and marketing people will then start writing Amazon blurbs, still without having read the book. They will certainly need your hook then.
Or them, because actually you need two forms of hooky pitch. You need the written one, all beautifully scripted with not a word out of place. And you need the spoken one, the one that sounds like [because it is] you talking from the heart about your fabulous book.
Pointy point about hooky pitches: if you plan your hook beforehand, it can hugely help you focus your book while you're writing it. I usually write a blurb for my books before I write anything else. After all, if I know what it's about, that kind of helps.
Tips about your hooky pitch:
- It must be short. How short? As short as possible while still saying what the book is about. [Ignore all those annoying** people, including important agents, who say you have to use maximum 3 sentences.The thing about rules like that is that you then write really long sentences and anyone who is hung up on number of sentences isn't really thinking about the power of language. I could write the examples below in max three sentences if I wanted to, but they'd be no better, and actually would be clunky and ugly. So, people with unhelpful rules, please
butt outremove your posteriors.]
- Brainstorm some words that seem to encapsulate your book - and use those words.
- Imagine that when you begin, the listener /reader is expecting you to be just another idiot wannabe who thinks she's written a great book. Your hook has one objective: prove them wrong.
- Inject some passion into it, whether it's written or spoken.
- Be confident but not cocky. Don't say um and sort of.
Here's the sort of thing I'd say in conversation if someone asked me, "What's your next book about, then?"
"It's called Wasted, partly because it's about alcohol, but it's really about risk, danger and passion - and wasted chances. Jack - who has had luck so horrible that he thinks it can never get any worse - plays incredibly risky games with chance, tossing a coin and obeying it, whatever the danger. Luck brings him the gorgeous Jess, whose mother is an alcoholic, but in one terrifying night luck runs out for Jack and Jess and then you, the reader, have to toss the coin and determine the ending: life, or death?"And then, if they were still listening, I'd go into a bit more detail, either mentioning the Schrodinger's Cat angle, or the alternative realities during the book, or the alcohol elements, depending on the audience. There are several things I could mention, each of which has worked well, but I judge it according to who's listening. For example, I might say, "Oh, and twice during the book I write two versions of events and then toss a coin to choose which one actually happens, so the reader sees one possibility disappear."
I do not then waffle on. Though I am sorely tempted. Obviously, given any encouragement, I would. Which happened the other day when I was talking to some teenagers who got very excited and we ended up having a conversation about causal determinism and Buddy Holly...
I cheated. That's actually the blurb on the back of the book. But I wrote that, too. So there."Wasted is a story of danger, passion and chance. Jack is obsessed by luck. He lets the toss of a coin rule his actions, whatever the risks. Chance brings him Jess, a beautiful singer who will change his life. But their luck won't last for ever. During a night of heady recklessness, they run out of choices. Now it's the reader's turn to take a risk: spin a coin and determine life...or death."
Anyway, please don't get tangled up in rules. Rules are offered by people like me who are trying to help and make things easier, but sometimes they don't. Every book is different and every book requires a different hooky pitch to describe its essence and to hook the reader's enthusiasm. So, it's up to you how you do it. Just get it right in as few words as you can. Inspire, intrigue and hook.
- Don't use one word more than necessary.
- Don't bother with minor characters and sub-plots. [Sub-plots may be mentioned in a longer query but not in this distillation.]
- Don't say how brilliant the book is. Avoid adjectives which describe the book.
- Don't second-guess the market by saying how popular it's going to be or how it's just made for the big screen.
- I can't actually think of any more things not to do, but I'm sure you can.
By the way, if I meet you, I will ask you, "So, then, what's your book about?" And you will tell me and then you will ask me the same question and we will be fans of each other for ever and ever.