One sentence pitch

We're going to start small with our pitching and work our way up to the big stuff. Fortunately, the smaller the pitch the more likely you are to use it. After all, most of the time you only have a few seconds or minutes with an editor, agent, or possible reader of your book. With the exception of pre-arranged appointments, you are rarely going to have 10 or 15 minutes to just sit back and chat. And if time is really short, you may have to try to pitch your book to someone in a single sentence. For example, you go to a conference to hear an editor speak. After the session there's a huge line to speak with the editor. By the time it's your turn, the editor's handler looks stressed and annoyed and the actual editor looks a bit harrassed and overwhelmed. This is not the time to go into a lengthy discussion of your book. Instead walk up and give the editor your one sentence pitch and ask permission to send the manuscript. The editor will say yes or no and give any pertinent information on how to submit if it wasn't already covered in the session, and both of you can now move on. And trust me, the editor is greatful that you were able to be so concise, clear, and professional.

But what exactly is a one sentence pitch? It's exactly what it sounds like. It's where you have to distill the very essence of your entire 60k work novel into one itty-bitty sentence. And I do mean a small sentence. This is not the time to try to write some convoluted complex-complex-compound-complex sentence. Come to think of it, there is never a time to write that kind of sentence. You want a simple, clear, oftentimes compound sentence that tells what kind of book you've written, the intended market, and a very brief synopsis of the plot. This is not the time to get into the characters or subplots or mention the riveting plot twist on page 239. Your sentence will need to be a bit general in some respects but still show how your work is different from all the other books on the market. Here are 2 examples of one sentence pitches:

The Emerald Tablet -- In this midgrade science fiction novel, a telepathic boy discovers that he is not really human but a whole different species and that he must save a sunken continent hidden under the ocean.

The Book of Nonsense -- In my new midgrade fnatasy novel, a pair of twins must reclaim from an ancient evil a powerful book which if read could be used to enslave the world.

In both sentences, I did similiar things. I mentioned the genre (science fiction or fantasy) and the intended audience (midgrade). Had I been speaking to someone not familiar with industry terminology like a kid or parent or other potential reader, I would not have used midgrade but would have said something like "kid book" or "book for middle schoolers" or something like that. Remember to adapt your pitch to the person your pitching to. After that I gave a extremely brief synopsis. There are no character or place names. The words Benjamin and Lemuria (Emerald Tablet) or Daphne or Dexter (Book of Nonsense) did not appear. The person being pitched doesn't need to know the specifics right now. Save that for when you have more time or the person shows more interest.

Now, both of these sentences only take a moment to read, but they took forever to write. Do not get discouraged if yours also takes forever.

Now I think it is time to practice. This is not the pitch contest I was talking about earlier, just a little practice. Feel free to post your one sentence pitch and to comment on others. However, if you do comment, you MUST be kind and polite. We are all trying to help one another not show our own superiority. I will remove any comment that is rude, offensive, or just plain unkind. I look forward to seeing everyone's attempts.


Deren said...

A Sand Castle Against the Tide - In this epic, contemporary fantasy for sophisticated young readers, a boy discovers the wonders and terrors of the infrastructure behind the ordinary world and must find the strength to stand against the tide when greedy men unleash the Dark River on his home.

PJ Hoover said...

Oooh, exciting! I'm looking forward to seeing your thoughts.

Wakai Writer said...

Yay, another fantasy writer!

Daren- In my eyes, epic and contemporary fantasy are usually different genres. If yours bridges both that's awesome but the one-sentence pitch may not be the place to bring that up. Maybe pick whichever it's closest to? Also pick either "wonders" or "terrors" and I think you'll have a snappier pitch.

My turn! Hit me back. ;-p

Seals of the Dragon - The first of three high fantasy novels for the teens and twenties crowd in which a 20-year old swordsman must stop a group of renegade necromancers from releasing a dragon even as he realizes that his strength to do so comes from a lineage that reaches back to the dragon itself.

And a brief request---I need an adjective that means "world-destroying" to put in front of "dragon" but can't find a good one. Anyone know any?

Deren said...

Wakai Writer,

Replying in reverse:

How about, "apocalyptic dragon?" - that's the first world-destroying adjective that comes to mind (besides, "Ragnarökian" is probably too obscure).

As for the pitch, my first inclination (given my vast expertise on the topic) is that it could be shorter. Perhaps something like:

"In this, the beginning of a high fantasy trilogy for young adults, a 20-year-old swordsman must stop reengage necromancers from releasing an apocalyptic dragon that may be his own ancestor."

I've probably just done terrible violence to your story, but I hope the suggestion illustrates how the pitch could be tighter.

As for my own pitch, your first comment about epic and contemporary fantasy being almost an oxymoron illustrates my problem. Technically, the adjectives are correct: The scope of the story is epic, the setting is contemporary, and the story involves elements that extend what the majority of us accept as "real." On the other hand, a bladed staff is about as close as my story comes to the first ingredient in the traditional sword and sorcery recipe. If there's a better way to position the story with respect to genre, I'm all ears.

Robin Bev said...

Hit me...

Shadowed--A young Adult fantasy novel about a 15-year-old girl whose magical heiritage begins to destroy the world she managed to cut out for herself despite her violent past.

Judy said...

KNOWING JOSEPH, for mid-grade readers, is the story of Brian, who struggles with the fact that his younger brother has autism, his own need to be perfect because of it, and the bullies who taunt him because of his brother.

Miriam said...

I think you guys are getting it. If I could put my 2 cents in this. This is houw I would suggest you research and formulate your pitches.

Open a PW Publishers Weekly Magazine (one of the Spring or Fall Children's issues) and look at how the publishing companies describle each title listed. PW gives us 1-2 short sentences per title. As a reviewer or reader of PW, I need to be able to get the jest of the book in those 1 or 2 sentence descriptions.

See if that helps.

That was my 2 cents.


Wakai Writer said...

Thanks for your help--and since nobody else is, I'll take a stab at robin and judy.

robin- Looks really good, but "cut out for herself" sounds a bit odd, maybe "created for herself" instead?

judy- I've got nothing, it looks great.

I've also re-worked mine a it cheating to ask for another reading? ;-p

Seals of the Dragon- A high fantasy novel for readers in their teens and twenties in which 20 year-old swordsman Litnig Jin must stop a group of renegade necromancers from releasing a dragon even as he deals with the realization that it is from the dragon itself that he draws his unnatural strength.

I'm still not sold on "apocalyptic" as a good adjective, it's just so rarely used that I think it would distract from the pitch. I also included the main character's name despite Buried's advice (/duck). I think it makes it a bit more memorable...

beth said...

I'd love any comments about this:

THE RED THREAD: When Chloe gets sucked out of her normal teenage life in America and lands in a magical world where monsters are real but indoor plumbing isn't, she has no idea that the biggest challenge she'll face isn't getting home: it's convincing her brother to leave behind the addicting magic of the new world and come home with her.

beth said...

My comments on others:
-Daren: Could you tell me more about the "terrors of the infrastructure"? I know this is a one sentence bit, but aside from the Dark River, I have trouble sensing the fantasy aspect of your work. Are the terrors technical megalomaniacs? Is the world really run by dark fairies? Are we dealing with men or magic? ...although I had no problems with epic and contemporary; the comma made me understand your original intent.

-Wakai Writer: Your revision is MUCH better, IMO. I think "young adult" covers the teens/twenties age group and doesn't sound as clunky. I wonder if you need the renegade necromancers? How about: "A high fantasy YA novel in which 20 year-old swordsman Litnig Jin fights to stop the release of a destructive dragon even as he deals with the realization that it is from the dragon itself that he draws his unnatural strength."

I like what you've got going on, but I think it is a bit too long. (Maybe I'm being hypocritical; mine's long, too.) It leaves me wondering my his ancient lineage is important—does it indicate that he's not who he thinks he is? Is the crux of your story about the hero finding the dragon, or finding himself? ETA: just saw your revision. Much better.

-Robin Bev: I'd like to know more about the setting. "...a 15-year-old girl from _________" would fill in that blank for me. It'd let me know if I'm reading a story about an alternate version of Earth, or set in an entirely different world. Also, your choice of the word "world" in "destroy the world she managed to cut out for herself" seems odd to me. How about "home" or "peace"?

-Judy: I like it. The opening seems a bit clunky. How about: "My mid-grade novel KNOWING JOSEPH tells the story of Brian..."

Deren said...


First, for your pitch, how about trimming it a bit to something like:

The Red Thread - When a normal American teenager lands in a magical world where monsters are real but indoor plumbing isn't, finding her way home is nothing compared to the challenge of convincing her brother to leave the addicting magic of the new world behind.

Regarding my pitch, you asked,

"Could you tell me more about the "terrors of the infrastructure"? ... aside from the Dark River, I have trouble sensing the fantasy aspect of your work."

Without belaboring my work too much, the direct answer to Beth's question about the terrors of the infrastructure in my novel includes walking rectangular slabs of concrete with scythes for arms and tarks, voracious creatures that look like a cross between a wolf and a starfish.

The fundamental challenge with a one-sentence pitch is that the form is so compressed that each word must deliver as much meaning as possible to as many people as possible. In my case, I may be tripping over a genre label and the conventions associated with it: When I characterize my novel as a "fantasy," I'm using that word to mean fantastic extensions to the world we know. But I suspect many people tend to think of mythic or legendary elements when they hear the word "fantasy." (I toyed with the term "magical realism," which might work in a literal sense but I have only a vague idea of its connotations in a literary sense.)

So, given the additional comments about my novel, does the term "fantasy" and its connotations help or hinder my case?

More generally, what is the best source for consensus definitions of the genre terms commonly used in the industry?

Robin Bev said...

Can I try again?

Shadowed--A Young Adult Fantasy Novel about a modern day 15-year-old American girl, whose magical heritage begins to destroy the life she managed to create for herself.

Deren said...

Robin Beb,

I read your pitch several times until I realized that I was unsatisfied because it sounds passive - something is happening to your heroine but I have no idea what she might do about it.

What about something like this:

Shadowed - In this young adult fantasy, a 15-year-old girl sets out to stop the forces trying to unravel the life she managed to create for herself only to find that she and her magical heritage may be her own worst enemy.

Robin Bev said...

My story is so complex that I'm not sure how to describe it in one sentence. Do any of these work better?

Shadowed--A young adult fantasy novel about a modern 15-year-old American girl who struggles to accept the truth of her heritage after it's given her so much trouble in life.

a 15-y-o girl who has found her niche in life by helping those magically inclined see their dreams come true, but when her own magical heritage begins to tear her away from her life, she must figure out where her life will go next.

A 15-year-old girls violent past begins to catch up to her after years of it causing her misery, forcing her to redefine herself as a person.

A 15-year-old girl who has only known half of her heritage, is faced with the choice of accepting what a man, claiming to be her father, says her other half is and accepting the responsibility that comes with it.

A 15-year-old girl has never understood why her grandfather hated her, even before her mothers death, but soon learns why when a stranger enters her life to reveal her heritage and the responsibility that comes with it.

A 15-year-old who has always wanted revenge for her mother who she saw her murdered 9 years ago, and is finally given the chance, but along with the chance comes the truth of her heritage and the choices that come with it.


Judy said...

Thanks for the comments on KNOWING JOSEPH...Beth, I like the suggested change.

I am a member of a writers' group for marketing, and the first thing any new member has to do is to present a one-sentence pitch for their books in 25 words or less, so the shorter the better, it seems.

Robin Bev, I think I like the one Deren wrote best, just above your list.

Robin Bev said...

I would, but it's not an accurate description of the story... This is what I've been using for a teaser description...

Janyce's oldest memories are
of terrifying violence.  After her grandfather's vague answers provide no solace, Janyce gives up trying to figure out her past to contemplate her present.
Like figuring out how to make a vampire human again.

Unfortunately for Janyce,
just because she has let the past go doesn't mean it has let go of her.
When unexplained events invade her life, Janyce finds herself in a world she's only had a taste of before. Now, her life will change forever or end entirely.

Robin Bev said...

Shadowed--A young adult fantasy novel about a 15-year-old girl, whose oldest memories are of terrifying violence, but when unexplained events invade her life, she finds herself in a world she's only had a taste of.

Wakai Writer said...

Robin, I think your pitch is in the sentence from your teaser that reads: "When unexplained events invade her life, Janyce finds herself in a world she's only had a taste of before."

Just replace "unexplained events" with a two or three word description of one, and add a modifier to "world" and you'll be alright.

Also, if you can't boil your story down to one sentence, you need to take some time and think through why not. It's really important to do.

Finally, there's some good advice being given over at Kristin Nelson's Pub Rants on pitches, which might be worth taking a look at.

The Buried Editor said...

This is going so much better than I could have anticipated. I'm intrigued by the pitches people have written and the great feedback that is being given. I'm going to try to get my thoughts on the next kind of pitch together and get that up tonight or tomorrow.

Individual thoughts on the various threads:
Epic does not denote sword and sorcery -- that would be high fantasy although to be a true high fantasy all action must take place on a secondary world. Epic merely denotes large and grand in scope so it is technically correct to have a contemporary epic or a historical epic, etc.

Wakai, I agree with the others that your sentence could be more concise. I like the second sentence much better but it still can be shorter. Use young adult instead of the age, remove the age of the protagonist, and tighten the end of the sentence.

Beth -- I like the revision. It works much better.

Robin -- Everything really can be boiled down to one sentence, but I can see why you might be having a problem. There appear to be many strands and threads running through your story. But by far, I think your best is:

Shadowed--A young adult fantasy novel about a 15-year-old girl, whose oldest memories are of terrifying violence, but when unexplained events invade her life, she finds herself in a world she's only had a taste of.

Based on your teaser copy, this seems like the most accurate and interesting reflection of the work. However, I appreciated seeing your persistence and refusal to give up even when it appeared you were getting frustrated. We all get frustrated during writing and whether it's perfecting pitches or dialog, we all just have to push through it until it is right.

Wakai Writer said...

Thanks for your help all---I've pared it down a bit again and thought I'd toss up the latest version before Buried changes the topic tomorrow :-).

Seals of the Dragon- A high fantasy novel for young adults in which swordsman Litnig Jin must stop a group of renegade necromancers from releasing a dragon despite realizing that he draws his strength from the dragon itself.

I think it's quite a bit tighter, again, thanks. :-)

I did have one question though--I've always associated "Young Adult" with those books in the library that have "YA" stickers on them and tend to be aimed at a middle-school and younger audience. I've come to the conclusion over the course of this discussion that I'm wrong about that, but I was wondering what exactly, then, the term does connote?

Robin Bev said...

To me the definition of Young Adult is anyone 12-18 years of age.
What you're thinking of, I believe would be mid-grade, which I've sometimes seen associated with the Young Adult genre. Mid-grade tends to be for the 10-14 age group.
Hope that answers your question.

Colorado Writer said...

In my middle grade novel called The Marble Queen of Idaho Falls, Freedom Jane McKenzie, mibster extraordinaire, navigates the world of boys, Barbie and brothers in a humorous, coming-of-age story set in 1959.

Robin Bev said...

Colorado Writer--
I think what you have is more of a character sketch. But what we need is the plot.

pat said...

I hope I am not to late. My pitch:

In the days before the liberation of Paris,(August 1945) Mimi, an orphan, is sent work at the Prefecture of police lost and found. A ventriloquist's dummy, a stick of dynamite, a briefcase with an urgent message, are all items that come to the lost and found, and Mimi-- and connect her to the saving of Paris.

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