Whether on Twitter, blog contests, or in a query, effective pitches must tell a logical story
I shred tons of pitches. Most of them fall into four categories: too vague, genre confusion, no voice, and logic problems. There are plenty of great articles about writing pitches so if you’re just starting out take the opportunity to read a few. My favorite is Laura Edits. There’s lots of information there, so take your time.
This particular pitch caught my interest because it followed the standard advice, (details have been altered to protect the innocent.) but produced some strange results:
Businessman Dean finally makes Forbes 500, then he gets cursed with a life draining monster. Now he must set a young gang member on the right path before he bombs half the city.
Make sure all the elements of your pitch have an obvious connection
How do these four elements connect? A businessman, a curse, a teen gang member, and bombings. What is the monster’s connection to the businessman? How do the two of them connect to the teen gang member? And how does stopping the bombings make the monster go away?
Right now it seems random.
It has the formula: x must do Y or consequences, but I’m unable to connect the dots.
While a pitch is limited in space, it must still tell a cohesive story
When a business tycoon’s latest venture accidentally unleashes a life-sucking demon…
Now we see that Dean has actively caused this problem. It doesn’t just pop out of nowhere.
When a rival entrepreneur curses Dean with a succubus…
The second example shows the beginning of a conflict, and therefore the reason for the curse. It’s also improved because the monster/curse is named. This, of course, only works if the monster in the story is one that’s known. If it’s unique to your story it will only confuse matters.
The second question raised in the original pitch is: how does doing a good deed make the monster go away? This implies that a fifth unnamed party (my suspicions float to either divine or clerical) has given Dean the answer.
his desperation for a cure sends him to a local witch who has a demand of her own…
his only clue is a cryptic note from a teen gang member…
Now we see why he thinks befriending the teen will cure his problem. Without this piece of information, we have no way to connect the two ideas together. The idea that just doing one good deed will fix what ails you isn’t believable. Make sure we see cause and effect.
Now for the consequences.
In the original, we have the consequences of dying with the complication of mass murder. These are both fine, but I think there may be room to add some characterization. Dean is presented with a situation “do this or die.” Since very few people would choose the “or die” option there is little to entice the reader further. Instead, try to make the consequences more specific to Dean. Give him a reason to struggle with the decision. Since Dean is a businessman, we could threaten more than his life, we can threaten his character.
Tailor consequences to your character, threaten what they* love.
but saving his life means forsaking his business to befriend a teen gang member with plans for mass murder.
Having death for the stakes does little to distinguish your MS, but adding a little extra element to personalize it to Dean gives us a glimpse into what he really holds dear.
Let’s put it all together:
As a query hook:
Days before his company’s IPO, Dean’s rival congratulates him with a gift-wrapped Succubus. Now the only thing draining faster than Dean’s life is his bank account as he puts every paranormalist in the city on his payroll. Unfortunately, it seems his best investment for a cure is a mystical teen gang member with an unhealthy bomb obsession.
When Dean makes Forbes 500, his rival sends him a congratulatory Succubus. Desperate for a cure, Dean’s bank account’s now draining faster than his life. His best investment: a teen gang member obsessed with bombs.
As a Twitter pitch
When Dean’s business rival curses him with a Succubus, he’s suddenly faced with a problem $ can’t cure. THINNER + SCROOGE
The formula is a great stepping off point, but you are pitching a story. Make sure your pitch tells a cohesive one.
One of my pitches has been cited by a publisher as one that worked. What is interesting to note is that this pitch was the least favorite among my CP’s. But I loved it, and I trusted my judgment. Read the article and decide for yourself.
*making use of the recently legalized singular “they”