Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Creating a Conference Pitch

Conference times are here and many of us are faced with polishing pitches for agents and editors. All we have to do is summarize a 70,000-100,000 word book into one to three sentences. Nail the basic plot as we encapsulate the hero/heroines’ goals, motivations, and conflicts. That is, what the hero/heroine want and what keeps them from getting it--until the end, of course. Yikes!

It’s not as bad as it sounds. The key: agents/editors are friendly and encouraging and really do want to hear about our stories. They want us to succeed. The conference for our local chapter, Ozarks Romance Authors, is coming up so I thought it might be fun to look at ways a conference pitch can be put together.

This is certainly not an exhaustive examination. I hope this will prompt a discussion. If you’ve pitched, if you have a different way of stating the pitch process, please let us know here.

There are several different ‘kinds’ of pitches. Some are the same, referred to differently.
1.) An ‘Elevator Pitch’ is one sentence. (Can be the hook.)That’s so if you find yourself riding in an elevator with an agent/editor and you’re asked what you write, you can reveal it briefly and succinctly. Before the door opens and she can escape. (Joking. Not really:>)
2.) A 25-word pitch is one you may use when you’re called upon for a quick summary. Often the same as the elevator pitch. Can be the ‘hook.’
3.) A three-sentence pitch, which allows you to get a bit more into GMC. This can be:
4.) A one paragraph pitch, which agents often say they want to see in query letters.
5.) A longer pitch, crafted for a 5-10 minute pitch session, but it is still very brief. Note: even if a pitch is in a conference situation of, say, ten minutes, you will not talk for that long. Make it fit one of those listed above. You should leave time for the agent/editor to ask questions.
6.) The Hook--One sentence (need not be a grammatically correct) that summarizes what the story is about in a way that compels attention. Sometimes it can act as the elevator pitch.

Let’s look at the Conference Pitch.
Hook: The line that cuts to the basics the story in a way that catches interest. Look for the unique. The extreme conflicts or differences.

He’s everything a proper lady should never want and she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.
(My hook for SILVERHAWK. Not great but functional).

Length: The conference pitch should be as brief as you can make it, but it can be longer than one line. It can be longer than three lines. Try to keep it in one paragraph or two. No longer (Okay, in reality you can fudge if absolutely necessary BUT keep to three minutes. Don’t wander.) Boil it down to the basics.

What the Pitch Contains:
1.) The pitch should hone in on the central conflict. The main thing that’s keeping the h/h from achieving his/her goal--and, in romance, usually keeping them apart. But as Debra Dixon says, don’t focus just on the romance; of course there’s a romance with a HEA.
2.) Avoid too many proper names. Use designations of careers or titles instead. If names are necessary, use only the main characters--usually hero/heroine.
3.) For your one line hook, avoid all proper names.

One formula:
Hero/heroine wants or needs to do something (GOAL) but is prevented from getting/doing it (CONFLICT/OBSTACLE) and not achieving this goal can lead to (SOMETHING BAD)

You may follow with the opposite h/h goal/obstacle-conflict etc. If you can summarize into a very few words, you might include a motivation or the why.

Further information on pitches can also be found on Kimberly Killion’s website. Kim spoke at the ORA conference last year:

Another formula--from her site:
“TITLE is a GENRE about MAIN CHARACTER, an ADJECTIVE/DESCRIPTION, who wants to DEFAULT ACTION. But when CALL TO ACTION, he must STORY GOAL, which seems impossible because CENTRAL CONFLICT.” (Default action is the one that seems to be the main one but really isn’t.)
In other words: The DEFAULT ACTION is what s/he thinks s/he wants in the beginning. When the CALL TO ACTION comes, the h/h goes after the STORY GOAL but the CENTRAL CONFLICT prevents it. (Of course, the characters undergo a change by the happy ending.)

As an example, here’s one of my basic pitches. “SILVERHAWK is a 96,000 word medieval romance set in England (GENRE.) It’s about a knight who is everything a proper lady should never want, and a lady who is everything a bastard mercenary can never have. (HOOK)

Sir Giles of Cambrai has come to England to kill his father. (GOAL/ also DEFAULT ACTION) But depriving the man of the one thing he wants more than anything will make revenge sweeter. So Giles kidnaps the old lord’s new betrothed who is his last chance at a legitimate heir. But in the process Giles uncovers a plot against England.(CONFLICT) Now he’s faced with a dilemma—take the lady or find the traitor. (CALL TO ACTION.) What’s a good mercenary to do? Both, of course. (STORY GOAL(S)

For her part, Lady Emelin has had enough. At last she has a chance for a home and family—the two things she’s always wanted. (GOAL AND MOTIVATION) But now she’s been abducted. (CONFLICT) Trouble is, he’s the very image of the knight she’s always dreamed of. Still, she’s not going to let him spoil her last chance. Her only option is to escape. (CALL TO ACTION/more CONFLICT)

For Giles, hauling back the lady every times she sneaks away while he hunts down the traitors is a greater challenge then even he can imagine. But the greatest challenge to both is the fire that blazes between them. For he’s everything a proper lady should never want, and she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.

This pitch can be tightened even more for those shorter situations. It is obviously not a three liner. It does contain the one-liner or hook. But as a conference pitch:
1.) It fits within the time frame with plenty of time for other person to ask questions and ask for partial or full.
2.) And--a very good thing--your conference pitch can also be used for your query letter.

Preparing for pitch:
1.) Jot the whole thing or the main points down on 3 x 5 cards. For RWA Nationals last year, I wrote the entire pitch in short paragraphs so I could refer to it as needed. Practice reading it aloud so it become natural to say the words. So it sounds like you’re just sitting there, telling your best friend what the story’s about.
2.) Read it over and over until you are so familiar with it that if your mind goes blank, you know the story and you won’t panic. If you change a word or two--that’s fine.
I was nervous, and even though I had notes and had ‘memorized’ it, I found myself improvising. And when the questions came, I could comfortably answer them.
3.) Should you memorize it? Whatever works for you. But if you do, I recommend reading it and delivering it so much, you know it in all its variations.

Be prepared for questions. One editor asked me what set my book apart from the other medievals the company published.

In addition to Kim’s site, here is a link to a good piece on pitching by Susan Lyons.

What’s your favorite method of handling pitch composition or delivery. Please share.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writers' Wednesday Welcomes Amanda Barke

Welcome to Writers’ Wednesday. I’ve had a bit of a ‘holiday’ from posting while I worked with my Blogger account. I’m hopeful everything is posting properly now. But I’m so glad to be back. I’ve missed you all.

Amanda J. Barke is today’s guest. Amanda is an author, editor, freelance journalist, singer/songwriter, and motivational speaker. Her work as a freelance journalist can be found in the OZARKS’ SENIOR LIVING NEWSPAPER, THE OZARKS MOUNTAINEER MAGAZINE, MISSOURI LIFE MAGAZINE and various other regional publications. Her other articles can be found online at,, and As a motivational speaker, she travels all over Missouri promoting literacy in schools, teaching fellow writers, and motivating teens to follow their dreams. In 2010, she served as president of the Springfield Writers' Guild.

You are certainly a busy lady, Amanda. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to be here. Your current book is set in our 50th state. Why did you choose Hawaii?

I have always loved Hawaiian culture. The novel A DISTANT RUMBLE is a Christian Fiction, Action/Adventure set in modern day Hawaii.

I also have a children’s picture book titled THE SLEEPY LITTLE SUN. I wrote this little nursery rhyme to encourage my son to stay in bed until the sunrise.

I’ve never been to Hawaii but, like you, I find the culture fascinating. And I like the idea of an action/adventure Christian work. It sounds intriguing. What’s your next project for publication?

I am currently illustrating my second children’s book titled, HATS ON, HATS OFF. It is to help encourage children fighting cancer.

That’s such an important topic, Amanda. I understand the number of children who are diagnosed with some form of the disease is much larger than one might imagine. It would be so great to have a book specifically for them, that can offer comfort and reassurance. It should be welcomed.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Study the market continually, and research your topic extensively.

Sounds like excellent advice. Thanks, again, for joining us today.

For more information on Amanda’s many writing projects log on to, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writers' Wednesday Welcomes Misty Burke

Welcome to Writers’ Wednesday. Each week the spotlight is on authors, both published and on the journey to publication. They are asked to share a writing tip, as well. Today, I’m happy to feature Misty Burke, a fellow Ozarks Romance Author as well as RWA member. Misty is finding success in epublishing both longer and shorter works.

Misty, your book, THE MADAME OF GRAVESTONE (Book 1 in the Corset Chronicles) is a fast paced steampunk romance. Steampunk seems to be hot property these days. Would you please tell us what draws you to this genre?

I have already written paranormal and contemporary romances. So I guess it was time to branch out into something new. The idea of a steampunked western sounded like fun. Please feel free to read an excerpt from THE MADAME OF GRAVESTONE at:

I did, and it sounds very interesting. It’s billed as the first book in the Corset Chronicles. Is your next project a follow-up entry in the Chronicles?

Yes. I’m excited to say that I’m working on the next book in this series. I hope to finish THE SHERIFF OF GRAVESTONE this summer.

What are some of your other works?

I have a few that are current.

CHASING TABBY was just released from Secret Cravings Publishing.

THE LAST WATCHER was released in December ’10 from Evernight Publishing.

“Jack Frost” in ‘TWAS A DARK & DELICIOUS CHRISTMAS anthology was released in December ’10 from Evernight Publishing.

And coming soon …

TRUTH OR DARE will be released through Summerhouse Publishing in July

CATCHING HELL will be released through Secret Cravings Publishing in August ‘11.

AND MEETING ONLINE BITES will be released through MuseItHOT Publishing in November ’11.

I’m impressed that you write so fast. I can recall when we met not all that long ago, you were working on your first story. What one tip would you offer writers?

Writing is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Between rejection letters and bad reviews, an author can feel like there are more downs than ups. “Get out now,” might even be the best advice for those that don’t truly love to write.

But for those that do, those who can’t wait to fill the page with another chapter, my advice is to always enjoy your craft. Don’t let the business of writing take away the pleasure of storytelling. Don’t let the harsher realities of the profession take away your excitement for the written word. Write because you enjoy it!

“Writing is not for the faint of heart.” How true that is. But I also like your adjuring us to “always enjoy your craft.” It is so easy to get lost in the overwhelming details that we sometimes run the risk of losing sight of why we began writing in the first place. We love to tell stories.

Thanks so much for being here, Misty.

Barb, I’d like to offer a FREE PDF copy of THE MADAME OF GRAVESTONE to one lucky commenter. I’ve asked a question on my links page. Just go there, find the question, then answer it here on the blog, in a comment.

Here’s the link.

The question is right there in plain sight. Good luck everyone. Hope you love the story.

You can visit Misty at her various publishers’ sites or on her website:

AND--for Misty's give-away, we'll hold comments open for two days, so if you're reading this on digest, as I know several of you are, please don't hesitate to join the fun.