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.


  1. Your tips are spot on, Barb. If you know your story, you have nothing to worry about. The key thing to remember with any pitch - Have the Book Done! The rest is easy, with a little (okay, maybe a lot) practice.

    Good Luck to anyone pitching this season!

  2. Where was this when I was trying to write the darn pitch? I'm glad we have ten minutes because mine's running about two and if it was any shorter, I really don't know if I could get the point across. Probably just has something to do with being nervous.

    The biggest problem I'm facing now is that I sound very boring and monotone, but when I try to put some inflection on it, I sound overly dramatic.

  3. Very good advice, Barb! Everyone should read this.
    Still love Silverhawk, BTW;)

  4. A wealth of information here-thanks Barb!

  5. Hi Angela, Jennifer, Marci and Allison,

    So glad you stopped by. Jen, as a published author, and Marci, with your agent, neither of you probably need worry about pitching anymore.:) Angela, you sound like an old hand at the process--that must feel so freeing.

    Allison, I so know what you mean about being nervous. Truly, it will be okay. Agents/editors understand and they don't even mind if you read the pitch. Monotone comes with nerves. Remember-this is about the story you wrote and love! Just tap in to that memory and love, and you'll get that enthusiasm back.

    Think of your hero and heroine; you'll forget about yourself, and the enthusiasm will be natural.

    Just keep going over it and over it aloud until you're so sick of it, you won't be nervous anymore LOL.

    Good luck.

  6. Great advice and some great points. I took a workshop on this last year but this was a bit of a different take. Thanks!

  7. Just a thought for anyone still stuck in the starting gate like I was until yesterday:-) Gooogle some of your favorite movies and read the short synopsis of each. If you can find one with ANYTHING in common with your plot, use it as a pattern. Murphy's Romance worked for is set in the country, has an older man/younger woman theme and a child's happiness to consider. I'm using this as a place to start and adapting it to my own manuscript. Once you accomplish this much, you can begin applying all those great hints of Barb's.

  8. Great tips for pitches, Barbara. I think we tend to overcomplicate things sometimes. Good luck to all who are stepping up for it.
    Diana L