Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Thursday: Back into the Swing of Things—Writing Pitches
I am working on a non-rhyming picture book that is heavily metered. As I’ve been playing with the text I’ve also wondered how to pitch the book. I emailed my friend and mentor, the great Joyce Sweeney—poet and novelist. “What do you call a non-rhyming, heavily metered picture book?” I asked. Joyce wrote back: “A hard sale.” Thanks for that bitter taste of reality, Joyce! LOL! And thanks for reminding me that pitching a book is an art, not a science.
Ask ten writers how to pitch your picture book in a cover letter and you’ll get ten different answers. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is more than one way to write a successful pitch. Some folks wouldn’t even call it a pitch, but rather, a synopsis. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on the subject, but I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned/heard/been taught about pitches/synopses and then share one of my pitches. I’d love your input and comments. You’re welcome to share your pitches, too.
In their Children’s Writing Boot Camp, Linda Arms White and Laura Backes advocate stating your plot using this structure:
This is the story of _________________________ who more than anything wants to _______________________ but can’t because _____________________ until _____________________.
This statement, when completed, gives a good nutshell summary of your book and could be used as a pitch/synopsis in a cover letter.
Joyce Sweeney and Jamie Morris lead many workshops in their THE NEXT LEVEL: Craft Intensives for Dedicated Writers series. When I attended their marketing workshop, Jamie told us that the pitch in a cover letter should be a synopsis. According to Jamie: “For the purposes of your [cover] letter, the synopsis is only a paragraph. Writing in third person/present tense, use this section to introduce your main characters, what they want, why they want it, and what stands in their way of getting it. Make sure your synopsis includes the resolution to your story, including what your main characters learn during the journey.”
A HYBRID APPROACH
I have tried to use everything I’ve heard and learned and combine it together into pitch/synopsis writing. Along the way I’ve found some things that I think can make a pitch/synopsis distinctive, for instance:
1. Tell about the story in the same style/tone as the story. (If you have a wacky, zany story, then the pitch/synopsis needs to depict that.)
2. Use some words from the text if possible.
3. Think of book flaps and their intriguing, market-driven approach. They can help you organize your pitch/synopsis and find your voice in the process.
4. Show your writing style in your pitch/synopsis. If you write with lots of dashes and ellipses, then show that. If your writing strength is your verb and noun choices, show it. If the distinctive flavor of your writing is in the sensory details, show it.
A PITCH/SYNPOSIS THAT WORKED
Below is my pitch for Cowboy Christmas which I sold to Golden Books-Random House and that will be published in fall 2012. This pitch illustrates my hybrid approach.
In Cowboy Christmas, Dub, Dwight, Darryl, and their cook, Cookie, are stuck roping steers, wrestling longhorns, and wrangling up strays on Christmas. “Santy Claus will never find us out on the range,” Dub moans. The cowboys try to recreate their childhood Christmas memories, but each attempt ends with a hilarious failure. A surprise is in store for the Circle D dudes when Santa (who looks a lot like Cookie) makes a visit.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT AND CRITIQUING MAKES BETTER
I recommend that we write out our pitches/synopses and share them with our critique groups. Since the pitch/synopsis will be read even before the manuscript, it’s vitally important that it be the best it can be. Wouldn’t be awful if the pitch/synopsis caused the editor or agent to not be interested in reading any further?
It’s Your Turn!
1. Write a pitch/synopsis for one of your manuscripts. Share the finished product with your critique group or post it here for input. I’d love to pitch in and share my two cents!