Thursday, 2 February 2012

Writing Tips: The Perfect Pitch

In my 'other' life, I have just completed a proposal to write Position Descriptions for a client.  One of the hardest parts of writing a good Position Description is the Purpose Statement, a one-sentence summary of why the job exists.  It is hard because people spend so many hours of their week at work, and it can be hard for them to summarise all that effort into one short sentence.

It occurred to me that this is very similar to an author having to write a one-sentence pitch for their book. I have just finished reading Write Good or Die, which is currently available as a free Kindle download.  It is a compilation of blog posts by well-known mystery/thriller authors (or at least I assume they are well-known.  They have sold enough books, just not in a genre that I read). 

Anyway, two of the chapters focused on the perfect pitch, and gave examples.  Can you name these famous books?
  • When a great white shark starts attacking beachgoers in a coastal town during high tourist season, a water-phobic Sheriff must assemble a team to hunt it down before it kills again.
  • A treasure-hunting archeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.
  • A young female FBI trainee must barter personal information with an imprisoned psychopathic genius in order to catch a serial killer who is capturing and killing young women for their skins.
You might not have read any or all of them, but I bet you know which books they are (the fact that they have also been made into movies no doubt helped).  What are the essential points of the perfect pitch?
  • The character of the protagonist;
  • The character of the antagonist;
  • The conflict;
  • The setting;
  • The tone;
  • The genre.
I also came across a post Rachelle Gardner's blog about One Sentence Pitches.  A couple of years back, she invited authors to submit a one-sentence pitch for their book, and she then critiqued them.  Her main points were:
  1. Use specific language (it can be tempting to be mysterious, but it seems this does not catch the attention of the agent);
  2. Avoid using words or abbreviations that can be confusing;
  3. Don't make the book sound uninteresting or depressing;
  4. Keep the word count down to 45 words or less;
  5. Avoid dialogue;
  6. Don't try to say too much or it will get convoluted;
  7. Don't use exclaimation marks!!
  8. Proofread. Spelling or grammar mistakes leave a bad impression.

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