As you may be aware, I help host the PitchSlam contest run twice per year. Writers submit a 35 word pitch for feedback, then their first page for feedback, then both together for consideration for the agent round. The hosts, with a slew of talented readers, work to pick the most polished entries for the agents to read and request.
After the last contest, I agreed to help use my blog to for pitching tips and examples to show that any book, no matter how complicated, can be boiled down to 35 words or less. Personally, the format I like for a pitch is:
When [inciting incident], [main character] must [basic plot] or [stakes].
Russ is tired of coming in second to his best friend, Garret. Whether it’s in sports, in school, or with girls, he can never get ahead. Something has to change, and when a new girl comes to town he sees his chance. He has to win her over before Garret does, but proving he’s not second best won’t be easy when Garret is a pro.
Russ will do anything to beat Garret, including using his little sister to get closer to the new girl. He has to be careful, though, because if anyone at school finds out he attends anime night (and he might even enjoy it), it would ruin his reputation, just like his secret love for cooking and James Taylor.
But pretending to be something he isn’t will catch up to him eventually, and Russ can only get away with living two lives for so long. As more than one friend reveals they aren’t who they seem, Russ must figure out what and who he really wants in his life. And more than that, he needs to find the courage to make it happen.
So, how do we pitch the story in 35 words or less?
Russ’s best friend is a high school superhero. No one ever notices ordinary Russ. He must get the new girl to like him before she falls under Garret’s spell, or he’ll be the sidekick forever.
That’s not bad, right? It could be worse. But the problem is, it’s not really an accurate representation of the book. We’re talking about manuscripts, not reality, so as soon as you start talking about superheroes and spells, there’s a good chance I’m going to take you literally. Since this is a YA contemporary book where the characters are all human, the above pitch is misleading, and that’s not going to work.
Let’s try something else.
Being second best sucks. Russ resolves to win the new girl from his flirtatious best friend, to be #1 for once. But the price for beating Garrett may be Russ’s best friends and little sister.
See how that’s better? The first sentence give some voice. The second tells you what Russ wants to accomplish, which sets up the main conflict. And the third tells you what’s at stake for Russ. You know that if he does what he wants – stealing the girl from his best friend – everyone will hate him. And that’s the kind of thing that makes me want to know what Russ will decide to do, so that makes me more likely to read the book.
Make this story your pitch. Put your own 35 word pitches in the comments.