Every so often, I’m asked to speak about pitching to a group of writers. This is easy for me because I love pitching and I love writers. I also love making people cry, and that happens, I am not kidding, about sixty percent of the time. Not everyone, of course – it’s not like I force them to sit through Terms of Endearment. But one person in the room, one person with a story she believes to be unpitchable, oh, yeah. Pass the Kleenex.
Why? Why is it so amazing to hear your story pitched? I do think there’s a certain amount of relief in realizing that it can be done. But I also think we are all desperate to be heard. When a pitch is right, it conveys exactly what you want the world to understand about the heart of your story. You get heard. That’s very powerful.
So how do you get to that? How do you pitch your story? Here are the steps:
1) Be accurate. Do not worry about what the elusive “they” want to hear. Be honest. No one likes a bait-and-switch.
2) Set up their listening. What I mean by this is, prepare them for what they are about to hear. Is it a book, a webseries, a feature, a play? If the form is understood – if you’re at a mystery book convention, for instance – let them know the subgenre: thriller, cosy, procedural, paranormal. If they don’t know what to expect, they won’t be able to connect to your story. I once found myself performing in a gruesome, dark, emotionally-exhausting scene in what the judges expected to be a comedy competition. Funny only in retrospect, trust me.
3) Take the time to tell your story. There is a difference between a logline and a pitch. A logline is usually a sentence long and its only job is to get them to say, “Tell me more.” Your pitch is what you say after that, and its job is to get them to request the script or book proposal or manuscript. Don’t rush, don’t skimp. You’re a storyteller; you’re already good at this part.
4) Only tell the essence of your story. This is the tricky bit. Figure out what the heart of your story is and convey that, and only that. The details, even the character names – they don’t matter as much as you think they do. Take whatever time you need, but don’t squander their good will by being unfocused.
5) Don’t be afraid to insert your own passion and your connection to the material into the pitch. What drew you to tell this story in this way? That’s fascinating and engaging. Share.
Speaking of sharing, that’s how you’ll know if your pitch works. Share it with friends and family. Watch their eyes. Notice when they start to glaze over. Rework those bits. Also, say it out loud to yourself. If you get goosebumps, you’re on the right track.