ThrillerFest XII • July 11 - 15, 2017 • Grand Hyatt • New York City

Pitching Advice

The countdown to PitchFest is on. As the anticipation and excitement builds, you might want to start honing your pitch. You’ll have three minutes to interact with your favorite agents, and you’ll want to make every second count.

The good news is that help is on its way. Kathleen Antrim and Jon Land host a fabulous workshop on pitching during CraftFest, and they have been kind enough to share a few of their thoughts with you today.

Kathleen Antrim, former Co-President of ITW and talented author, has mastered the art of pitching. Here is Kathleen’s advice on how to create a pitch that will make agents sit up and take notice:

What if . . . So What? Method of Pitching.

The “What if . . . So What?” strategy of pitching means that you must be able to sum up your major plot line in 25 words or less. It often helps to start with the words: “What if…” The “So What” must also be answered in this pitch, because it tells us why we should care, and that helps readers connect emotionally with your story.

(If an idea can’t be narrowed down to this single sentence then it is not focused enough.)

The elements of the “What if . . . So What?” pitch include:

  • It must be 25 words, or less—the best tend to be 17 words.
  • It must convey the major conflict (plotline) of the story.
  • It must reveal the protagonist.
  • It must answer the question, “So What?” Tell us why we should care, and why we should be compelled to read the story.

This is an invaluable tool, because not only will you use this when you’re trying to hook an agent, you will also use your pitch in the following situations:

  • Your agent will use it when trying to sell your book to an editor.
  • The editor will use it when explaining your book to the sales/marketing team.
  • The sales/marketing team will use it to sell your book into the stores.
  • You will use your pitch again and again, when your sitting at a book signing and when someone asks you what your book is about.

Here are a few examples:

What if a cyborg is sent back through time to kill the mother of the future savior of mankind? “Terminator” 19 words

What if a cowboy stumbles on a drug deal gone bad, takes the money, only to find that he’s being hunted by a relentless killer? “No Country For Old Men”

-by Cormac Macarthy 25 words

What if the first lady is plotting to overthrow the president? “Capital Offense”

-by Kathleen Antrim 11 words

What if a young girl risks her soul to love a vampire boyfriend? “Twilight”

-by Stephanie Meyer 13 words

Getting Ready

To help prepare for PitchFest, prioritize the agents you would like to see before the event begins. The agents and their bios will be posted on the ThrillerFest website prior to the event. Become familiar with each agent and their agency so that you can make informed choices.

Be professional at all times. This is a business setting, and you want to present a professional image and make a good impression on the agents.

Work on crafting your pitch immediately. This is a difficult task and takes time to perfect.

Practice your pitch the night before PitchFest. Get comfortable with what you want to say to the agent or editor before you get into the room.

Another way to look at the task is to imagine that your book is being turned into a television movie. What would TV Guide write about your movie/story? That is your pitch. You need to be comfortable with your pitch.

When pitching, make sure that you allow time for a response from the agent within your three allotted minutes. A good guideline is to stop speaking and let the agent talk after you complete your pitch.

Fabulous advice, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing those helpful tips. Next up is the insightful Jon Land who has perfected his pitching skills through his screenwriting experience. Take it away, Jon:

Okay, so a lot of people have been asking me what the new book I’m working on, BLOOD STRONG is about. Here’s what I tell them:

“Female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on homegrown terrorists as she races to solve the one mystery that eluded her legendary Ranger father and grandfather.”

BOOM! Short, sweet and to the point!

Now let’s see how it fits the MacDonald Rule. What’s the MacDonald rule? Well, when asked once by a young writer what a story is, MacDonald replied, “Stuff happens to people you care about.”

I like to apply the MacDonald Rule to all of my pitches and loglines. In other words, even though it’s only a few lines, a pitch should explain who is trying to do what and why. Remember, the initial pitch is only the bait to hook the agents, make them want to hear more. A good pitch gets them leaning forward and listening, even at the end of the afternoon. A not-so-good pitch, well, they may tune out the rest of what you have to say even if you have a great idea for a book.

What I recommend strongly, and this is something you won’t always hear when it comes to pitching, is to make your pitch character driven in the same way your book will be.

Example:

NOT “A burning skyscraper threatens the lives of thousands, including a pregnant woman trapped on the top floor.”

INSTEAD “A former firefighter, fired for insubordination, races to save the lives of thousands of people in a burning skyscraper, including his pregnant wife.”

See what I’m getting at here? Let’s try another.

NOT “High school students turned zombies seek vengeance on the town officials who closed their school for budget reasons.”

INSTEAD “A high school prom queen and the bad boy she secretly loves lead their friends-turned-zombies in a battle to get their school reopened.”

And one more:

NOT “A man falsely imprisoned on death row will die at dawn if the governor doesn’t pardon him.”

INSTEAD “An intrepid reporter has only 24 hours to save the innocent man she’s fallen in love with from execution.”

In each case, we know who the hero is and what their quest is. You have not only told the agent what your book is about, you have engaged him or her emotionally in the action. Do that, and your pitch will be a winner.

See you all in July where I look forward to hearing as many of your pitches as I can possibly listen to and help refine.

Thanks, Jon! Both you and Kathleen have emphasized the importance of stressing the emotional component of the novel, focusing on the main character and why we should care about him/her. Readers want to invest in an intriguing character—got it!

howe_trans_newHopefully these suggestions have ignited ideas for your own novel. Have fun preparing your pitch, try it out on friends and family, and then hone it further. Please join Kathleen and Jon at their CraftFest session where you can pitch the experts and get feedback before PitchFest!

Please don’t forget that we have our very own PitchFest Director, Sandra Brannan, who is available to answer any and all questions. You can reach Sandra at sandra@sandrabrannan.com or at SandraBrannanAuthor on Facebook. Her assistant, the fabulous Terry Rodgers, can also answer all of your questions. He can be reached at terry@terryrodgers.org or on Twitter @terryrodgers.

Thanks for reading! Good luck preparing for PitchFest. We can’t wait to see you there.