This blog post first appeared on Amorina Rose Writes.
So, after two weeks struggling with writer’s block, I’ve finally realised I’d be better off doing something else: I’m going to send The Sapience Assessment off to Agents and Publishers (A&Ps).
Which gives me a good excuse to write another diatribe about pitches. Sorry if this is a long one!
It turns out that most A&Ps don’t request a pitch, as such. They all want a synopsis and at least part of the manuscript, perhaps with a cover letter. My advice here is: write the pitch anyway and put it in the cover letter. For the reasons why you absolutely need a pitch see Part 1: managing expectations.
Engineer that I am, to me a pitch has a logic to it. First, make sure it conveys all the information the A&P needs to know, and second, emphasise the key element of the story (as discussed in Part 1). To get all the information in there, the simplest way is just to use a check-list of question words. Here’s the recipe I’m using for my pitch:
- Genre statement
- Background to the series
- Series theme
- Pitch for this book
- (How?) optional
- Genre Statement
I already discussed the importance and pitfalls of the genre statement in Part 2, so I won’t go through that again. Just be aware of the implicit assumptions that a genre statement generates so be as specific on the book type as you can.
- Background to the Series
Most books will not need this section.
The where? and when? questions are only relevant if your book has a historical or geographical setting which forms a point of interest. So if you’ve written a historical drama you ought to mention the period, if your book is set in Mongolia, that’s important, but you would not normally have a separate section, you would probably mention them in the main book pitch.
In my case, I have this separate section because my book is part of a series set in the future on different planets and I felt that was important information to get across before delving into the main pitch.
Also, my series has an overarching theme, which I wanted to mention. It’s increasingly common, especially since the Harry Potter phenomenon, for a series of books, while stories in their own right, to work progressively towards solution to an overall issue.
- Pitch for this book
Books in different genres are likely to have different styles of pitch, so my recipe may not work for you. You might, for instance, keep the question checklist but change the order, or you might want to just run with other concepts.
I put the who? question first is a way of indicating that this is character-based fiction. This is showing that, in my mind, the most important aspect of my story is the main character and her arc.
In this book, I only have one main character, so this part should be easy. In later books I might mention two key characters, but I suspect any more than that would be too cumbersome for a brief pitch.
Who? Means the character’s name and some indication of who they are or what they desire. So in my book, I have Thea Hyde, an intelligence operative who is desperate to get back to fieldwork after an injury.
Examples in other genres: a young woman, dissatisfied with her life in some way, is seeking escape, excitement, or love (romance genre); someone with a special skill is chosen (perhaps unwillingly) to fulfil a role or quest (fantasy genre).
This is where I put the ‘plot question’ – what is the driver of the plot, the problem to be solved, or the threat to be overcome?
This is a tough one for me. My book has several plot threads, each with their own question.
Ostensibly, Thea’s mission is to find out whether a certain alien species is sapient, so that they can be saved from extinction. The trouble is, most readers don’t seem able to generate much sympathy for giant talking termites, so they don’t care. It’s a weak question.
As it turns out, the mission is a front for political manoeuvrings, with other aliens trying to sabotage it for their own ends. At the start of the story, though, this is not known, so the only question I could pose might be: who is trying to sabotage the mission and why? Again, it seems weak.
My main character has her own question to solve, too. An amnesiac, she is trying to recover understanding of who she is and why she has elevated duty to the Federation above all else. Perhaps there is another question: will she rediscover herself?
As I write this, I still don’t know which question I’m going to use (sigh).
This introduces the stakes. Why is it so important for the Who? to overcome the What?
Be careful – I find many people neglect this one. There’s a temptation to assume that readers will understand the stakes without being told.
Don’t assume. We actually need to be told that if the young woman in the romance does not find love, she will fall into depression / slavery / poverty / succumb to the evil stepmother. We need to be told that if the fantasy quest fails it will mean the slaughter of innocents / fall of the kingdom / extinction of the dragons/elves/race of men. We need to know that this story is important.
Now I’ve written that, I’ve realised I have no mention of the Why? in my previous attempts at pitches. Haha. Guess I’d better learn to walk the talk.
I tend to present the pitch as a teaser, telling the A&P what the protagonist needs to do, but not going as far as how she does it, or even whether or not she succeeds. I think that’s best left to the synopsis, so this is optional.
Here we go:
The Sapience Assessment (science fiction, 81,500 words) is the first book in my Transhumanity Series. These are soft SF adventures aimed at a new adult readership. The overall theme is a questioning of what makes us human, following a young woman who, over the course of four books, is transformed into a cyborg.
The series is set in the 24th century, a time in which transference links provide instantaneous travel between planets. Humans are one of dozens of species in the Sapients’ Interplanetary Federation (SIF), run by the powerful Sowers. The human government has developed a strong presence in SIF through its military arm, Exforce, and intelligence service, Macropol, but the Federation is under threat from the H!ane (Hakkannay).
Macropol Recorder Thea Hyde, who’s been sidelined for a year by injury, jumps at a chance to recover her self-esteem and field agent status. She is to use her neural implants to record the work of a scientific team, sent to assess the sapience of an alien species and decide whether they will be granted asylum and saved from extinction. When someone attempts to sabotage the mission it is up to Thea to discover who and why. The treachery she uncovers will have implications for herself and the entire Federation.
Hope that’s helpful to people, to see my take on writing pitches. Comments on my pitch effort will be very welcome!