As an author, you need to learn how to pitch your stories, both in person and in query letters. Writing a pitch really helps you to focus on your story line, not on all the little details. When asked, “What’s your book about?”, the worst thing you can do is go on and on about plot events in your story. Don’t do that–pitches need to be succinct. By the way, I didn’t invent this technique; I learned it from pitching experts.
Here’s the basic structure of a pitch:
My screenplay/novel, TITLE HERE, is about PROTAGONIST NAME HERE, SHORT DESCRIPTION OF PROTAGONIST THAT WILL MAKE US FEEL SYMPATHETIC TO HIM/HER. When INCITING INCIDENT HERE, s/he decides to WHATEVER YOUR PROTAGONIST DOES IN YOUR STORY in spite of OBSTACLES HERE.
Pitches don’t need to be especially elegant. It’s more important to convey the essence of the story. If the listener is intrigued, she will ask for more details.
To show you what I’m talking about, here are examples of pitches I wrote for my novels and screenplays:
My novella/screenplay Call of the Jaguar is about Rachel McCarthy, a woman who realizes on her 40th birthday that the life she has chosen is meaningless. When she sees a newspaper article about the romantic archaeologist lover from her youth, she decides to seek him out in spite of the fact that he is working in the midst of a war-torn country.
My novel Shaken is about Elisa Langston, who takes charge of her family’s plant nursery after her father’s sudden death. After the business is struck by vandals, an earthquake, and finally arson, Elisa must prove to a suspicious insurance investigator that she’s not the criminal behind all the destruction.
My novel The Only Witness is about Matthew Finn, a big-city police detective who moved to a gossipy small town only to have his wife leave him for an old flame. When a baby disappears from a parked car, Finn works relentlessly to solve the case, despite the fact that the only witness he can find is a signing gorilla.
You get the idea.
Other Elements You Need
If you’re asked for more information in a face-to-face meeting or if you’re writing a query letter, you should also be able to point out deeper elements explored and explain why you wanted to write this story. It’s best if the reason for that comes from your personal history. Here’s one example of that, using a screenplay I wrote that I am currently turning into a novel:
My screenplay Between Water and Earth is about Jess Crowder, a 20-year-old pregnant journalism student who is determined to prove to everyone that she can still have a career as a reporter. When the body of her long-lost aunt is unearthed on her grandfather’s property, she decides to cover the story and solve the mystery of a series of murders in the past in spite of the fact that the killer may be a member of her own family.
Deeper issues explored: Secrets within families and communities, violence and anger among veterans returning from war.
I wanted to write this story because my work as an investigator has taught me that criminals are people. A man who murders is always someone’s son, father, brother, or husband. Some families choose to ostracize the perpetrator; others choose to believe the crimes never happened. So I wanted to explore the dynamics of a family and a small community when a killer is in their midst.
Now get your head back into your own story and write your own pitch. Good luck!