by Katie Blagden of The Bright Agency
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that very talented writers who can write a whole book are often stumped by how to summarise their work in a pitch paragraph.
It’s okay, really – I see this all the time as an agent, and it’s remarkable how the most incredible wordsmiths seem to get freaked out about trying to boil their books down into a short summary.
I’ve pulled together a few suggestions on how you can tackle this, and some tricks I use as an agent to sell your work. Take a look below at the elements that make up a killer pitch paragraph…
It sounds really basic, but you’d be surprised how often people miss these things out. Kick things off with the obvious info; the title of your manuscript, word count (or current word count if it’s a WIP), whether it’s a stand-alone idea or series, and the ideal age-range you’re aiming for.
With age-range, you can go broad, for example ‘chapter book’ or ‘middle-grade’ OR you can narrow it down a bit more to specifics like ‘perfect for 5 – 7-year-olds’.
NAME OF YOUR BOOK is a first-in-series chapter book perfect for 5 – 7-year-olds, complete at 15,000 words.
This is the one-line attention-grabber, the thing that’s going to make the reader want to find out more. Think of them as the Hollywood teaser to your pitch, luring readers in. These work particularly well for adventure stories, funny books and fantasy. You absolutely DON’T have to have one, and you don’t need to force one if it doesn’t sit naturally with your story, but it can help you set the tone.
Ideas for one-liners include leading questions, quotes from the text, and trailing statements. I’ve done some (fairly terrible) examples below to give you an idea of what these can look like:
When the world turns upside down, how do you stay upright?
Blending in is hard when you’re born to stand out…
“Tell Mum I’ll be back, as soon as I’ve saved the world…”
The main meat of the paragraph is your elevator pitch. You need to get across the setting, main character, antagonist or obstacles faced, plot and themes in one or two short sentences. You can also try and get across an emotional hook or twist if you have one, and the key goals of the main character. It’s also an opportunity to give the reader a sense of what sort of story this is – use adjectives to describe characters and tone to convey the type of story (funny, tense, serious, adventurous…).
In a world where foxes rule the forest, cheeky bunny MARV finds himself on the run when corrupt mayor LORD FOXINGTON frames him for stealing carrots. He’s hopping mad, but has to stay one jump ahead of the fox police as he tries to clear his name and expose Foxington’s evil plot to cut down the trees. (57 words)
Two star-crossed caterpillars on opposite sides of a family feud fall in love. As their cocooning-day celebrations approach, they struggle to come clean to their parents, unsure of whether their relationship will survive their imminent transformations into butterflies. As truths come to light, and ultimatums are laid down, the lovers must decide what’s more important; letting their love take flight or sticking close to home. (65 words)
MINA just wants to blend in at her new school. But a disastrous run-in with garlicky pasta exposes her darkest secret; Mina is a vampire! With her classmates giving her a wide berth, Mina comes up with a plan to prove her school spirit; taking part in the end-of-term talent competition. But with VANESSA VAN HELSING trying to trip her up at every turn, it’s going to take all of Mina’s spooky skills to get her up on the stage… (80 words)
Keep in mind that whether you’re querying an agent, pitching to a publisher or entering an award, the person reading your pitch will likely have limited time and lots to read, so keep it clear and concise. Remember, you’re not selling your whole book on the pitch; all you need to do is be convincing enough to get them reading the book, at which point your writing should be selling itself!