Perfecting your Pitch Paragraph

Date: Thursday August 28, 2008
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Try the title of this post 5 times fast. (Come on, I know you wanna…)

Been discussing pitch paragraphs with my super awesome critique group. Given that authors will forever have to write these things, whether trying to snag an editor or agent for your work or providing copy for a catalogue, might as well embrace the process. (or at least try to understand it)

So, I thought I’d take a look at a couple of popular picture books (cause let’s face it, picture books rock!) and deconstruct what goes into crafting a perfect pitch paragraph (p-tuh!) and offer up my new perspective (pa-tooey!) here for your perusal. (pa-choo!)

Here are a few examples of great picture book ’hooks’:

FANCY NANCY:

Fancy Nancy By Jane O'Connor Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Meet Nancy, who believes that more is ALWAYS better when it comes to being fancy. From the top of her tiara down to her sparkly studded shoes, Nancy is determined to teach her family a thing or two about being fancy.

How Nancy transforms her parents and little sister for one enchanted evening makes for a story that is funny and warm — with or without the frills.

WALTER THE FARTING DOG

Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle: Book Cover

Warning: This book may cause flatulence. Walter is a fine dog, except for one small problem: he has gas. He can’t help it; it’s just the way he is. Fortunately, the kids Billy and Betty love him regardless, but Father says he’s got to go! Poor Walter, he’s going to the dog pound tomorrow. And then, in the night, burglars strike. Walter has his chance to be a hero. Destined to become a children’s classic, this story will have kids rolling on the floor with laughter. Adults are permitted to laugh too.

Both examples give a strong sense of character/conflict/hint of outcome and we really get the personality of the book in the descriptions.

character: Nancy likes to be fancy
conflict: She’s determined to make the rest of her family fancy, too
hint of outcome: The enchanted evening turns out differently than we might expect
personality: Frilly descriptive language, fancy, tiara, sparkly just like the book


character: Walter is a fine dog
conflict: But he farts too much and that’s a problem for Father
hint of outcome: Walter turns his flatulence into something unlikely positive.
personality: Funny, irreverent, like an inside joke between the author and the reader, just like the book.

So, it seems to me that when perfecting your pitch paragraph (pes-ghetti!) your goal is to distill your story in three to five sentences with these three things (character/conflict/hint of outcome) in mind while maintaining the personality of the story in the pitch.

Christy asks (hi Christy!) if I could include the pitch for ACADIAN STAR. This is the copy on the Nimbus website. Let’s see how well it fits into my, erm, theory:

ACADIAN STAR:

The Acadian Star competition is the biggest thing to ever happen in Meg Gallant’s small Cape Breton town. Meg dreams of performing onstage with her best friend Nève. If they’re lucky, they might even make it to the finals in Halifax. But Meg’s weird old aunt, Tante Perle, has been acting stranger and stranger-and just before the finale of the competition, she whisks Meg away from everything she knows. Meg suddenly finds herself trapped in the time of the tragic Acadian Deportation-and she has to choose between escaping to her own time and saving a girl who looks remarkably like Nève. Why is she trapped in the eighteenth century? Will she be able to save this stranger, so quickly becoming a friend? And where does Tante Perle fit in with all this?

How did we do? (It was a bit of a collaborative effort between me and my fan-tabulous editor, Penelope.)

character: Meg loves singing and dancing and dreams of performing in the Acadian Star competition
conflict: But instead, her Tante Perle whisks her away to the 18th century Acadian Deportation
hint of outcome: Will Meg stay to help the deportees or escape back to her own time?
personality: Mystery, conflict, adventure, just like the book! (I hope <s>)

What about you all? Can you break down your pitch in this way? Any words of wisdom to add to my percolating theory? Do I at least get bonus points for having it colour-coded??

**Please visit Christy’s Creative Space for more tips on the what/when/where and how of pitching. Fabulous!

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14 Comments

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Great post (and the colour-coding is fantastic!). :D

Comment by Shari on August 28th, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

It’s interesting that you mention this. Our Carolina’s Fall conference is coming up in the end of Sept, and one of our events will be pitching our work speed-dating style. I guess that means we go around the room and have 3 mintues to pitch our story.

Our SCBWI Carolina’s web-site provides a “worksheet” to help us along. http://www.scbwicarolinas.org

Do you mind if I link this post to my blog? I’ve had a post about pitches brewing in my mind. This is a perfect springboard for me.

Also, would you mind sharing your pitch for Acadian Star?

thanks!

Christy

Comment by Christy Evers on August 29th, 2008 @ 2:43 am

oh, and I looooove the color coding! Makes it easy to follow. :0)

Christy

Comment by Christy Evers on August 29th, 2008 @ 2:44 am

Hi Shari! Thanks for the props on the colour coding. :-)

Comment by Hélène on August 29th, 2008 @ 7:57 am

Hi Christy!

Link away! Best of luck at your Carolina Fall conference. It looks like a tonne of fun.

Comment by Hélène on August 29th, 2008 @ 7:59 am

Helene,
I came to your blog via Christy Ever’s recommendation on her blog and enjoyed your pitches & color coding. Good stuff. Looks easy, but it’s hard to do. Just like writing, right?
carol Baldwin

Comment by Carol Baldwin on August 29th, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

Fantastic blog on how to pitch it so it works. Thanks so much. Now, maybe I’ll feel more confidant to join the pitch group at the conference. Dorothy Ray

Found your blog through Christy Evers blog, re SCBWI-Carolinas yahoo group.

Comment by Dorothy Ray on August 31st, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

Great suggestions! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this broken down into those four qualities. I must save this… colour-coding and all. Thanks!!

Comment by Carmen Wright on August 31st, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

Thanks for dropping in, Carol!

>>Looks easy, but it’s hard to do. Just like writing, right?

Absolutely! :-)

Comment by Hélène on August 31st, 2008 @ 9:24 pm

Hi Dorothy,

I hope you join the pitch group. The more opportunities to practise pitching, the better!

Good luck!

Comment by Hélène on August 31st, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

Carmen! How are you?? I’m chuffed that my hours and hours spent colour-coding were not wasted. LOL

Comment by Hélène on August 31st, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

Hey!

I meant to say that your pitch post was fantastic – but this is even better because we get Acadian Star too!

I need to have a go at writing a pitch for In the Shadow of the Oak – I’m determined not to leave all the horrid bits to the end! So what I want to know is, if I sent a colour-coded pitch to an agent, might I so sweep them away with the beauty of it that they wouldn’t bother reading the words?

Comment by Sharon on September 1st, 2008 @ 10:36 am

Allo, Sharon!

Along with your kaleidoscopic pitch formatting, don’t forget the unicorn stickers. Oh! And glitter. Lots of glitter. Agents love that kind of stuff.

*snrk*

Comment by Hélène on September 1st, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

Glitter!!!!! Of course! And to think I was going to stick to crayons…

Comment by Sharon on September 1st, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

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