It’s conference time!
I’ll never forget the first ACFW conference I attended. About 100 of us met in Kansas City for the first ACFW event, and it felt like a family reunion. I met my editor for the first time (I’d sold a book while living overseas) and…I pitched a series.
Which I sold—with Susan Downs: The Heirs of Anton. (Get the first book FREE here!)
I was scared to death. I sat down opposite the editor and she, very kind but also business-like, said, “What do you have for me?”
Open mouth. Wait. Is there anything in there? I think I fumbled out my first line, something lame like, “I have a Russian suspense series I think you’ll like.”
Great pitch, Suz.
And then I realized . . . I love this series idea. I believed in my story. And I knew it could be a hit.
So I leaned in and said, “What if the stories of Anastasia were true . . . only they were about the wrong sister?”
I got a raised eyebrow. A subtle invitation for more. That’s all I needed to build her the premise, the storyworld and the potential for the series. My enthusiasm overrode my fears and I dove into telling the story.
I got a contract three weeks later.
This past week during our MBT Premium Members Peptalk, we talked about how to pitch a novel. (If you’re a Premium Member, I encourage you to hope over to the My Stuff page and watch the replay!). For those who haven’t taken that advanced writer’s step, I wanted to offer some advice on how to pitch.
Let’s go back to that moment, when the agent or editor says: So what do you have for me?
Don’t panic. If you’ve done your homework and created a dramatic, ironic pitch, then lean close, look them in the eye and deliver it.
Now what? If the agent says nothing, or gives you the eyebrow, or even just nods, then . . . It’s time for the Premise—that longer blurb that drives in the hook.
What’s the difference between a premise and a pitch? Length . . . and depth.
A pitch hooks them with dramatic irony.
A premise feeds their interest. It’s simply a 2-5 sentence blurb of your story. You’re still pitching, but now you’re zeroing in on the most important elements of your book – the stakes, the fears, the dreams, the theme and plot, and the main players.
In other works, the premise follows up the pitch and boils down the most important aspects of your story, the biggest interest catcher, into a short paragraph.
Here’s the pitch from my newest book, The Wonder of You
The Pitch: Who would you chose–the hometown hero or the exotic prince?
Here’s the follow up premise:
The Premise: Wanna-be world photographer Amelia Christiansen returns home from her semester abroad with a broken heart, into the arms of her high school sweetheart. But when the man who hurt her shows up in Deep Haven asking for a second chance, she finds her heart divided . . . who should she chose – the safety of home, or a what could be her greatest adventure?
Here’s the one from Ever in My Heart:
The Pitch: He’s charged with protecting a lowly servant girl from the house of the Russian Czar . . . but what if she’s not a servant? What if she’s really the princess?
The Premise: Royal daughter Oksana can’t believe her father entrusted her life to a lowly peasant. Peace-loving Mennonite merchant Anton Klassen is paralyzed by his charge – especially when he falls in love with her. Can two people from different lives find a way to protect Russia’s most valuable secret?
Again, the Premise is softer, and is the follow up to the Pitch. And hopefully, it eases your stress enough to let the storytelling take over.
Can you guess these?
He bets he can win her heart. She bets she can break his. Who is going to win?
She just wants to prove that she can be a Pulitzer-prize winning writer. He wants to be at the top executive at his ad agency. But when two high achievers are thrown together to achieve their own goals, they just might discover that falling in love is the greatest prize of all.
She’s going to marry a king . . . until her true love returns from the dead. What will win – power or love?
She gave up on her future, believing her true love dead, and agreed to marry a king. But when her fiancé returns, ready to fight for her, can she believe in love, even when it seems the past has repeated itself? And will he be a man of his word – even beyond the grave?
He believes Russia is about start a world war, but if he’s wrong . . .well, he might just might start a war.
He believes he can prevent war with his information about a Soviet secret. But what if he’s wrong? What if, in fact, he instead pulls the trigger on World War Three? Just how far will one man’s beliefs take him . . .and the rest of the world?
So keep a Pitch short – about 50 words, then follow up with your Premise.
My final piece of advice?
Be Yourself. No one loves your story like you do, and your job is to make them see the potential. Make them love it by wooing them into the story. You’re a storyteller after all, aren’t you?
Need more help! Stop by our booth at ACFW! We’d love to help you hone those pitches!
See you in Dallas!
PS–need more help? Check out best-selling author James L. Rubart’s awesome How to Pitch and Sell your novel video in our MBT Store! On sale this week 1/2 off!!