Hi Math is Everywhere Readers and KidlitZombieWeek Friends,
Since we have a pitching event on June 26, 2020, we wanted to share some advice on how to pitch, and who better to teach you than the brilliant woman who taught me? So without further ado, here is the amazing, the kind-hearted, the hilarious: Jocelyn Rish!
Writing a story?
Telling people what your story is about?
So you see, it’s about a girl, and she has this fear of, oh wait, I should mention there’s a dog in it, too. But he’s only in the second half. Anyway, the girl is scared of cats. And, oh, I forgot to say her name is Sally. Anyway, Sally loves dogs, and … wait, where are you going?
But an important part of being a writer is convincing people to read your story. And to do that, you need a great pitch.
For the purposes of this post, a pitch is the 1-3 sentences you share with someone to get them interested in your story. They’re often called an elevator pitch or a logline. It’s more marketing hook than summary, but it still shows you can craft a story. You tell them just enough in an intriguing way to get them to ask for more.
Pitching a picture book can be a challenge because the pitch might have as many words as the actual book. But you’re not retelling the story with a pitch – you’re SELLING it!
There are five key parts of a strong pitch:
The star of your story. The character that readers follow across the plot. And you basically only get two words to describe them. Maybe three if you really need them.
Start with a solid noun. For picture book characters this will often be their age or species.
Then you get to jazz it up with an adjective, which should give us insight into the protagonist’s character. Pick an adjective that’s specific and vivid.
Avoid using the character’s name (unless the character is famous or historical). “Sally” doesn’t tell us anything about the character. But “mischievous six-year-old” or “grumpy giraffe” starts to paint a picture.
What does your protagonist want? What is their main goal during the course of your story? This is what drives them and therefore drives the story and therefore should drive the pitch.
A challenge with picture books is that the goal may seem small. Rarely is the protagonist saving the world or fighting a corrupt government, but if the goal is important to the character, it will be important to the reader. So it’s crucial to paint a picture in our minds so we can clearly see how the story might unfold. All while being as concise as possible.
Maybe the mischievous six-year-old wants to protect her stash of Halloween candy, and the grumpy giraffe just wants a good night’s sleep.
Sometimes referred to as the villain. You need to identify the main person or thing preventing the protagonist from reaching their goal and describe them clearly and concisely. Use the same format as with the protagonist – a vivid adjective and noun to give a sense of why they stand in the way of your protagonist.
Again it can be a challenge with picture books because the antagonist is rarely an outside person trying to harm the protagonist, so it’s not always an obvious “bad guy.” Often the antagonist might even be within the protagonist, like a major fear or character flaw, so they must fight themselves to reach their goal.
Maybe a chocolate-stealing monster has gotten a whiff of the mischievous six-year-old’s candy stash. Maybe the grumpy giraffe is afraid of the dark.
Now we need to know what’s at risk if your protagonist does not reach their goal. Stakes and time limits add urgency to a story, and by adding them to the pitch, you add tension, and we want to know what’s going to happen. That sense of urgency is a great way to get people to ask for more info about your story.
I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but stakes can be tough in picture books because stakes imply chaos and mayhem. The bomb goes off or the murderer strikes again! But stakes in a picture book are often more gentle and/or emotional and therefore can be tougher to articulate.
If the monster steals our 6yo’s candy, she’ll be left with nothing but sugar-free, flavorless hard candies. If the giraffe doesn’t sleep, he will alienate friends with his grumpiness.
Think of this as the “In a world” from movie trailers. Not all pitches will need extra setup, but some will. Decide if the reader needs a bit of extra info to understand what’s happening.
Fantasy and science fiction stories most likely need some extra setup to give a brief explanation about the world. The same if your story is set in a historical time or the location is important. You might also need a quick bit of background if your protagonist has a psychological, personal, or physical history that impacts the plot.
Maybe the monster has been stealing the 6yo’s chocolate every Halloween. Maybe the giraffe tripped over his feet once when the lights were out and that’s why he’s scared. Or maybe this type of setup is not needed for the pitch.
Putting it together
Once you identify your five pieces, then you put them together in a captivating way. Totally easy! Well, at least it gets easier as you practice.
Don’t give away the ending. You want them to read the book to find out how it ends.
Avoid questions. It might seem like a cliffhanger to say, “Will she be able to save her candy from the monster?” But the answer is most likely Yes, so it’s not really suspenseful. You want them wondering HOW she will save the candy.
So here are my attempts at putting together the two pitches we’ve been building.
Every Halloween, a chocolate-stealing monster raids the candy stashes of the kids on Sweet Street. This year, a mischievous six-year-old comes up with a series of practical jokes to save her candy. But if her plan fails, she’ll only have sugar-free hard candies to eat. Yuck!
A grumpy giraffe needs a good night of sleep, but he’s afraid of the dark. Too scared to close his eyes, he becomes grumpier and grumpier, alienating his friends. He must figure out how to overcome his fear and finally grab some zzz’s or else he’ll be tired AND friendless.
I hope this was helpful! If you want more information about writing pitches, I have a series of videos with more examples in my Facebook group Transmedia Mutts – Helping Writers Unleash Their Creative Bark (https://www.facebook.com/groups/transmediamutts/). Come join us!
Jocelyn Rish is a writer and filmmaker, who sleeps during the day and writes at night. Her debut picture book is BATTLE OF THE BUTTS, which describes ten animals that do weird things with their butts and asks kids to rate their posterior powers and then crown the ultimate King of Keisters. BATTLE OF THE BUTTS will be published by Running Press Kids in the fall of 2021.
When not researching fanny facts, Jocelyn tutors kids struggling with reading to help them discover the magic of stories. She lives in South Carolina with her beautiful 15-year-old husky mix, who still thinks she’s a puppy. A kind of grumpy puppy.
Add BATTLE OF THE BUTTS on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50713916-battle-of-the-butts
Thank you Jocelyn! You are not only a wonderful pitcher and teacher but also so darn funny!
All right everyone, please please PLEASE support Joceyln by adding her hilarious book to Goodreads, follow her, and share about her brilliance on social media! Also, come join Jocelyn’s Transmedia Mutts Facebook Group; it’s where I learned how to pitch!
Share what’s hard for you about writing pitches, what Jocelyn just taught you that gave you that “oh” moment, advice on pitching that you’d like to share with others, how to pitch a different way, or anything else about pitching. Remember, like everything in this business, there’s not just one way to stop a zombie 😉
Need more information about Kidlit Zombie Week? Shuffle on over to our website.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
PS. If you missed the post yesterday, check it out here.