So earlier today on Twitter, I played a round of “Dick Move/Good Move” about pitches, having heard many horror stories about people giving pitches and what (if any) response they got. To summarize:
This led to a huge response from people about how this has often gone terribly wrong for them, and that Company X or Company Y, specifically helmed by Persons A and B, respectively need to do things ranging from “die in a fire” to “quit thinking they’re the best and get over themselves” to “stop fucking around and do something meaningful” – which sort of tells you how passionate people get when they’re trying to get feet into any doors they see in front of them.
But then this happened.
See, people who pitch things, you might not be doing it right, AND the people taking your pitch might not be doing their part right either. Let’s focus on that first part – pitch construction – today.
This is the 3W/1H method of pitch construction, and I’m not sure where I learned it, but I’ve been teaching for the last five years, and it seems to be doing people pretty well.
Specfically it’s 1 What 1Why 1 Who 1 How, and the order is variable.
But can we talk about Chris’ tweet a second? It’s aimed at games, because he’s a game biz guy, but you can easily swap “rules” for “plot” and then we’re talking fiction. Too quickly that can verge into “let me tell you about my character/plot/action scene and that’s not a pitch, that’s just you talking about what’s on paper. Pitches aren’t summaries or even just capsules of excitement. A pitch is a vehicle for DELIVERING YOUR IDEA TO ANOTHER PERSON’S BRAIN OFTEN FOR THE INTENTION OF HAVING THAT PERSON BUY YOUR IDEA OR PRODUCT. So when you’re practicing your pitches, be they verbal or written, any detail that you cannot directly tie to the above bold concept LIKELY DOES NOT NEED TO STAY IN THE PITCH.
After I say something like that, people say, “Well then what do I put in a pitch?” We’ll get there. But lets hit a few main things we need to agree on first.
- Not every pitch is going to be a home run, slam dunk, (other sports metaphor), sure thing that will skyrocket you to success.
- The right pitch (not the “best” pitch) should be delivered to the right audience. You have to know that what you’re saying, you’re saying to the proper receptive audience.
- Pitches take practice.
Okay, onto constructing a pitch. I’m going to do my best to frame this pretty broadly, so the lines between book pitches and game pitches may end up a little blurred, but a lot of the skills and elements cross over.
Your pitch should be concise, and fit the length asked for. When people accept pitches, they usually provide a written word cap. Don’t exceed it. You also don’t always have to hit it on the nose either, but most definitely, don’t go over the boundaries stated. A lot of pitch-making is about how well you follow rules (even if sometimes that seems like you’re just jumping through bullshit hoops), so think of this an exercise in concision. When speaking, try and find the most evocative and clear words, because I usually tell people they have about forty-five seconds to catch my interest and hold my attention before I start thinking about other things.
Pitches aren’t summaries. A pitch is a lure, not a re-hash. A pitch should prompt me to want to take the time/energy to find more, not just nod a lot and say, “That’s nice, I’m really happy for you.” This is not to say you can’t have some elements of the thing you’re pitching IN the pitch, but I don’t need and frankly don’t want to hear you go through everything – that’s what the product is for.
A pitch should be what they ask for, to some extent. When you’re pitching, you’re going to get better results when you match what you’re saying with people who want to hear about it. If you’ve written a cookbook, does it makes sense to pitch it to a company that doesn’t do cookbooks? If you’ve made a game, why wouldn’t you take it to a designer? Yes, sure, okay, you can stretch and rationalize and say something like “Oh they’ll want to take a chance on me and my thing.” but hey, I’m sorry, they probably don’t, unless you’ve really pushed that .0001% of new and original take on a topic and they can’t easily name another product or book that already does what you’re proposing.
A pitch isn’t flattery, a pitch is about YOUR product. Yes, you might be nervous, starstruck, excited and eager to tell Big-Deal-Lady and her Big-Deal-Company about your project-you-want-to-make-into-your-0wn-big-deal because you really dig her work and love what she’s done with her hair, and you think she’s really kicking a lot of ass. She knows these things already. Not because she’s vain, but because she knows that people dig her work and that she changed her hair and that she’s kicking ass, that’s her job. She knows her job. What she doesn’t know is about your product. Tell her.
What’s The Product About? What Vibe Does It Give Off? What Vibe Do YOU Give Off (As You Talk About The Product)?
The pitch should say, express or be intriguing about “What”, as in “What’s the product about?” So your book, the pitch shouldn’t tell me what goes on in each chapter or section specifically (“In chapter 3, Ashley buys eggs! In chapter 4 omelets abound!”) but should tell me what the product’s vibe is, what I can expect to see or feel when I read it and what is interesting in how you’ve elected to express these things. Rather than hear about Ashley’s egg buying and omelet making, I would want to hear about Ashley’s domestic struggles due to the fact that there’s a terrible ninja and pirate civil war that’s gripped her town and all she can do to maintain her sanity is produce omelets, since her brother died harvesting eggs. Or something. The What is the greatest point of contact between pitch giver and audience, since it’s this content that the audience presumably asked for.
But the What isn’t the only element, nor the dominant element (that’s why there’s only 1 serving in this recipe).
Okay, there are two types of Why here. Each only gets one serving, but you only need one Why.
Why Should I Care About This Character/Her Experience? (The Fiction Why)
Interesting characters and their compelling possible arcs they may travel through your book are going to be far more enjoyable to read about than the boring dull characters who just seem to be doing stuff because they need stuff to do on paper. (This is also called filler or chuffah). If you start me with a good hook, something evocative and action-centric that will not just hold my attention but ask for more of it, I’ll want to invest the time/energy/emotion into seeing this character deliver on the promise of your pitch.
Why Should I Care About Your Product When/If Other Products Do The Same Thing? (The Game Why)
You’re making a ________ game? What’s different about yours, since I presume it’ll have _______________ and _____________ before you even detail it. Are you taking an existing trope or idea, and either invigorating it with new dimensions or exploiting it in a way where others are only perpetuating it? There’s a lot of games I could put on my shelf, why do I need yours? This is also your two-part reminder that your game doesn’t need to do EVERYTHING to answer these questions, nor do I need/want to hear about ALL the rules you’ve hacked/tweaked/lifted to help answer these questions – give me one or two and lure me in so that I want to read the rest. Note: If you’re new at this, falling back on your team approach or any strategies you have in place to expedite later steps in the production process are huge assets here.
Who’s This Character On Whatever Arc They’re On?
(For Games, swap “This Character” for “The Player(s)”) A pitch needs to present the axis upon which everything else in your pitch and subsequent product revolves around. If you’re selling an alternative to duct tape, you better help relate this product to the lives of people who do or can use duct tape. If you’re pitching the novel, who’s your protagonist? If it’s a game, what kind of player are you appealing towards, and who can the players expect to inhabit as characters? There should be a sense of arc progression here as well, at least giving us some sense of a starting point (“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”) as well as where they’re going, but not every step (“She took the midnight train going en-ee-where.”). Can you make it compelling? Serve me something carbonated, not flat. Serve me something with a palette of concepts, not just one heavily drenched idea.
Again there are two How possibilities, you only need one.
How Are You Going To Get This Product Off The Ground? (The Game Way)
It’s not enough to just write a game anymore. What do you plan to do with it once you’ve written all the words? Are you getting it edited? (By whom?) Will there be layout? (By whom?) Are you going to crowfund it, if so, what’s your plan like? What’s your expectation on audience engagement? Do you even have an audience? Are they built-in or is this a groundswell, and if this is a groundswell, how are you regularly stoking this fire? Is there art? (By whom?) Can any part of this be tagged as any “-ist” or “phobic”? Are you prepared for the time/energy investment and stress level of crowfunding management? Do you have stretch goals? What happens if you don’t fund?
How Are You Getting This Book Into Peoples’ Hands? (The Book Way)
It’s not enough to just write a book anymore and then the publisher fairies swoop in to handle the marketing and the book tour and all the bells and whistles. The money is gone. The fairies evaporated into glitter and rainbow sprinkles (jimmies). You, author, are going to need to handle and navigate social media. There’s no way around it if you want to have the audience you claim you do. Are you just lobbing text onto Amazon and hoping people get a whiff of your genius? Is it edited? How’s the cover looking? What’s the price point like? Are there print options? No Amazon or Smashwords? Okay, is this serialized on your blog? Is this a subscription model? Are you taking emails and shipping the books yourself? Are you selling them out of the back of your car in bowling alley parking lots next to the toothless lady who needs meth? Are you accessible on social media? Are you a jerk? How many paths have you built for people to travel to get your words in front of them?
Pitches are tough, but doable. A good method, a good strategy, can go a long way to making this easier.
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.