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Mastering the Pitch: Perfecting Your Hook, Elevator Speech, and Synopsis


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Literary agents and independent publishers report that they’re flooded with more queries and proposals than ever before, even as publishers cut back the number of books they produce each year. How can writers break through the noise and get their projects noticed? This class helped attendees step back and see their fiction or nonfiction work through fresh eyes and a business-based perspective. We identified the things that make work unique, marketable, and irresistible to publishing gatekeepers, and then with lots of examples and time for practice and personal feedback, we worked on verbal “elevator pitches,” one-paragraph hooks (great for query letters), and the dreaded synopsis. (This is also a valuable class for self-publishing writers who want to pitch their books so that readers pay attention.)

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Mastering the Pitch: Perfecting Your Hook, Elevator Speech, and Synopsis

  1. 1. How do we attract a publisher to partner with us to bring our books to the world?
  2. 2. How do we attract readers to invest their time and money in our books, when they have so many other choices?
  3. 3. 2017: 304,912 books traditionally published
  4. 4. You’re applying for the same job as 10,000 other people
  5. 5. Large Publishers Smaller Independent Publishers
  6. 6.  What are your comparative titles?  Who published those titles?  What are those publishers looking for?
  7. 7. Science fiction Memoir Self Help Action Romance Poetry History Health Picture Fantasy Travel Thriller Spirituality Art Young Adult Essay
  8. 8. In one sentence: What makes this book different? Goal: “Tell me MORE!”
  9. 9.  Premise?  Time?  Setting?  Contrast?  Title?  Solution?  Tone?
  10. 10.  Themes  The ending or solution  Secondary characters or subplots
  11. 11.  What is your genre?
  12. 12.  What is your genre?  What is your hook?
  13. 13. “What’s your book about?”
  14. 14. 1. Title
  15. 15. 1. Title 2. Genre
  16. 16. 1. Title 2. Genre 3. Hook
  17. 17. 1. Title 2. Genre 3. Hook 4. What sets the book in motion: problem
  18. 18. 1. Title 2. Genre 3. Hook 4. What sets the book in motion (the problem) 5. Promise
  19. 19. Hook: The Cormoran Strike detective novels introduce a down-on-his-luck PI who lost a leg in Afghanistan and his fiancé just yesterday. Problem: In the first book, A Cuckoo’s Calling, he’s living in his office when a barrister arrives, claiming that his supermodel half-sister’s suicide wasn’t really a suicide at all, but a murder. Promise: The case plunges Strike into a world of multimillionaire models, rock star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and uncovers a few of his own hidden secrets on its way toward the truth.
  20. 20.  Hook: “I’m writing a cookbook that’s full of deliciously modern recipes for outdoor adventures.”  Problem: “There are plenty of cookbooks, but none that take into account the challenges of day trips, car camping, or especially back country hiking.”  Promise: “Dirty Gourmet offers a tested set of recipes, from snacks to meals to cocktails, all designed to be made and enjoyed in the great outdoors.”
  21. 21.  Excessive back story or setup  Scene-by-scene descriptions  Names  Solutions/resolutions
  22. 22. 1. Genre 2. The hook 3. What sets the book in motion (the problem) 4. Promise 5. Comparison/culture/audience
  23. 23. 1. Genre 2. The hook 3. What sets the book in motion 4. Comparison/Culture/Audience 5. About you
  24. 24.  Previous publications  Professional credentials  Endorsements  Awards  Education  Membership  Existing audience
  25. 25. Your Turn to Pitch!
  26. 26. Dear Agent…
  27. 27.  Is it a good idea?  Are you the right author?  Is this the right time?  Why is this the right publisher/agent?
  28. 28. Old School Definition and Expectation: 1-2 pages, single spaced, summary of all active events in a narrative (fiction or nonfiction) in chronological order. (In nonfiction, often accomplished by an annotated chapter outline)
  29. 29. More Recent (Occasional) Definition: 1-2 paragraphs capturing the essence and overview of the work
  30. 30.  Start with the first chapter, and the first event.  Describe active scenes as they unfold, in the order the reader sees them.  Don’t pause or explain anything that’s outside the narrative.
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