Big Nugget: The One-Sentence Pitch

Also known as the logline or hookline (and not to be confused with an author’s tagline), the one-sentence pitch is important if you’re going to move your manuscript off your computer and into the hands of an agent or editor.

Rachelle Gardner reiterated what I’d heard before at the Maui Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writers Conference: it should be no more than 25 words in length.

But she also went into more detail. It can double as the first line in your query letter or the first sentence you use in your pitch to an agent at a conference. And it should include at least three of the following five characteristics:

  • Character
  • Choice, conflict, or goal
  • What’s at stake
  • Action
  • Setting

She then gave some examples from two well-known books, as well as a book she agented:

“A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who has murdered his parents.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

“In the south in the 1960’s, three women cross racial boundaries, risking their lives to begin a movement that will forever change their town and the way women view one another.” (The Help)

“Chaos is unleashed on a quiet coastal town when an unassuming crippled woman raises a young boy from the dead, unlocking a centuries-old curse.” (When Faith Awakes)

You can see that each of these examples include at least three of the five elements she listed, and while one does extend beyond 25 words, all pack the gist of their story into one sentence.

She said that the keys to composing an effective one-sentence pitch are:

1) Keep it simple (with only one plotline and 2-3 characters mentioned at the most).

2) Use strong nouns, verbs, and adjectives (I blogged more about this here and how it also applies to the first lines of novels. Check it out and vote on your favorite opening lines.)

3) Don’t pitch a theme, pitch what happens.

4) Make the conflict clear without hinting at the solution.

If you’re still fuzzy about how to compose a good, one-sentence pitch, she recommended the formulaic method espoused by fellow agent, Nathan Bransford here.

Webinar with Agent Rachelle Gardner

Today I spent 90 minutes online and on the phone with a literary agent.

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner

No, I don’t have an agent yet, and though I used my phone for the audio, it wasn’t exactly a personal phone call. There were probably thousands of others out there also listening in (including my friend and fellow writer, Liz Adair) as Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary Agency gave a power point presentation entitled “Sell Your Stuff: Learn the Secrets to Selling Your Fiction and Memoir.”

Sponsored by Writers Digest, it was definitely time and money well spent, as she covered in detail how to make sure your work is ready to pitch (particularly those first few pages), and then how to make sure you’ve got a good query letter, a good log-line (or 1-sentence pitch), and a good elevator pitch. She took questions (which we typed in and submitted throughout the presentation), promising to answer all of those she didn’t have time for by email over the next 2 weeks. As a bonus, we also get to send her an elevator pitch or 1-sentence pitch for her to critique personally.

So what did I learn? I’ll share my lessons in nuggets over the next couple of weeks through this blog. Today’s nugget:

Do NOT start your novel (or memoir) with backstory. In fact, don’t bring any backstory in during the first few pages. Then, if you need to add some backstory, weave it in skillfully. Most agents, including this one, will give the first few pages of a manuscript more weight than the query letter itself, so you’ve got to make sure you come off like a pro in those first pages and a professional writer plunges you into the story, rather than spending paragraphs and pages setting everything up.

More on what they’re looking for in those opening pages in days to come.