**This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.” Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.**
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.
The Pitch is a writer’s best friend.
Why? Because it's what you'll use every time someone asks you to tell them about your book. Agents, editors, elevator folks, Great Aunt Martha. Whoever.
So you need to polish it, and since it's verbal, shorter is better. No more than 25 words total, 10-15 is best.
Short, sweet, memorable. That's what you're going for—hey, I didn't say it would be easy!
There are several different types of pitches. Here's how I define them:
#1 The Elevator Pitch
The ELEVATOR PITCH is a very quick, easily memorable way to let someone who has never read your work know what it's going to be like (note: not what it's about, but what they can expect).
For my medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, it is: ER meets Grey's Anatomy
Implying that it has the edgy realism and non-stop action of ER but also focuses on relationships like Grey's Anatomy.
For my latest thriller, CRITICAL CONDITION, the pitch is: Die Hard in a hospital. Pretty much says it all *grin*
An elevator pitch is your down and dirty answer to: what is your book like? It's a comparison, not an explanation or description.
The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known (like Indiana Jones) or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read *grin*
#2 The Summary Pitch
Another common pitch is the SUMMARY PITCH. Think TV Guide blurbs.
Like the elevator pitch, it's very short and sweet, giving the audience only what they need to decide if they're interested or not, nothing more.
In fact, the best way to learn how to construct a premise or summary of your story is to study TV Guide or IMDB for their short plot summaries of movies.
But, if you really want to hook your audience, I would suggest taking the art of pitching one step further and creating a high concept pitch.
#3 The High Concept Pitch
The HIGH CONCEPT PITCH is truly pitching with heart. Here your aim is to bypass the audience's brain and aim straight for their emotional response.
Instead of comparisons, you use ICONs or universal concepts to connect your fictional world to the world of your audience. This creates emotional velcro with your audience, leading them to be interested enough to want to know more!
To do this, you need to do two things:
First, find a hook. This is the unique spin that you have put on your story. This means narrowing your search to one small part of your story.
Basically you're boiling your novel down to one and only one unique concept--whatever it is about your story that will create an immediate emotional connection or spark interest.
Second, tie this unique hook to the larger world by using universal icons and feelings, implying that society at large is affected. You need something that brings this hook, specific to the time and place of your novel, into the ordinary world of your audience.
You're building a bridge here, connections, emotional Velcro. Whatever you want to call it, it needs to be so easy to grasp that anyone can feel it immediately. They don't need to think—they can "see" the potential instantly.
One of my favorite high concepts: ALIEN's. It was: Jaws on a spaceship.
The unique hook = spaceship. Unique because no one has been on a spaceship, it's something unfamiliar to the ordinary audience.
The universal icon = monster (Jaws). Everyone has had childhood fears of monsters under the bed. We all know and understand fear, nightmares, terror.
Add the two together, and we have a universal fear of monsters combined with nowhere to run (trapped on a spaceship). A powerful one-two punch!!! Feel how it evokes an immediate visceral response as well as intrigue???
The audience hearing this high concept immediately squirm in their seats, asking themselves: where can the people on the ship run? How can they fight the monster?
AND, the movie makers tied this high concept into their advertising by using a tag line of: In space, no one can hear you scream....
But note—there is no mention of character names, no long, involved psychological profiles, nothing except the bare essentials needed to pique the audience's attention.
That's the beauty of the high concept; it strips everything away except what you need to intrigue your audience.
Another example. David Morrell's recent book, SCAVENGERS used as its high concept: a scavenger hunt (unique hook) to the death (universal concept). The tag line used in advertising: Some secrets should remain buried....
Stephen King is also brilliant with high concepts. CUJO: rabid St. Barnard (hook) terrorizes town (universal fear). SALEMs LOT: vampires (unique hook--at the time) terrorize town (universal fear), CARRIE: prom queen (hook) terrorizes town.... Okay, anyone think King is writing sweet romance? Or has he earned his title of the King of Terror?
So much depends on knowing your audience that it's hard for anyone else who hasn't read the entire book to create a high concept for you. It all depends who your target audience is and what kind of emotional experience you want to promise them.
Look For The Irony
Here's a hint to get you started—first, look for irony.
Most high concepts have implied irony as one of their emotional hits. Look at all the examples above; can you feel the one-two punch of emotion? Irony (the unique twist) plus whatever else you're promising the reader.
Often, because the high concept is such a tiny taste of the entire book, as writers, we get frustrated because we're looking at the big picture. We just spent months with these characters. We want to share them with our audience, expand on them, not boil them down to a bare skeleton *grin*
But think of it this way--if you boil your story down to a compelling high concept, then the reader will spend hours with your characters as they read. (After they pay their money for the book, of course, lol!)
The high concept is a way to give your audience a sneak peak of the emotions they'll feel while reading your book.
And not every book lends itself to a high concept, so don't get too frustrated if this doesn't seem to fit your work!
The only way to learn how to do these is dive in and give it a try!
1) Go to IMDB or TV Guide, find blurbs for stories that are similar to yours. Look at the "pitches" used get people to watch, record, go to the theaters.
2) Step back and analyze your book's emotional goals.
3) List your book's potential Unique Twists and opportunities for irony.
4) Combine those with Universal Icons to create several high-concept pitches; identify the strongest contender; try it out on critique partners and us, here at Pitch U.
Get Feedback Now
If you'd like feedback, feel free to post your pitch in the comments but for every pitch you post, please give feedback to at least two others. Let them know what kind of book you expect it to be from their pitch (the promise of the premise) and if their pitch hooked you into wanting to know more.
Have fun with it!