Founder and Chief Alchemist
Part skills lesson, part confession, part peptalk: this is my brand new radio interview on Your Book is Your Hook radio program, hosted by Jennifer Wilkov.  You'll recognize her as an expert-in-resident here at Pitch U!
University Publications - Free

The Monthly Pitch  BONUS! Receive "10 Reasons You Suck at Pitching Your Book" for signing up. It will make you feel a whole lot better.

The Pitch U Daily - Don't miss a single post.  Have them sent direct to your inbox, in time for mid-morning coffee.

Search Box
Pitch U Recommends...

Things we love!  (And no, these aren't ads.)









« Lesson 26: The Pathway to Courage | Main | Lesson 24: How to Pitch Your Book… Without Striking Out (funny videos; great advice) »

Lesson 25: Pitching with Heart

**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.**

CJ Tall Emergency Sign 3AB copy_optAs 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.

Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. critcon lores

Her latest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. You can learn more at and for free reads, "Like" her FaceBook.


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!

Here's how:

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!


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (22)

I'm glad I came across this information. I know some of my writer friends are planning on entering ABNA so I've posted this on my writing network.

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

Thanks, Joy! Glad you found it helpful!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

A scandal-tainted debutante is betrothed to a man who believes her inheritance is rightfully his.

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSelena Miskin

Saving this page to my favorites and looking forward to reading more of these; feel as though I've come across a little gold mine. Thanks for sharing, CJ. I especially appreciate the comment about not every book lends itself to high concept. Sometimes, I think it's just me who can't come up with one, lol.

Joanna Aislinn
Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
The Wild Rose Press

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoannna Aislinn

I think this works great as a summary pitch and definitely has potential to go high concept with a little work. Maybe focusing on how you put your own unique twist on the historic romance convention of a man wedding someone for their money?
Have fun with it!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Thanks, Joanna! Glad you enjoyed it!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Thanks CJ! I'll pound through some ideas tonight. Love your article - informative and entertaining.

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSelena Miskin

Glad to help, Selena!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Here's another try...
A scandal-tainted debutante proposes to her father's employee who believes her inheritance is his.
uuuggg! I think I have a good twist, but 15 words?!?!?!? This is tough :)

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSelena Miskin

Now the focus is on her: scandal ridden, she maybe the twist is *why* he thinks her inheritance is his? Obviously if he could get it legitamately he wouldn't need to bother with the marriage and if she knew he was a potential heir she wouldn't be proposing to him, so maybe that's where you should focus?

If you reveal that twist then take some of the focus off her--for instance in this version scandal ridden gives us the motivation for her to propose (instead of the other way around) BUT if the focus is instead placed on the WHY of the inheritance then you might be able to dump some verbage because it won't be needed.

Only you can decide--but remember, you're creating ONE emotional promise to the reader, not trying to explain the entire story.

Have fun!

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Ihere is my HCP pitch

Anthony James Craven, the fifth Earl of Wickham, lives and breathes seduction. His lazy, utterly arrogant smile, promises women paradise and nothing more. He is a notorious rake and determined bachelor – but Miss Melissa Goodly will make him love her. After all, she is now his wife.


January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBron

Not sure if this is doing the unique hook - universal fear combo, but I'm keen to hear if I'm on track. I've kept it deliberately short because I get the feeling that's what you're after?

There's nothing worse than a love triangle - except when your sister makes it a square.

Thanks, CJ - a great post!

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

Bron, that's a good summary pitch. If you want to take it to high concept focus on how your story of reformed rake (a historical romance convention) is unique compared to all the others out there.

Have fun with it!

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Maggie, good job! I'd call that a high concept because you make us an emotional promise with the twist/irony of the sister being the "extra" in the love're promising us that this will be a fun, sexy story (the promise) AND you tell us exactly what the story is about (the premise) in a few words.

Any reader/editor/agent who enjoys this kind of story would immediately be drawn in and compelled to ask questions and want more.

For those who've posted summary pitches, can you see the difference here? Maggie didn't "tell" the story, she "showed" us its essence.

Well done!!!

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Hi Maggie - I really like your pitch. It shows your voice and type of story well.

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBron

OMG - you mean I cracked it? Yippee!!!!!! (Huge grins, dancing like maniac, etc) Thanks, CJ. I've never really felt I had a good handle on the high concept pitch before, but your explanation just made it so, so clear the fog has finally lifted for me.

Thanks, Bron, for the backpat :)

A question, CJ - can you tell me when you would choose to use each of the three pitches you've described?


January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

Glad to help, Maggie! Now, are you all listening? Cause I'm gonna give you the KEY to everything!!!

Ready? Here it goes: it's all about the audience....

So the answer to how to craft a great pitch or query or whatever isn't about what works for you or lets you tell as much of the story as you can cram into a few words, it's about the impact on the audience.

When to use which type of pitch? Look at your audience. If your audience is the folks you're handing a business card to then your high concept is perfect--short, sweet, easily readible...same for a query letter or if in a face to face pitch with someone (that's why I love high concepts, when you have one, you can use it everywhere!)

On your website you'll probably use this PLUS a summary pitch to answer the questions you know your audience will have--but of course, don't answer all of them, leave them wanting more....

Hope that helps!

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Lyons

Nice job write mine!!!

CJ thanks for all the tips.

Good luck to all!

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSelena Miskin

Hi Selena - thanks for the backpat :) I've been trying to post this comment to you for several hours, probs every time I hit "publish comment". Hopefully it'll work this time...

Re your summary pitch - I was a bit confused when I read your two versions because their focuses were so different. I know it's a historical, and there's scandal to be overcome, and I'm hoping for some romance ;) But I think (and I may be way off-base here, but I'm still learning!) perhaps you need to focus on just one character's story or one "hook" for the high concept pitch. Either that or summarise it even further! Is that possible? Which is the biggest hook?


January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

Hi Bron - re your pitch, it's a FAB summary pitch :) To turn it into a good high concept pitch, I would ditch the names. Then - um... is it something to do with commitment-phobe versus commitment-disciple in a boxing ring called marriage?


January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

CJ, Maggie is having a hard time posting, Something going on with our comments form, but she's still here!

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Excellent posts to read keep it up and keep going on this way. And keep sharing these types of things Thanks

April 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDonald

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>