The Newcastle Writing Conference included various break-out sessions, such as websites and blogging, how to edit your work, vlogging, and meet the agent with Mark Stanton. But I chose the pitching session, because I already have a blog, I didn’t have a piece of work I was willing to share in the editing session, I have no intention of making videos of myself (the horror!), and I already sent Mark Stanton my first book and he didn’t want it. So, pitching it was.
I knew this session would be helpful because I know the tutor and attended screenwriting workshops with him in the past. Steve Chambers leads the MA in Creative Writing at Northumbria University and has written for TV, radio, stage and screen, and published his novel Gladio in 2013. To the notes:
How to Pitch Your Work
Pitching is quite simple really – it’s just telling the story. If you want your work to get out into the world, you have to pitch. There’s no way to avoid it and you need to practise, but the more you do it the better you’ll get at it.
“Telling a story is like mental carpentry.”
So what is a story? Everyone recognises a good story when they hear it, and they know when it doesn’t work. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and in each section you can expect certain things to happen:
- Meet the character(s)
- Set the scene
- Discover the problem (conflict at the heart of the story)
- Character development
- Characters face problems
- Meet new allies and new enemies
- Stakes raised
- ‘the plot thickens’
The most important thing, especially for pitching a story, is the main character’s journey. When someone asks what your story is about, you don’t say “it’s about innocence” or “love” or whatever. That’s the theme. The story is what gives you the space to talk about whatever you want to say through the character. So the pitch should focus on this character in this place who goes on this journey. It’s not about the “issues” behind the story or why you want to write it.
Some ideas are easier to pitch than others. Steve gave us some good examples of pitches he’d done, including one where the woman he was pitching to turned her back halfway through! But she bought the idea – she just wanted to close her eyes and visualise what he was saying.
Of course, not everyone will like your idea – even if you pitch it well. But you should never apologise for your story. If you’re doing a verbal pitch, do it without notes and make eye contact. Tell the story like you’re in the pub with your mates. And if it’s a long pitch, don’t lose confidence, even if they appear to lose interest.
Just tell the story in the most straightforward way. Some stories will need a bit of contextualising if they’re more complex, so mention the setting if you need to. If it’s a true story or inspired by one, state this up front. Be elegant and brief. So set the story up, then indicate the main elements of the emotional journey.
“Simplify the plot, complicate the inner journey.”
Start with the main character in their ordinary world before the inciting incident. Explain what they want, why they want it, and why they can’t get it. If you’re doing a verbal pitch, start by telling the story and then, if they ask questions, you can get into where the idea came from and why you want to write it. You might also talk about the style of the writing, i.e. genre, tone, etc.
Always include the ending. Most people will want to know what happens so they can be sure the story makes sense.
If it’s a written pitch, use the same structure but on paper. Keep it short – a one page outline that reveals the structure of the narrative. Boil it down to something pithy – if you can’t do this, it’s probably because you don’t know the story well enough. Sometimes it reads better if it’s written more spontaneously, so write the pitch the way you tell it. “Write it well, creatively, eloquently, cleverly.”
Unique Selling Point
Every time you write something, it’s effectively a pitching document. And a pitch is a selling document. So it can help to think about the USP of your story. What are the unique creative elements: in the idea, the story, the way it’s written? Publishers need to know how to sell your work, and the pitch will help them to do that. Even if you have a good story and a great pitch, one third will love it, one third will hate it, and one third will be indifferent. There’s nothing you can do about that.
You don’t really have a choice about the kind of writer you are, or your voice. Just believe in your story and ideas. Stick with what you do best and don’t try to follow what others say you should or shouldn’t do.
Don’t wait until you have a story to sell before you write your pitch. If you practise pitching it can help you to identify structural problems with your story before you get to the selling stage.
Here’s some questions that you can think about which can help you to clarify your pitch:
- What’s the concept – theme – genre?
- What’s the emotional effect of the story?
- What’s the psychology underpinning it, and the archetypes?
- What’s the inner conflict of the main character?
- What’s the interpersonal conflict between the characters?
- What are the motives and motivation?
- What’s the back story?
- What’s the log-line? (how would you pitch the story if it was a movie?)
- What five keywords do you want people to remember of your story?
- Who is the target audience? Why?
- What inspired the story?
- Why is this project important? Why now?
- In what context is the story important for the audience?
- What should people take from it?
- Why are you predestined to write this?
- Why are you doing what you’re doing?
- What is your life statement? (your own personal log-line – you can see mine on the log-line of this blog!)
Finally, the best thing for pitching is some sort of personal contact, so look for pitching events. There’s one on twitter called PitMad. I found this post that includes details on the event and the rules – the next one is on 10th September 2015.
Example Pitch: read a slightly shorter version of the pitch that won me a screenwriting competition at the end of the post: How to Develop a Screenplay Part 1 (under the pic of the Cheviots). We finish my conference notes next time with the afternoon sessions in: Non-Traditional Publishing