Friday, March 11, 2011

My Ten Tips for The Dreaded Two-line Pitch

In just two weeks' time I will be in York for the Festival of Writing. In January when I booked I thought I had plenty of time to prepare myself. I think maybe I had under-estimated quite how much there was to do (or how long each of those might take!)

It has involved a lot of work (and I am still not done) but now it is getting closer to the event I am really looking forward to it. As I am in the earlier stages of my writing career some people have questioned why I want to go there and my answer is primarily to learn but also to network. This does, however, mean being able to talk in comprehensive sentences.

Talking is normally easy for me but I know that I am a rambler. Even in this blog post I haven't quite got to the point yet. It's the moment you get asked 'So, what's your novel about?' Now I know what my book is about, who the characters are, what the conflict is so it should be easy to put all that in one or two sentences. How hard can it be to sum up the project you have worked on for months? Much harder than I thought.

Those two little lines have taken me over a week to finally come up with something that I'm happy with. During that time lots of people on twitter also reported how difficult they find this stage of the writing process. So now that I have come out the other side I thought I would write up some 'tips'. I'm not sure if they are helpful ones as I really don't know what I'm on about yet but I'll soon get to test my elevator pitch at York.

1) Don't gloss over the important bits
  • My first version was like a cream cake with no cream. Looked good but no substance when you took a bite.
2) Consider the main conflict of your story 
  • Like most stories mine has a complex plot. In my early pitchs I was trying to highlight what I thought should be there rather than what actually was. It was almost like I was trying to present a menu without checking what ingredients I had. It made me think about where the real centres of conflict are within the story and thus where the hook lies.
3) Don't go into too much detail
  • There will be more than one area of conflict within your story. It is not possible to try and point out every twist and turn in your plot in two sentences. 
4) You don't need to include all the names of all your characters 
  • I found I was trying too hard to not only name my protagonist but some of the other main characters. It really wasn't necessary and would also be quite hard to follow if listening to lots of names so I simplified it.
5) Don't deliver anything too generic
  • In more than one version I felt like I was just saying 'Blah, Blah, Blah!' The reason I thought that was because too easily they sounded like any other novel. There was nothing to distinguish my novel from every other chick-lit novel based on my pitch.
6) Say it out loud
  • I am in the habit of reading my work aloud when I am at the edit stage. I think when writing up something that you will ultimately be saying out loud is especially important.
7) Make sure you don't get tongue twisted
  • This follows on from the last. If it's too complicated to say easily then change it to something that will be. It may be the best two line pitch ever but if you end up tripping over it you may never get it out.
8) Record it and listen back to it
  • I found this really useful. I have a record function (which I think most modern mobile phones have hidden somewhere) which I never used until recently. I recorded myself reading out my pitch and listened back. I found by doing this I could be a lot more objective. 
9) Don't include unnecessary details
  • Like I said I'm a rambler and it is easy to include unnecessary details but here you are stripping back and getting to the crux of the story.
10) Make sure it's something you can memorise
  • This may be obvious but this is something you will have to repeat again and again. Make sure it is something you will be able to memorise.
On that note I better start memorising mine. I really should include the before and after versions in here as examples but I will save them for now and add them at a later date. I want to test mine out first!

If you have any other pointers or tips please add them below. All help much appreciated.

PS: Writing this at a late hour and not able to see straight - apologies for any mistakes!


  1. I attended York last year and was in the very very early stages of my 'serious' writing. I learnt so many career changing lessons.
    I think it is an asset to go at any stage of your writing career, regardless of what you know you can always learn!

    I hated writing my two line pitch and which I'd kept a record of it evolving.

    Now it stands at:
    Many generations have passed since The Salvus left Earth, and now the segregated socities are running out of genetically viable matches. A Serf girl and two Elitist boys try to bring down the barriers, but murders, kidnapping and betrayl stand in their way.

    God knows it's any good!

    Like you say theirs so much more to the book but it's impossible to get it all in.

  2. I am also going to York and am so terrified of the 'elavator pitch' that every time I think about it I want to be ill! You've given some good tips, so I'm going to relook it. I was thinking maybe I should just print out my two sentences on a business card and dish them out. Hmm...maybe not. See you there!

  3. Welcome to you both and I really look forward to meeting you both there. This really has been the hardest part so far but I have been reassured to hear many other authors struggle with this.

    I just have to hope I remember it along with the nerves!

  4. Hi Katy,

    I'm crossing my fingers for you in York, you've put the work in...and deserve some good feedback.

    I'm sure you'll meet lots on new buddies. Points eight and ten are very useful tips I'll be following.

    Thank you


  5. Wish you all the best for York. I've found your tips very interesting. I would add one more which someone once told me:


    It is so easy a trap to fall into and I didn't even realise I was doing it!

  6. Great post Katy! Best of luck at York. And if all else fails - you're still welcome to the two liner we came up with ;-)


  7. Have decided for my elevator pitch that everyone is getting in at the basement and not getting out again until floor 110!

  8. Thank you for all the comments. Taking all the good wishes and popping them in my suitcase to take with me!

    Great tip, Hannah - I was guilty of that on the way (may need to check I'm still okay on that!)

    It was a great two liner, Lucie. We are going to go far!

    And Simon, if it's a glass elevator with a red button I may have to refuse to get in there with you! I won't need to though - I already know yours is excellent!