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B&N Week 169: Are You An Effective Pitch Writer?

| March 19, 2014

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We’ve got another Tuesday! You know what that means, right? Another Bolts & Nuts question!

This week’s question: are you an effective pitch writer?

Face it—pitch writing is challenging. And it doesn’t help that there is a lot of misinformation out there about what a pitch is and what it is supposed to do.

A comic book pitch is a document that is no longer than two pages, and its only job is to sell an idea to a publisher. So, the pitch should tell the entire story, tell a story arc, tell a character arc, and leave no question unanswered. It has to gain the interest of the publisher, and it has to do it in the least amount of words possible.

A pitch is not a logline. It is not a boiling down of the idea to a sentence or two. That doesn’t help anyone.

A pitch is not boring. It tells the story, not the backstory. If the backstory doesn’t make it into the story itself, it shouldn’t be in the pitch. If you put the backstory in the pitch, it’s going to be boring, and you won’t sell your idea.

A pitch is not confusing. It should be easy to follow, and not be scattered all over the place.

A pitch should be written in broad strokes. It shouldn’t be caught up in the minutia. Minutia is boring.

A pitch can be written in “voice,” meaning if it’s a comedy, you can tell jokes; if it’s a mystery, build the mood.

All of this has to be kept in mind when you’re writing a pitch, and it can be nerve wracking, because you don’t know if you’re doing it “right.”

Pitches get written, sent, and rejected on a regular basis. I see pitches on a regular basis, and I’m very often disgusted by them. It isn’t because I have exceptionally high standards, either. It’s just that as soon as I see the first mistake, my mind shuts down and I’m no longer interested. If you want your work published, the least you can do is to kill all the mistakes you can: spelling, punctuation, grammar. As soon as I see one of those, my mind shuts down, because I feel the writer doesn’t care. Want to be above the rest? Kill all the simple mistakes you can.

Want to know what publishers are looking for when they get a pitch? Originality is part of it, but they also want to see if you can tell a story. If you can tell [and sell] a story in a pitch, then odds are that you can tell a story in a script. If you can’t tell a story in a pitch, then the publisher may believe that you can’t tell the story in a comic. This may not be correct because pitching is difficult, but it may be what they believe.

Effectiveness is easy to measure. Was the story accepted? If that answer is yes, then you were effective in pitching. If the answer is no, then you weren’t.

Here are some rules for effective pitching. They won’t all apply, but ignore them at your peril.

-The editor is not your audience. If you ask a question in the pitch, the answer had better be included. If it isn’t, go back to the drawing board.

-Be compelling. You want the editor to get past the first few lines? Use language that is compelling, so they will have a hard time in not reading it. [This is where most pitches stumble and fall.]

-Be brief. Get in and get out. The more bogged down you get, the easier it is to lose the intended audience. We don’t want to know the minutia yet. In the pitch, we want to know about the story.

-Describe two arcs. The first arc is the character arc. The editor should know where the character starts and how they change through the story. The second is the story arc. How the single story begins and ends. [If you’re swinging for the fence and are trying to do an ongoing series, then describe the opening story arc.]

-Only give enough backstory to give weight to the ending. No one cares about the 100 page bible you wrote that describes everything that happens to all of your characters. That’s for you, not for the editor. They just want to know the interesting parts that gives the story its charge.

-Don’t play games with the pitch or the page margins. If you’ve written a pitch and it barely goes more than two pages, then find a way to reduce the amount of words. You need to edit more. Reducing the pitch [size of the text] or increasing the margins on the page tells me you’re trying to get over on me, and if you try it here, where else are you going to try it?

-Don’t overthink. I’ve seen a lot of questions about a lot of things that were amazingly clear in the instructions. Overthinking can be fatal. In the Marine Corps, I learned that the only stupid question is the one not asked, but there are times when I disagree with that. Just follow the directions given.

Want to be effective? Follow those simple rules and you’ll be an effective pitch writer.

And that’s all I have for this week. See you in seven.

Click here to discuss in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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