So, after two weeks struggling with writer’s block,
I’ve finally realised I’d be better off doing something else: I’m going to send
The Sapience Assessment off to Agents and Publishers (A&Ps).
Which gives me a good excuse to write another
diatribe about pitches. Sorry if this is a long one!
It turns out that most A&Ps don’t request a
pitch, as such. They all want a synopsis and at least part of the manuscript,
perhaps with a cover letter. My advice here is: write the pitch anyway and put
it in the cover letter. For the reasons why you absolutely need a pitch see Part 1: managing expectations.
Engineer that I am, to me a pitch has a logic to it.
First, make sure it conveys all the information the A&P needs to know, and
second, emphasise the key element of the story (as discussed in Part 1). To get
all the information in there, the simplest way is just to use a check-list of
question words. Here’s the recipe I’m using for my pitch:
to the series
for this book
I already discussed the importance and pitfalls of
the genre statement in Part 2, so I won’t go through that again. Just be aware
of the implicit assumptions that a genre statement generates so be as specific
on the book type as you can.
to the Series
Most books will not need this section.
The where? and when? questions are only relevant if
your book has a historical or geographical setting which forms a point of
interest. So if you’ve written a historical drama you ought to mention the
period, if your book is set in Mongolia, that’s important, but you would not
normally have a separate section, you would probably mention them in the main book
In my case, I have this separate section because my
book is part of a series set in the future on different planets and I felt that
was important information to get across before delving into the main pitch.
Also, my series has an overarching theme, which I
wanted to mention. It’s increasingly common, especially since the Harry Potter
phenomenon, for a series of books, while stories in their own right, to work
progressively towards solution to an overall issue.
for this book
Books in different genres are likely to have different
styles of pitch, so my recipe may not work for you. You might, for instance,
keep the question checklist but change the order, or you might want to just run
with other concepts.
I put the who? question first is a way of indicating
that this is character-based fiction. This is showing that, in my mind, the
most important aspect of my story is the main character and her arc.
In this book, I only have one main character, so this
part should be easy. In later books I might mention two key characters, but I
suspect any more than that would be too cumbersome for a brief pitch.
Who? Means the character’s name and some indication
of who they are or what they desire. So in my book, I have Thea Hyde, an
intelligence operative who is desperate to get back to fieldwork after an
Examples in other genres: a young woman, dissatisfied
with her life in some way, is seeking escape, excitement, or love (romance
genre); someone with a special skill is chosen (perhaps unwillingly) to fulfil a
role or quest (fantasy genre).
This is where I put the ‘plot question’ – what is
the driver of the plot, the problem to be solved, or the threat to be overcome?
This is a tough one for me. My book has several plot
threads, each with their own question.
Ostensibly, Thea’s mission is to find out whether a
certain alien species is sapient, so that they can be saved from extinction.
The trouble is, most readers don’t seem able to generate much sympathy for
giant talking termites, so they don’t care. It’s a weak question.
As it turns out, the mission is a front for
political manoeuvrings, with other aliens trying to sabotage it for their own
ends. At the start of the story, though, this is not known, so the only
question I could pose might be: who is trying to sabotage the mission and why?
Again, it seems weak.
My main character has her own question to solve,
too. An amnesiac, she is trying to recover understanding of who she is and why
she has elevated duty to the Federation above all else. Perhaps there is
another question: will she rediscover herself?
As I write this, I still don’t know which question I’m
going to use (sigh).
This introduces the stakes. Why is it so important
for the Who? to overcome the What?
Be careful - I find many people neglect this one.
There’s a temptation to assume that readers will understand the stakes without
Don’t assume. We actually need to be told that if
the young woman in the romance does not find love, she will fall into
depression / slavery / poverty / succumb to the evil stepmother. We need to be
told that if the fantasy quest fails it will mean the slaughter of innocents / fall
of the kingdom / extinction of the dragons/elves/race of men. We need to know
that this story is important.
Now I’ve written that, I’ve realised I have no
mention of the Why? in my previous attempts at pitches. Haha. Guess I’d better
learn to walk the talk.
I tend to present the pitch as a teaser, telling the
A&P what the protagonist needs to do, but not going as far as how she does
it, or even whether or not she succeeds. I think that’s best left to the
synopsis, so this is optional.
Here we go:
Sapience Assessment (science fiction, 81,500 words) is the first book in my Transhumanity
Series. These are soft SF adventures aimed at a new adult readership. The
overall theme is a questioning of what makes us human, following a young woman
who, over the course of four books, is transformed into a cyborg.
series is set in the 24th century, a time in which transference
links provide instantaneous travel between planets. Humans are one of dozens of
species in the Sapients’ Interplanetary Federation (SIF), run by the powerful
Sowers. The human government has developed a strong presence in SIF through its
military arm, Exforce, and intelligence service, Macropol, but the Federation
is under threat from the H!ane (Hakkannay).
the start of The Sapience Assessment, Macropol Recorder Thea Hyde, who’s been sidelined
for a year by injury, jumps at a chance to recover her self-esteem and field
agent status. She is to use her neural implants to record the work of a scientific
team, sent to assess the sapience of an alien species and decide whether they
will be granted asylum and saved from extinction. When someone attempts to
sabotage the mission it is up to Thea to discover who and why. The treachery
she uncovers will have implications for herself and the entire Federation.
Hope that’s helpful to people, to see my take on
writing pitches. Comments on my pitch effort will be very welcome, but get them
in quick as I’m going to send it off to A&Ps in the next few days!