If you have read my blog, you probably already know that I wrote two books before FIRSTS that I ended up shelving. Both were New Adult contemporary. Both meant a lot to me when I wrote them. I learned a lot from each one, about writing and about myself. I fantasized about seeing those books on bookshelves someday. I was sure that they were good enough, that somebody would have to see the potential.
Needless to say, that didn’t exactly happen.
And now I’m so grateful for that.
Of course, at the time, I wasn’t. At the time, I felt defeated. I grappled with the idea of giving up. But when I look at those manuscripts today, I know why they didn’t work. It’s not that the writing was terrible or the plot was stupid or the characters were one-dimensional. It wasn’t that one particular thing was egregiously wrong. It’s just that something was missing. Something huge and vital that I didn’t see at the time.
Those two books had no hook. And because of that, they had no pulse.
When it came down to writing a pitch, I couldn’t. I couldn’t summarize either of them in one or two sentences. I told myself it was because too much was going on, that it was impossible to condense a book wherein so many things happened. If somebody would have asked me what either of those books were about, I would have struggled to explain. I might have said something along the lines of: “It’s about this girl, and she meets these people, and stuff happens.” Which doesn’t really sound like a book somebody desperately needs to pick up.
Now I see why I couldn’t write a decent pitch. It wasn’t because too much was going on. It was because not enough was going on. Sure, things happened to the characters. But there was no major conflict, no tension. No hook.
So when I set out to write FIRSTS, I tried something different. I had the hook in my head before I even wrote a word. I had the central conflict: Girl offers guys the chance to get their awkward first times over with. Problem is, those guys have girlfriends. Problem is, somebody is bound to find out. That was all I started with. I had no outline, no real direction beyond that. Since I’m a pantser, at a few points during the story I wasn’t quite sure what would happen next. But when I felt like I was stuck or veering off course, I referred back to that hook and remembered the bones of the book. Its lifeblood.
Now, I apply this strategy to everything I write. Whenever I start a new project, I make sure I can condense it into a tightly wound pitch. Not only because I can easily explain to other people, but because I remember what it’s about. I remember the crux, the reason why this story needs to be told. And the reason why I need to tell it.
Being able to sum up your story into a pitch is a good skill to learn if you’re a querying writer. A great query is all about conflict and clarity– to make an agent want to keep reading, you need to show the stakes. And if you’re entering contests, you’ll be one step ahead if you have a pitch ready. Twitter contests like Brenda Drake’s #PitMad (which is coming up again on December 4!) are an excellent opportunity to get agent attention, and the fact that you have 140 characters or less to pique interest means you have to choose your words wisely.
If you’re struggling with the pitch, you’re definitely not alone. But finding your hook will make your work so much stronger. If you’re a writer who would like a second set of eyes on your pitch, leave a comment below or message me on Twitter at @laurellizabeth.