Writers are all about finding the right words, but many have trouble when it comes to pitching their novel to others. They may have heard that they’re supposed to have a logline with a hook, but what does that really mean? Is it something that only applies to screenwriting, or to genre and literary fiction as well? Is there a way to do this that doesn’t end up sounding so superficial, it’s painful to say?
Nothing can eliminate all the angst and awkwardness here, but I’d like to offer a few suggestions that may help.
Irony is key to a good hook. Agents, editors and prospective readers have busy lives and lots of choices about what to read, so the goal of a pitch is to be compelling and succinct. A “logline” refers to a one-sentence description of plot, with a “hook” to catch people’s attention. The concept comes out of Hollywood, but it can be adapted to form the base of your pitch. Fortunately for us non-Hollywood writers, that doesn’t mean you need special effects. What we’re really talking about is irony. The way your protagonist expects to face one thing, but it’s actually something much different (and bigger). Or the way your protagonist starts out in resistance to the goals of the plot. Irony hooks your audience by setting them up for more conflict and complication to come. They want to read on to see how it resolves. As long as you’re not in Hollywood, don’t be concerned if this takes you a couple of sentences rather than one.
The truth driving your book gives it heart. As I discussed in my post on The Truth Behind Fiction, your own truth underlies your writing even if you don’t always realize it. We’re drawn to a particular character or sequence of events because they connect with something about life that we long to express. Ask yourself, what is it about this that matters so much to me? What is it that I most want these characters, and my readers, to hear? The deepest, most resonant truth of your novel should be part of your pitch. (See The Truth Behind Fiction for examples.)
A well-written pitch matters. Your pitch is the first evidence that you can write, so do yourself justice. Good writing includes deft word choice and appealing cadence. Active verbs help to convey that things happen in your book. You also want to be true to your work. If your pitch exaggerates your plot beyond recognition, you won’t be doing yourself any favors. You need to find the right balance between catchy and accurate. It can be easy to get carried away. Lastly, you should try to make it natural to say. For this, I recommend practicing different versions out loud with family and friends. Even if your pitch will usually be in writing, it’s important to be able to say it to others without being self-conscious.
In the end, your pitch should feel like a concentrated outward projection of your novel, true to its plot line, steeped in its irony, imbued with its depth.