Sometime during February, I found out about Pitchapalooza. If you’re not familiar with this event it’s loosely associated with NaNoWriMo and the idea is you send in your 250-word pitch to the Book Doctors, who are professional book advisers. Twenty are randomly selected and critiqued in a live video before the winner is announced. That winner is given an introduction to an agent interested in representing their kind of book. Pretty exciting stuff. So after hearing about it I immediately read every pitch on their website, spent several hours investigating how to write a pitch and then promptly forgot about it all.
I’ve had a busy few weeks, okay?
Cut to three days before the deadline when I remember out of nowhere that I actually meant to enter this competition with a pitch for my current novel, The Guard’s Heart. Three days may sound plenty of time to write 250 words but if there was one thing my research into pitch crafting had taught me it’s that it’s a hell of a lot harder than you’d think. Not to mention The Guard’s Heart was very much still a work in progress, as in I had about 5000 words and a plot outline. It’s kind of hard to tell someone what your novel’s about when you barely know yourself.
Nevertheless, I had a stab at it. I narrowed my ideas for what to include down to a few key points. I wanted the reader to get a sense of the stakes, who my MC was, what she was struggling to do and what made my fantasy world unique. I worked at it for two days, first allowing myself to write whatever I felt was needed. Then I hacked it down to 250 words and spent the final day moving around single words. Have you ever read that quote by Oscar Wilde?
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
It may not have been quite that extreme but for the first time, I related to the feeling. With such a limited number of words, every single one has to count. I like to waffle and use far too long sentences full of ‘of course’ and ‘naturally’ and all those other little phrases only experienced writers should have access to. This pitch was an exercise in minimalism.
Eventually, every comma had rotated every word and I decided further meddling was pointless. I could hardly see the pitch for the punctuation by that point – the surest sign an editor needs to stop. I prepared the email, held my breath and pressed send.
Then I forgot about it again because my mind is troublesome like that. Fortunately, I remembered it in time to feel incredibly nervous about the live stream critiques. Although I knew I had a tiny chance of being the randomly selected twenty, it’s hard not to hope. The video streamed at some time in the afternoon PST which was the middle of the night for me here in England. Some people might be able to stay up until 3am with no problem but I am an old soul and consider 11pm too late so I did my best to sleep.
At a horrendously early 7am (compared to my normal 7:10) I dragged myself, duvet and all out of bed and went straight to YouTube. Nerves tingled as I skipped through the almost two-hour video for any mention of my pitch.
Nothing. I wasn’t in the twenty. The realisation didn’t disappoint me as much as I thought it might. Sure, it would have been great to get some professional feedback but they were randomly selected. It wasn’t a sign that mine was any better or worse than those they discussed. It simply was.
My first thought was to just move on. It didn’t mean anything. Sometimes this is a good way to get over disappointment, but then I realised that in this case, it wasn’t. I may not have received the feedback or have won the introduction to an agent but that’s okay. I’ll have another chance next year – maybe with a much more finished manuscript under my belt. This wasn’t a waste of time, it was a learning experience. It forced me to start learning how to write a pitch. It forced me to edit ruthlessly. It forced me to gain a new understanding of how the next step, the world of publishing works.
I’d like to challenge everyone reading this to try and do what I did. Write a 250-word pitch for your WIP and polish it within a comma of its life. Examine everything in the Pitchapalooza section of the Book Doctors’ website. Oh, and don’t forget to vote for your favourite. The pitch with the most votes wins a valuable consultation and by reading all the entries, you’ll develop a better sense of what does and doesn’t work. Post your pitches on your blog, or in the comments if you like. Let people see and critique them. Grow in confidence because when you’re trying to sell your story to someone else, you’ve got to sell it to yourself first.
To give you all an example, I’m going to share my pitch for The Guard’s Heart that I submitted. Let me know what you think!
“Pathetic. Listen, Brookes – if you’re dead, who’ll protect the princess?”
The power of runes to imbue vaelorium alloys with magic has kept Petrikor stable for centuries, but vaelorium is scarce nowadays and whispers of revolution sweep the kingdom. King Malachite seeks peace through diplomacy but, in the shadows, some turn to more dangerous solutions.
Brookes, selected for the Royal Guard, has other problems. In love with Princess Iridia since childhood, she’s elated to be with her during her birthday festival, but her infatuation must be concealed. She’s not the only one with forbidden feelings and Iridia’s obvious fondness soon earns Brookes the enmity of sharp-tongued Lady Lilias.
When her captain refuses to investigate the suspicious death of her old mentor, Brookes searches for the truth herself, but a spate of break-ins and murders means she’s reassigned as Lilias’ personal guard. Bound together, their rivalry for the princess’s affections deepens, alongside the growing magnetism between them.
A fight with a masked intruder leaves Brookes wounded, forcing Lilias to reveal the dark secret hidden beneath her ever-present gloves and Brookes to re-evaluate all she thought she knew. The rivals must work together to protect their beloved princess, uncovering painful betrayals and a conspiracy to reintroduce forbidden magic to the kingdom, while navigating a new forbidden love of their own.
THE GUARD’S HEART is a YA fantasy novel ideal for fans of THRONE OF GLASS, exploring female friendship, loyalty and the struggle to accept that your first love isn’t always your last.