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Perfect Pitch

This is getting a little discussion in a private thread, but I think it would be a good topic to go over in general.  What do you include in a pitch to a publisher? What do you not include? How does a short story differ from a limited-series/GN, and that from an ongoing series?  How long is the pitch document? Do you have standard format you use (paragraphs, bullet points, section with headers...)? Any other bits of wisdom?

Comments

  • I asked some bigger-name pros about pitches yesterday, and the consensus on length was: Ask the publisher. And if they don't give you guidelines, it's 1-2 pages — longer than that is dangerous.

    (One writer, who used to be an employment counselor, said he views pitches the same way he views resumes: The resume isn't there to get you the job, it's there to get interest the employer enough to get you the interview.)

    I asked several editors about it, too.

    My editor at Legendary likes three pages: One about the characters, the others detailing the beginning, middle and end of the plot.

    My editor at Dark Horse likes 1-2 pages — but points out I pack a whole lot of information into my one-page pitches by making them 11 point font and giving them 1 inch margins.

    My editor at Stela likes one page, with a second page giving a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story in their format.

    I'll update with the specifics from the editors at Vertigo and Top Cow I talk to, once I hear back from them!
  • What Brandon said.

    This depends on the publisher. I've gotten stuff greenlit on the basis of literally a paragraph before, and I've had pitches that ended up a five or six pages.

    The latter, though, isn't my initial cold pitch. What I usually do is run some paragraph style pitches past people, and if they're interested I send them the longer pitch. So the longer ones are always after I've already gotten some feedback to go ahead, rather than just blind pitches.

    My general style is one page that sums up the project, what makes the story worth telling, and who I/and or the creative are. The latter often being forgone for a lot of publisher. The next page is a summary of the first arc (or the entire mini) and, if ongoing, some brief summaries of the arcs.

    You should be able, I think, to get at the essence of your story in ONE sentence, one paragraph and one page. Obviously each of these will offer more information, but the more concisely you can sum this up, the better off you'll be.

    I actually had an editor I'd never met but you works at a publisher I work with comment that the general consensus in the editorial there was that I was really, really good at getting across the story and feel of a book in one paragraph. Which, huzzah, because I work hard to make that happen.

    I think, and this is more metaphor than actual, that you can look at a pitch as a very good movie trailer. A good movie trailer will give you you, in 30 seconds or a minute, a very good sense of the tone and the broad outlines of the story and why you want to see this story. That's what you're trying to do with a pitch.

    Also, you want to be concise, not vague. Hiding twists or the ending or whatever is for readers, not editors.
  • "You should be able, I think, to get at the essence of your story in ONE sentence, one paragraph and one page."

    I strongly agree with this. This is a large part of why I made one-page pitches my default — because if I couldn't sum up what I wanted to do in a page, then my ideas weren't focused enough and needed more work.

    I have a structure to my pitches that was recommended to me by former Marvel and IDW editor Andy Schmidt (who runs the excellent Comics Experience series of online course, which Justin has taught for). The structure goes as follows:

    [Tagline (Optional)]
    [Title] by [my name]
    [Genres/Styles] • [Publication Format: Ongoing, Miniseries or OGN]
    ["High level" information. Sentence or paragraph explaining the high concept. Any comparisons to other properties or notes on tone.]
    [Crucial background information/worldbuilding (optional, mostly for projects not set on present-day earth)]
    [Characters]
    [Important but not crucial background]
    [Stories]
    [Clever Closer (optional)]

    I build my pitches similar to the way magazine articles are written: A "lede" (something that gets you interested/makes you want to keep reading), a "billboard" (paragraph stating exactly what the pitch is about), and then the various topics the pitch covers, with logical segues between them.

    I asked Andy another question about pitching today, and what he said is probably going to change my approach. Basically, he writes his pitches in "inverted pyramid" newspaper format, with the most important information at the top, working down so the least important info is at the end. He also specifically labels the different parts of his pitch: "Characters", "Story", "High Concept" — so that an editor who only cares about, say, "High Concept" and "Story" and not character bios can skip right to the parts they want to read.

    The other change I'm making is that I'm going to expand my pitches from one page to... whatever the editor at the company says I should do. At the very least, I'm expanding them to 1.5-2 pages — so I can include a breakdown of the issues in the first story arc. Which is something I've NEVER done, and something a senior editor at Dark Horse red-flagged in my pitches this week and asked me to do. (Basically, in the story section I include a list of example story "springboards", set-ups for potential stories... but don't actually say what stories I'd tell first or how they'd be resolved! So the editor points out that my pitches are scenarios rather than stories. Which has worked for some editors — I've got a lot of interest from a lot of editors based on the scenarios! But I might be getting more interest — and actual greenlights! — if I include the actual stories.)
  • edited April 2016
    "You should be able, I think, to get at the essence of your story in ONE sentence, one paragraph and one page. Obviously each of these will offer more information, but the more concisely you can sum this up, the better off you'll be."

    My formula for pitches is:

    1 - LOGLINE/HIGH CONCEPT, one sentence. I'll do X meets Y if it fits, but I'm not personally a fan, even when they work.

    2 - STORY, a single paragraph, three sentences or so, and not more than five, explaining the setup, internal and external conflicts, and the payoff.

    3 - SYNOPSIS, three paragraphs, one for each story act, with broad details. If the pitch is for an ongoing, I'd tighten up the paragraphs and devote one per arc, although I haven't had an ongoing greenlit, yet.

    I don't often break characters out into their own section -- maybe to my own detriment -- but I try to loop the important details about them into earlier sections. My impulse is to go too far into the weeds with characters, so I find its best to eschew this section entirely, allowing the characters be defined by their relationships with each other and with the machinery of the plot.

    After the story stuff, I also include nuts and bolts stuff about intended audience ("For fans of..."), intended format, incl. issue size, duration, and schedule ("Ongoing, 22 pages per in full color, released monthly"), and details about the creative team ("Eric Palicki lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. He's a nifty guy and his past credits include...")
  • For what it's worth (the only things I've formally pitched so far have been a couple anthology pieces, and scripts that I've shown to artists), my standard "format" has short sections:
    • Synopsis (1–3 sentences)
    • Setting (place and time)
    • Format (color/BW, pages)
    • Rating (all ages/mature readers/adults only)
    • Characters (name, demographics, some personality info)

    I use this as a cover page for the script.

  • I do what @EricPalicki does, pretty much.

    Most publishers have guidelines detailing what they want to see but it usually boiuls down to something like a cover letter giving the high concept, a single para about the story, another about format and then credentials of the creative team. After that, a 1-2 page synopsis. Nobody has ever asked me for a an issue-by-issue breakdown but I usually have one up my sleeve.
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