Talking for Writers
Written by
Laura Brennan
March 2012
Written by
Laura Brennan
March 2012

Every so often, I’m asked to speak about pitching to a group of writers.  This is easy for me because I love pitching and I love writers.  I also love making people cry, and that happens, I am not kidding, about sixty percent of the time.  Not everyone, of course – it’s not like I force them to sit through Terms of Endearment.  But one person in the room, one person with a story she believes to be unpitchable, oh, yeah.  Pass the Kleenex.


Why?  Why is it so amazing to hear your story pitched?  I do think there’s a certain amount of relief in realizing that it can be done.  But I also think we are all desperate to be heard.  When a pitch is right, it conveys exactly what you want the world to understand about the heart of your story.  You get heard.  That’s very powerful.


So how do you get to that?  How do you pitch your story?  Here are the steps:


1) Be accurate.  Do not worry about what the elusive “they” want to hear.  Be honest.  No one likes a bait-and-switch.


2) Set up their listening.  What I mean by this is, prepare them for what they are about to hear.  Is it a book, a webseries, a feature, a play?  If the form is understood – if you’re at a mystery book convention, for instance – let them know the subgenre: thriller, cosy, procedural, paranormal.  If they don’t know what to expect, they won’t be able to connect to your story.  I once found myself performing in a gruesome, dark, emotionally-exhausting scene in what the judges expected to be a comedy competition.   Funny only in retrospect, trust me.  


3) Take the time to tell your story.  There is a difference between a logline and a pitch.  A logline is usually a sentence long and its only job is to get them to say, “Tell me more.”  Your pitch is what you say after that, and its job is to get them to request the script or book proposal or manuscript.  Don’t rush, don’t skimp.  You’re a storyteller; you’re already good at this part.


4) Only tell the essence of your story.  This is the tricky bit.  Figure out what the heart of your story is and convey that, and only that.  The details, even the character names – they don’t matter as much as you think they do.  Take whatever time you need, but don’t squander their good will by being unfocused.


5) Don’t be afraid to insert your own passion and your connection to the material into the pitch.  What drew you to tell this story in this way?  That’s fascinating and engaging.  Share.


Speaking of sharing, that’s how you’ll know if your pitch works.  Share it with friends and family.  Watch their eyes.  Notice when they start to glaze over.  Rework those bits.  Also, say it out loud to yourself.  If you get goosebumps, you’re on the right track. 


Feeling brave?  Share your logline or pitch here!


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  • G. Donald Cribbs

    Version 1 of Revised Query (THE PACKING HOUSE):

    When sixteen-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows he's been sexually assaulted, a fact he's not ready to face. This is a secret he's avoided for ten years, mainly through dissociation and suppression. Reeling from a series of bullying incidents posted on YouTube and an ill-timed mid-year move, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.

    However, life as a runaway isn’t easy. Joel finds it difficult to navigate break-ins, wrestle hallucinations, and elude capture. He races to figure out who his dream-world attacker could be, piecing clues together with flashes of remembered images that play endlessly inside his head. Besides these images, the one constant thought occupying Joel’s mind is Amber Walker, the girl he’s been in love with for years. Amber sees little beyond the broken boy Joel has become, despite the letters they’ve written back and forth to each other. But Joel is stronger and more resilient than he looks, and it’s time he convinces Amber of this fact, before he runs out of chances with her for good.

    Version 2 of Revised Query (THE PACKING HOUSE):
    Sixteen-year-old Joel Scrivener is used to reliving his sexual assault in his dreams every night. What he wouldn’t give to find a way to avoid those nightmares, followed by a constant barrage of intrusive memories every day. He hasn’t known a normal teenage life, such as going to school and falling in love for the first time, apart from this repeating cycle of torment. Worse yet, he still hasn’t figured out who his dream-world attacker could be, racing to piece together clues with flashes of remembered images. But when he dozes off in study hall and a classmate records his terror, he awakens into another nightmare—one in which he can’t escape the fact that everyone knows his trauma because it’s posted on YouTube.
    Seeking any reprieve or relief Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind. On his own Joel can quiet the voices in his head, begin to heal, and unbury his silenced voice. Here, Joel cautiously rebuilds the pieces of his identity by navigating new school break-ins, grappling hallucinations, and eluding capture from his mother, brother, and school counselor. Questioning every aspect of his newfound emancipated self, including his sexuality, Joel considers significant relationships from his past: Elias Stone and Amber Walker. At this third school of his sophomore year, Joel faces his greatest challenge yet: raising his voice, speaking his truth, and being heard for the first time on his own terms. When Joel’s mother ships him off to stay with his father’s family, he comes face to face with both of his past relationships, and he’s got to reconcile his own feelings before he runs out of chances with either Amber or Elias for good. Neither wants a broken boy in need of fixing; but Joel is stronger and more resilient than he looks, and he’s ready to face his past head-on in order to prove he too deserves wholeness and love, instead of the night and day aftermath of trauma.
    THE PACKING HOUSE is a YA contemporary manuscript complete at 83,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Speak, Scars and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.
    Thank you for your time and consideration.


  • A. Michelle Navarro

    Laura, thanks for the advice! I see what you mean. Logline is a new term, but I understand. I appreciate the encouragement. and Joy, I also write Erotica so if you ever need help pushing that written envelope let me know. I will definitely send you the draft once it's done...rough as it may be.


  • Laura Brennan

    @Michelle - yup, what Joy said!  Clairalience sounds fun - and I love the title.

    Also, two quick things: First, you need a logline. This is great for a pitch, but you need to have something shorter to open the conversation and gauge their interest. Something like, "You know how sometimes you can smell something and it connects you instantly to some great memory - your grandmother's perfume, summer evenings on the porch, greasy oil and your first car?  The Scent of Jasmine is a Paranormal Romance about a mixed-race orphan-turned-heiress with clairalience - the ability to connect to events and emotions through the scent they leave behind." 

    It's a bit long, but since clairalience is so new, I think it's worth setting up their expectations before giving the actual logline.

    Second, read your pitch out loud to yourself and to others.  You want to simplify; it has to be easy to say and to understand verbally.  "Smell" is a tricky word - it never sounds good!  "Sense" is better and words like fragrance or odor.

    That's my two cents! 

  • A. Michelle Navarro

    Joy, I have a few chapters and an outline. I had it on hold when an imprint company stopped their paranormal series.

    But I really feel drawn to write it. Thank you for the encouragement. I will send you a copy of the rough draft. And thank you for the comment. LOL that's exactly how I see Jonathan...but shoulder length hair, stil long enough to tie back...yeah. <sigh> I love romance!


  • A. Michelle Navarro

    Hello everyone. I have been quitely lurking, taking in all the wonderful insights, ideas, comments. I love this community and cannot thank you all enough for sharing.

    That said, I will share this story I am developing. I have it outlined and some of the chapters written. Here's my pitch:

    The Scent of Jasmine is a Paranormal Romance set in modern times. Riley Dupois Henderson has a past she doesn’t even know about yet. Upon her adopted parent’s death, she learns about her birth family inheritance.  A three hundred year old Manor in the Deep South and a lineage of secrets passed down from female to female.

    She was born with the gift of Clairalience, the ability to psychically smell events and emotions. The scent of jasmine that surrounds her manor sparks a series of trance-states revealing history of her family.

    Jonathan Pierce Wimbley is the Dupois Manor groundskeeper and predestined mate of the owner of the home. Which reality seems moot since the legal owner has never seen her home. Besides he didn’t want to be a puppet for a fate he didn’t choose.

    Riley’s mulatto skin is the bane of her Cousin Davis’ KKK existence. Not only does he have to see her, he has to give up use of the Manor he feels is rightfully his.

    His hatred creates a resolve in Riley to stay and learn all the Dupois family secrets. The increasing trances, taunt her to piece together her family traditions. Riley knows Jonathan is the key to her future and is determined to earn his trust and love.

    Can Riley and Jonathan find true love without the aid of secret rituals and family tradition? Can they survive the tragedy her arrival in the Deep South instigates? Will the scent of jasmine teach Riley how to find Jonathan in time to save him? Will she find her love is enough to keep them together?


    I'm open to any and all comments, suggestion, questions and ideas.


    A. Michelle

  • Laura Brennan

    Jo Anne, I'm so pleased!  And Heather, I'm equally delighted to have been of service.  I can't wait to see both of your memoirs take the bestseller lists by storm.

  • Laura, What a beautiful encapsulation of the spirit of the book!  And you're right, retirement only provided the opportunity; it has no further bearing on the story.  Thank you.

  • Laura Brennan

    Hi, Jo Anne!

    It is fascinating and I love that you tie in Isabella Bird Bishop - but it's too long!  Things I do not need to know include "after retiring" and anything in parentheses.  It's so funny - my friend Suzanne Lyons is afraid writers are going to hate her after reading my interview with her, but she's right - we do love details!  It makes for terrific writing but unfocused pitching.

    Try starting with something like: You wouldn't think a modern woman scientist and a Victorian travel writer would have much in common, but in my memoir, "Korea, Are You at Peace," I find myself channeling Isabella Bird Bishop.  She traveled the same Korean countryside and felt the same initial culture shock I would a century later - only my Korea was no longer her mysterious Hermit Kingdom of Asia, but a divided and dangerous world. 

    And then go on to talk a bit about the political intrigue - always a favorite topic! - and maybe give a sense of the shape of the story you're going to tell.

    Does that make sense?  I reserve the right to be wrong!  But think about what they need to know in order to get a real sense of your story.  If your retirement, for instance, is a major part of it, then keep it in.  But if it's not a motif running through the book - as Isabella, I'm guessing, is a major theme - then leave it out. 

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura, I am writing a travel memoir of two years spent in Korea. A pitch I have worked up using your suggestions is:

    The scientist in me always wants to explore, to observe, and to understand. After retiring, I had the chance to do this halfway around the world, teaching biology to American military personnel in South Korea. In “Korea, Are You at Peace,” my initial culture shock yields to an emerging understanding as I live, work, and travel, largely on my own, throughout South Korea. For the narrative, I channel an unlikely kindred spirit, Isabella Bird Bishop, a well known and fiercely independent Victorian travel writer. She, too, traveled the Korean countryside, a century previously, when Korea was the backward and mysterious Hermit Kingdom of Asia. During the intervening (twentieth) century, Korea, suffered the greed, international intrigue and political posturing of much more powerful nations. The now divided country has emerged onto the contemporary stage as both a success story (the South) and as a political tinderbox (the North). This is the story of what it’s like for a Western woman to live and travel in this little-known Eastern land, observing and trying to understand Koreans and their culture, unavoidably sensing their pain and anger, and marveling at their extraordinary energy and resilience


  • Heather Marsten

    Dear Laura, thank you so much for helping me to focus my pitch - your ideas are fantastic and will be used. Thank you for your encouragement. You are right, it is about focus. My focus is to help others and because of that, I need not fear to pitch or promote my memoir. This is a fantastic post, and I've learned a lot by reading what you have suggested not only to me, but to others.  Have a blessed day.

  • Bonnie McCune

    @Laura.  Thanks for your tips.  It does have a mystery, but not until the very end is that revealed.  Maybe more of a surprise ending.  I'd say it's upmarket women's fiction, and I do refer to that in the full query.

  • Laura Brennan

    @Crysa: It's a pitch, and soooo cool.  Change the word "tale" to what it is - YA novel?  Novella?  Alternate History?  Give us a framework to understand it before you start going into details.

    And thanks for leaping in on the "Strength" post!  I totally get the "building atmosphere" talent, just from this pitch.


  • Laura Brennan

    Two quick things:

    1) Feel free to comment on other people's loglines as well!  Your opinion is just as valid as mine!

    2) If you want more info/instruction on how to do this, my website is set up for just that.  I even have a worksheet you can use.  All free; have at! 

  • Laura Brennan

    @Bonnie: such a fun book!  I love the idea that it's a "coming of old-age story" - that seems to capture the tone perfectly.  My two cents: I think you need to tell us up front what it is.  From the opening line, I got the impression it was a mystery, but now I don' t think that's so.  So tell us right away what it is. 

    Other than that, just edit it down - all those details muddy the waters. 

    Anyone else want to chime in?

  • Laura Brennan

    @Heather.  First of all, my heart goes out to you.  I can not comprehend the betrayal and the scope of what you went through.  Second, you are a survivor.  The last thing you need to be fearful of is your pitch.  You put into words, for others, your personal hell - that is fearless.  You are fearless as a writer.  Own that.

    All your pitch needs is focus.  Here is my take on it; please change it entirely, pick and choose, do whatever you need to do so that it feels right coming out of your mouth:

    There is no gentle way to ease you into my childhood, so I'm just going to give it to you straight: Tell Me What He Did is a memoir of incest.  Every morning, after my father had sexually abused me, I would come downstairs and my mother would be there, sitting at the table, and she would say to me: "I heard him in your room last night.  Tell me what he did."  And I would have to tell her.  And she would take notes.  She filled up two notebooks with careful records. And he kept on abusing me.

    But this isn't just a memoir of the horror.  This is a memoir of hope.  It's my journey from abuse to healing.  It's not a Pollyanna story.  I thought about killing myself.  I took a lot of wrong turns.  But I wanted to get better.  I met a lot of people who couldn't help me and finally one who could.  And now it's my turn to help.  I want to let others know that if I can make it through, so can they.

    For your logline, just the facts: Tell Me What He Did is a memoir of incest, and of betrayal by a mother who knew exactly what my father was doing to me, but it's also a story of healing and hope.

    Heather, I hope this helps. A pitch is just you owning your story and communicating it - and you are already doing both those things. 


  • Laura Brennan

    @Sundi Jo: The only thing I'd suggest is that you give us the genre up front, first sentence.  Because the title is lovely and whimsical, but it could be so many things.  It's hard to hear the pitch if I don't know what it is - I'm spending my energy trying to figure it out instead of really listening to it.  Thanks for sharing!

  • Bonnie McCune

    So many of you shared your pitches, I'm going to try one for the novel I'm currently working on:

    Can two clever but unsuspecting old ladies pit themselves against fraud, thievery, violence and their own deeply held values?  In THE COMPANY OF OLD LADIES, a sixty-something woman, haunted by her failure to save an alcoholic son, stumbles upon a young destitute Asian man.  She vows to be his benefactor until his funds arrive. She invites him to stay with her and her equally unconventional roommate in a senior high-rise. But when he moves in a malicious young woman, when valuable items start vanishing, and when her friend becomes deathly ill, she must trust him or risk his taking advantage of her good will.

    Unlike the stereotype of aging women--querulous, inflexible, and dim-witted— the “old ladies” of the title, Hyacinth, 68, a motherly eccentric, and her roommate, 83-year-old Esther, show creativity, determination, and sensitivity, but can’t avoid the road to their personal hell, which is paved with Hyacinth’s good intentions.  Hell may destroy them or serve as a crucible to strengthen them.  Hyacinth learns she cannot postpone the troubles of old age, as she risks security and well being to discover what’s worthwhile in her life. 

    This coming-of-OLD-age novel shows in subtle nuances, life stories, and humor that our real treasures are human connections, which cross ages, races, and every other boundary.  Readers who read Eleanor Lipman, Elizabeth Berg, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Kris Radish, The Joy Luck Club and character-driven plots will enjoy this manuscript and its surprise ending¸ as an Asian Tom Sawyer mixes it up with two aging members of the Ya-Ya sisterhood.


  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    I have no pitch or logline to share today, but I like your clear, practical advice and I love your tone. Would you be willing to let me share this in an upcoming article of WriterAdvice, If so, please e-mail me.Thanks!

  • Sundi Jo Graham

    Great information Laura. Thanks for sharing. 

    About Dear Dad, Did You Know I Was a Princess? "Every woman has a father in her life, but not every woman has had the relationship with her daddy that God intended. Did you know regardless of your broken relationship with your earthly daddy, there is a Father in Heaven waiting to love you like you’ve never known love before? Join Sundi Jo on the journey that helped her discover the potential of being a beautiful woman in Christ, restored her to wholeness, and brought her to redemption. Discover it’s never too late for you to do the same."

  • Heather Marsten

    My memoir, Tell Me What He Did, is a story depicting a healing journey from incest and abuse. From the age of seven, my father sexually abused me with my mom's full awareness. Every morning after one of his visits,, she greeted me with, "I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did." I had to tell her and she filled up two notebooks of visits. During this time I gave up on God and thought often of suicide. As a young adult I spent years in therapy, lived a wild lifestyle, and  explored many areas of the occult from psychic ability to witchcraft to voodoo. None of these pursuits helped me heal. On day I met a pastor who helped me to put my life together and find real healing. In writing my memoir I want to encouraged abuse survivors that real healing is possible. My beta readers have told me that my manuscript is helpful in letting them see what abuse does to the victim and they are fascinated by the occult details I provide, as many of them have never explored those paths.

    At the end of this month I'm taking a class with Marion Roach on memoir and part of the class is sharing my pitch, so I thank you for the offer to look at a pitch - I am new at this, fearful of the pitch, and need all the help I can get :).  

  • Amy L Peterson

    Thank you, Laura!

  • Alli Sinclair

    Thank you so much, Laura. Your feedback is fabulous!

  • Laura Brennan

    JOANNE!  That rocks! 

  • Joanne Orion Miller

    Thanks Laura--I'm trying again:

    Shaketown, a historical novel set in San Francisco's Victorian underworld, follows the intertwined lives of an "accidental" Madame who chooses freedom over respectability and a Chinese scholar who defies a city bent on destroying him. This unusual family saga is based on real people and events: the experiences of my Chinese relatives and a real-life Irish girl who became a notorious--and unapologetic--Madame during San Francisco's wide-open golden era. Sex, murder, true love of every stripe, and an earthquake--that's Shaketown.

  • Laura Brennan

    @Amy: I love your opening.  The last paragraph, I would suggest losing the "humorous but compelling" part - from the title, we know it's humorous.  What I need to hear is that it's a memoir.  It is a memoir, right?  Because later you call it a romance - which is excellent, and you can get away with that so long as you call it a memoir first; otherwise, it's confusing.

    Also, don't be afraid to own up to the fact that it's your story - your plight as a suddenly-stepmom - in that last paragraph.  Those fun chapter titles are even more fun if we know they're things you actually heard coming out of your own mouth!


    Thanks for sharing!

    -- Laura