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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  • Olga Godim

    Laura. Such a great editing! THANK YOU!

  • Laura Brennan

    @Mary: It's nice and clean; my only thought is that I was confused about how old they were.  You called them a boy and a girl, but she has a career and he wants to be a dad - it jolted me out of the story, because I must've been ten years off in my estimate of their ages. 

    But it's sweet and it feels like the tone of the piece; very nice.

  • Laura Brennan

    @Olga: Personally, I think your story is so compelling -the what if - I think that's the pitch.  Very much as you said it, just a bit edited down.  Something like:

    When I was young and poor, I often thought: what if someone showed up at my door, a lawyer maybe, and said that I had been switched at birth and my birth family is rich. And they’re looking for me. What would I do? What would my mother do? And - here was the real fantasy - what would my other mother do?  Would she want me just as much as the mother I knew?

    There's plenty of time in the follow-up pitch to go into the heart of the story.  You didn't give me the title!  But I'd start the pitch/query with the logline/personal story, above, and then, new paragraph: [Title] is how that childhood fantasy plays out - with all the complications and sadness and compromise and mess that children never consider when they make their crazy wishes.

    And then give the details, but in the same relaxed tone.  See how that feels for you. 

    :) - Laura


  • Amy L Peterson

    My pitch:

       Amy is a 30-year-old woman with a career path, a balance in her checking account, and a list of reasons why not to have children.

       Mark is an older, divorced guy with four kids, an Army cot for a bed, and enough fishing tackle to sink a small boat.

       Amy falls for Mark hook, line and hundreds of dollars in sinkers.

       From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds is a humorous yet compelling story about becoming a stepmother to four kids, ages three, five, 13 and 15.  It has fun chapter titles like "Can't We Just Duct Tape Them Together and Send Them Outside?" and has 70 tips, including, "Tip: 25:  If you must be To Dog all the time, you're barking up the wrong tree."  It is a must-read for stepmothers and future stepmothers, and a fun read for anyone who needs a light romance that might just make them laugh out loud.

  • Pamela Olson

    Very helpful, thanks! I've been getting advice lately to go the more serious route, because the Middle East is supposed to be serious, and people need to take me seriously. There is a lot of serious stuff in the book, of course, but the whole point is that it's not the usual depressing slog -- there's a lot of fun and humor and romance and adventure, too. This is (a) because it's true, (b) to make the horrors stand out all the more starkly, and (c) to get people to read about the Middle East who (like me) don't enjoy depressing slogs.

    Delighted to have your second opinion. :)

  • Great post. I'm going to a Women's Networking meeting in a week. I'll be sure to review these wonderful suggestions to knock 'em dead! I just finished a 3 week online course on writing a logline, premise etc. so here's mine for my novella The Girl With Sand in Her Hair:

    LOGLINE: A surfer girl finds herself drawn to a boy afraid of the water.

    PREMISE: Both children of divorce, Pippa Arabella Swann and Billy Blinker love each other.

    They really do. But she's obsessed with surfing and her singing career and he's terrified of open water

    and is ready to be a Dad. When a little girl goes missing in their beachside town of Amelia Bay,

    they set out to rescue her, finding the common ground of their cherished love along the way.

  • Laura Brennan

    @Pamela: Awesome logline.  End the sentence after "Holy Land."

    For the pitch, you're starting it too dry.  C'mon, I want to hear the juicy stuff - the bartender turned press secretary to the candidate who was going to change the future of Palestine.  Your logline promises "fast times" - the pitch has to deliver on that promise.  Given that, breezy is good - the tone of the pitch should reflect the tone of the memoir.  Finally, it's a memoir - why use the third person in the pitch?  (In the logline, yes, but the pitch should be more personal.)

    Those are my thoughts.  Hope they're useful! - Laura

  • Pamela Olson

    By the way, if you want to see the fuller synopsis (so you can know what the other stuff is trying to describe), it's on the front page of my website:

    Thanks for helping us out with this!

  • Laura Brennan

    Goodness!  I am so impressed that so many of you are brave enough to post your loglines and pitches!  Fantastic.

    And @Bonnie, I know.  I'm sorry.  But the good news is, once you get it, a good logline makes it easier to talk about your work.  It's not about performing as much as it is about finding the words that will make it effortless.  That's why I'm such a big believer in accuracy.  Truth is just easier to say. 

    Okay, let me tackle Alli's logline:

    First, start with the genre.  "Vestige" is a romantic adventure.   Excellent.

    Next, what's special about it?  Here's what stuck with me after reading the pitch: she's got a ne'er-do-well-husband and an exciting new lover.  And she's about to find out that one of them is the reincarnation of her soulmate... and the other of her past-life killer.  And she has no idea which is which.

    That's the bit I love.  So for me, the logline is something like:

    "Vestige" is a romantic adventure about a stewardess - sorry, flight attendent - who discovers she's actually a reincarnated soul-with-a-mission: protect civilization.  She failed in a past life to protect the Inca; now she's got a shot a redemption and two gorgeous men in tow - but only if she can figure out which of them is her soulmate, and which her past-life killer.

    It's a bit wordy, but you've got a complicated plot.  Plus the extra words are for effect, they give what I assume is the flavor of the piece.  I know you love "Stewardess turned Indiana Jones in high heels" because it's a lovable phrase, but it's too much.  I'll give you "Indiana Jones in high heels" as the tag to your query-letter pitch, because it's a good note to end on, but leave out stewardess.

    For the query letter, start with the logline and then tell the important bits - the necklace, more about the bad guy, and definitely keep the bit about her disastrous relationship choices. 

    Hope this helps!

  • Olga Godim

    Great post. Thank you, Laura.

    When I was young and poor, I often thought: what if someone came to me, a notary or a lawyer, and said that I was switched at birth and my birth family is rich. And they’re looking for me. What would I do? What would my mother do? Which mother? That fantasy never came true, but much later, I wrote a novel about it. Below is my pitch, which I include in my query letters. So far, no one is interested. I never thought about including what I said above into the queries. Should I?


    My mainstream novel [Title] incorporates the exploration of unfamiliar places (Russia and Israel), the complications of quirky mother-daughter relationships, and a pinch of humor.


    Amanda, an affluent 60-year-old widow, lives in Vancouver with her daughter Gloria. After a shocking discovery that Gloria was switched at birth 34 years ago in a small Russian town, Amanda embarks on a trip to Russia to find her biological daughter. Although she is afraid of losing Gloria, who is not thrilled by the new competition, Amanda wouldn’t succumb to her fears. She perseveres, navigating through the tricky currents of Russian bureaucracy.


    Sonya, a hard-working 34-year-old Russian-Jewish immigrant, also lives in Vancouver with her teenager daughter Ksenya. After kicking out her alcoholic husband, Sonya is trying to reconcile with Ksenya, but the girl wouldn't forgive her mother's betrayal of her father. The usual ingredients of teenage rebellion—drugs, thievery, and defiance—block Sonya's quest to regain her daughter's trust. Although the obstacles the two mothers face are different, the price of failure is the same: losing her daughter. But the price of success might surprise them both.

  • Pamela Olson

    Logline: Fast Times in Palestine is a memoir of a young woman from Oklahoma who finds herself unexpectly caught up in the beauty and terror of the Holy Land and its decades-long conflict.

    Pitch: This book illuminates crucial, little-understood years of Israeli-Palestinian history during and after the second Intifada, from the death of Yasser Arafat to the Gaza Disengagement to the Hamas election victory. But to the author -- who stumbled into Palestine a clueless ex-bartender and quickly became a journalist and foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate -- Palestine wasn't just about violence, terror, and politics. What struck her even more were the daily rounds of house parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happened in between. This novel-like narrative ramps the reader up to a sophisticated, multi-faceted, and deeply human understanding of one of the longest-running and most covered yet misunderstood conflicts in modern history.

  • Alli Sinclair

    Thank you so much for this informative post, Laura and a big thank you for offering to look at our pitches and give a critique.

    The following isn't getting much interest when I query, I'm afraid. So any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    Logline pitch:

    To stop the fatal powers of an Incan relic, a feisty flight attendant turned Indiana Jones in heels, must learn if her ex husband or new lover is a reincarnation of the soul mate she lost in a past life.

    Query letter pitch:

    Tess Garibaldi is a feisty flight attendant turned Indiana Jones in high
    heels. Her past collides with the present when she discovers she’s a
    Vestige--a reincarnated soul sent to protect civilizations. Haunted by
    the failure in a past life to save her Incan soul mate and his people,
    Tess sets out to destroy the Trinity Necklace, an Incan artifact that
    causes death by incurable disease.

    To end the destructive powers of the relic forever, Tess must find and
    stop the enemy from her past and present lives and reunite with her
    reincarnated Incan lover. With a handsome anthropologist and dodgy
    ex-husband as the only candidates for mate or foe, Tess must choose
    wisely. Given her history of disastrous relationship decisions,
    choosing between the men she loves won’t be easy. But if she doesn’t
    get it right, Tess will not only lose her soul mate forever, the wrong
    choice could set off a chain of destruction.

    VESTIGE is an 85,000 word romantic adventure that weaves a present-day story with an ancient historical romance reminiscent of Michelle Moran and has mythical themes as evoked by Jessica Andersen’s Final Prophecy series.

  • Bonnie McCune

    PItching is much more difficult than writing an entire book.  Not only do you have to have the right words, you have to be a performer.  I write, practice, rewrite, practice some more.  I'd love to have some people critique one of mine offline, if you're willilng.  Bonnie McCune,author, "A Saint Comes Stumbling In,"

  • Tyra Brumfield

    Thanks, Laura, that clears things up for me.

  • Laura Brennan

    Hi, Joanne!

    So here's a quick question: why did you write this story?  (And 'story' implies short story - is that true?  Otherwise, I want the genre of the novel.  Mystery?  Historical Romance?  Give it up!  I want to know!)

    But back to the heart: why you chose to write this rather than anything else in the universe is important.  Don't underestimate your connection to the story. 

    Give it a shot.  See if that opens up a window for you.  There's nothing wrong in saying something like: "Shaketown is a paranormal romance set in San Francisco's Victorian underworld.  It's got murder and greed and suspense and even a hooker with a heart of gold - well, the ghost of one anyway.  But what I really want you to know about this story is, it's based on my grandfather's life, as the child of a Victorian madame."

    Got the idea?  Please repitch with the actual details because I'm dying to know more!

    Best,  Laura

  • Laura Brennan

    Hi, Tyra!

    The real answer is, it depends.  I use "pitch" to describe pretty much everything, including what you answer at a cocktail party when a stranger says, "So, I hear you're writing a book."  It's what comes out of your mouth to describe your work.

    But it's also part of a query letter - the hook that keeps 'em reading.  Elevator pitch, logline, query, hook - however you are approaching someone, verbally or by e-mail or letter, the words you use to get them to read more need to be crafted.  And short. 

    Personally, I work in entertainment, so nearly all of my pitches are verbal.  Nearly.  I just pitched a trio of idea through a producer and those had to be written up, for his internal purposes.  I like pitching in person better, but that's another blog post...

    Hope this helps!

  • Tyra Brumfield

    I may be asking a question that has already been answered, but is a pitch delivered in person or on paper? Is a pitch something one would find in a query letter? How is a query letter different than a pitch? Sorry, new to the process.

  • Laura Brennan

    @Joy:'s okay!  Here's the deal: in order to sell something, you need to talk about it.  That's a pitch.  That's all it is.  The ability to talk about your work in such a way that someone else wants to buy it.

    But, yeah, you do need to do it.  Sorry.  Good news is, it's not that hard.  You're a writer.  You have the skill set.

    A logline is very short, around one sentence, that gives the gist of the project: Title, genre, most important thing about it.  That's it. 

    The pitch is what you say when they say, "Tell me more."  It is NOT A SYNOPSIS.  I do not want to know everything about the story.  I just want to know enough to know whether or not I want to buy it.  You've intrigued me with your logline, now tell me just enough more that I can make a decision.

    You don't have to worry about any of this yet.  When you do, check out my website- I have articles and worksheets posted for you to use to write your logline.  Also, the magnificent Suzanne Lyons did a whole video series on pitching.  It's directed toward the entertainment industry, but it's good for everyone.  Also free, on YouTube: here's the link.

    But no panic allowed! 

  • G. Donald Cribbs



    Sorry for not including the title/genre. It's THE PACKING HOUSE, a YA Contemporary complete at 82K. It's a standalone with sequel potential. I've got a second book outlined, and a cliffhanger ending for the first one.


    Thank you for the clarification on the difference between a logline and a pitch.



  • Laura Brennan

    @Marcia: Exactly!  Short and sweet for the logline; make 'em ask for more.

  • Marcia Fine

    Very astute info. I have  a 3 novel satirical series (so no one cries) that hasn't made it to the top of anyone's list yet. I liked your suggestions about the logline, Have to learn to keep it short!

  • Laura Brennan

    Hi, Don!

    First of all, I need the name of your book and the genre.  Second, you need two different things: a logline and a pitch, and what you have here is a bit of both.  Let's get you the logline:

    In [Name of Book], a teen coming-of-age story, Joel Scrivener has two choices: keep running from his problems, or face them and win the girl of his dreams.  And for a sixteen-year-old bookworm, that's not an easy choice - especially with the problems Joel has.

    That's a logline, because it gives them your story at the same time it hooks them in, makes them beg for more details.  Those details, coupled with your personal connection to the book, make up the rest of the pitch. 

    I reserve the right to not get these exactly right, by the way!  For one thing, I don't love "bookworm" even though I used it - you might be better off leaving that out entirely, but I love the idea that Joel finds refuge in poetry and I wanted to sneak it in.  But it may make it too long; you can always start your pitch with that idea - it really sets Joel up well.

    You know your book infinitely better than I do; if something sounds off in the pitch, fix it - I'm okay with being wrong!  The important thing is that it's accurate and engaging - the words should feel right coming out of your mouth.

    Have fun with it!  -- Laura

  • G. Donald Cribbs

    Hi, Laura!

    Thank you for taking a look and for feedback. Here is my pitch. Have at it! :D

    Warm Regards,



    Sixteen-year-old Joel Scrivener has two choices: continue to run from his problems, or man-up and face them, and only one choice will keep Amber Walker in his life.

    Running has been his go-to option since his parents divorced, his mom has taken to dating every jerk in a fifty-mile radius, and he’s basically failing his sophomore year of high school. If he retreats to his books and poetry now though, he’ll lose everything, including Amber, the girl he’s secretly loved since he was a kid. If he faces his problems, he’ll uncover the root cause of his recurring nightmares and a secret from his past so terrible, it may prevent him from being the man he realizes Amber needs. What Joel decides to do with his problems will determine whether he will win Amber's heart, or lose her forever.

  • Laura Brennan

    Hi, Patricia!

    Thank you for sharing your logline!  Here's what I'd suggest:

    Start with: "Mixed Messages, the first novel in my *** series, is a..."  Okay, for the ***, please insert genre.  "Malone" conveys no actual information, because the series isn't established yet.  Once it is, then that's great - like a Spenser novel, you become your own genre.  It's fine for the blurb, of course, but when you're talking to people and bookstores and media, you want to give them the kind of information they need to make a choice about buying/reading/stocking/reporting on you.

    Then, lose "estimated."  It weakens the sentence.  Also, that's background information - it should actually come first, to set up their listening.  So something like:

    At any given moment, thirty serial killers are out there, hard at work, in the U.S. alone.  In Mixed Messages, the first novel in my new series of thrillers, one of them is stalking Cincinnati - and a chance encounter with the first victim sends my hero, Joe Malone, on the run from both the cops and the killer.

    Okay, I made that last bit up entirely, because I don't know how the killer affects your hero.  You do, so put in what really makes sense.

    And I am DYING to know that part, by the way, so please repost here and tell me!  Congratulations on your book.  I can't wait to read it!

  • Laura,

    Mixed Messages, the first novel in my Malone mystery series, will be released next month. I'd like to hear what you think about my logline. It's actually the beginning of the blurb on the back of the book.

    It's estimated that there are at least twenty to thirty active serial killers in the United States at any given time; there's one on the loose on the west side of Cincinnati.