A pitch is one of the hardest things for a creator to write, but it’s also vital for grabbing the attention of an audience. A solid pitch can be the difference between a new reader and a lost opportunity. Yet time and again, I hear pitches that rely on featureless genre labels or vague mash-ups of existing franchises. Neither tactic delivers an accurate or intriguing picture. How can a creator build a pitch that represents their story, interests the listener, and still keeps things short?
There are no hard and fast rules for what makes a good pitch or a bad pitch, but here’s my tips for building a simple pitch with personality.
Who should the audience care about, and how much can you tell them in a few words? I’ve found that a quick and useful short-hand is:
[adjective] – [role]
Think about your main characters. If you had to give one word for their personality, what would it be? That’s your adjective. As for role, how does society define them, or how do they define themselves?
This gives people a quick and accessible way to connect with your characters, without being bogged down with unfamiliar names or situations. The reader can start to imagine and visualize these personalities, and get interested in how they’ll interact.
How about a love-sick street-rat? A gluttonous animal companion? An off-kilter genie? A independent princess? A scheming vizier? A child-like sultan? A clever magic-carpet?
Gosh, do these sound familiar? What film could these possibly be from? If your mind can conjure an image quickly without being given a name or a paragraph of context, then you’ve succeeded at covering “WHO” sufficiently for an introduction.
WHY AND WHAT
Now the audience knows WHO is important in this story, but WHY should they care? WHAT is the central appeal of the story?
This can be in the form of a central conflict, an interesting scenario, or even a governing question. This applies to both comedy and drama material. What is the driving force in what you’re writing about? Presenting your playing field allows the potential reader to spin out their own internal jokes or dramatic possibilities. If they are interested in their own guess-work and theorizing, they’ll be curious about how your creative mind chose to tackle those same situations. Their imagination has been engaged!
If you’re really stuck on what ties your comic together, an exercise that really worked for me was looking at each character one by one and asking myself what questions they dealt with the most. What I discovered is that each member of my cast had one dilemma in common: “Could you choose between your family and your future?” This question has become integrated into my pitch and my advertisements, and it is something that many people latch onto when they first hear or read my pitch. It serves as a talking point, and gets people curious about how that question might play out in the story. For example, this is what the front of one of my current fliers looks like:
WHEN AND WHERE
I list WHEN and WHERE last, because I personally don’t find them as necessary as WHO, WHY, and WHAT. However, some comics depend on a location or time for their appeal. If I’m creating a Historical Fiction, it behooves me to include the time period! It might also be relevant to state the place in which the story takes place. For example, if a comic is set in an alternate timeline during World War II, knowing that it takes place on the Russian front, or the fighting in the Pacific, or a town back home untouched directly by the war, will drastically change the scenario.
WHERE might also be important if it takes place in an imagined world, or on another planet, or within an unusual environment. A survival story set on Mars could be very different than one in a National Forest.
Photo credits: Mars Photo, the source is unknown. Forest Photo By Bruce Tremper
Who is in the story and what situations they face may be shaped by WHEN or WHERE, and in that case it’s important to present that information. You’ll have to evaluate their importance in your pitch for yourself!
At this point, you should have one-to-three sentences covering the basics of your story. If you’ve got more than three, get out your editing pen and cut that excess back! Less is more here. However, short and to the point might be informative, but is it interesting? This is where fine-tuning comes in.
Once you’ve established your WHO, WHY, WHAT, and maybe WHEN and WHERE, you may find that your genre is already clearly established, but this isn’t always the case. How can we let the potential reader know what kind of comic they’re getting into without a bland “it’s a genre/genre strip” statement?
Your word-choice also gives you the chance to imply the genre without actually stating it. Think about some of the key-words associated with your genre. “Mystery” key words could include, “case, detective, crime, clues, solve,” whereas “Fantasy” could be implied by “magic, goddess, quest, artifact, wizard.” A “slice-of-life” story is when the subject, characters, and situations are described using mundane words. At no point do we have to rely on the crutch of “It’s a comedy/fantasy,” or “It’s a gamer/slice-of-life.” Ultimately, these words aren’t informative beyond genre. They serve one purpose, but your language choice can convey both genre AND something unique about your comic.
I do think genre labels CAN be valuable, and they do have their place as establishing a rough category quickly. However, they just aren’t all that interesting in themselves. Since making something sound INTERESTING is the entire point of a pitch, I think genre category markers should be put to other purposes.
Words of Interest
Some words are just more fun than others, whether to read, say, or hear. The same way that some numbers are just inherently funnier than others. There’s a reason, after all, that the “answer to life, the universe, and everything” is 42. If it had been “1” that just seems a little…well, mundane, don’t you think? 1? Really? 42, on the other hand, just has a special ring to it that 1 does not.
The words we choose for our pitch can also subtly shape the level of interest they garner. Did someone “go to the moon” or were they “launched, rocketed, or blasted,” there? Each word conveys a different feeling. “Launched” is a more official-sounding and technical term, making the mind think along scientific lines. “Rocketed” has touches of something uncontrolled and mad-cap, full of adventure. Whereas “blasted” still has that zany energy, but implies a potential for disaster, because it sounds a bit like something’s going to get blown apart, and has a double meaning as a minced oath: “This BLASTED contraption just won’t work!”
Think about the words you’re choosing. Beyond just their basic purpose, what are they implying? What word choices are the most meaningful and enjoyable? Which engage the listener most, and set the tone best?
Comic Credit to Bill Watterson, “Calvin & Hobbes”
Practice and Experiment
Your pitch may be brilliant on paper, and an utter tongue-twisting disaster when you try to say it out loud. Keep that written version for later, because it will be great to utilize online, but start substitutions for your out-loud version. Say it over and over, and note where you consistently stumble or struggle with it. Find better ways to express that idea. It might mean rearranging things, or choosing a different word. You want this to flow off your tongue with practiced ease!
It’s also important to fine-tune your pitch as you see how people respond to it. Watch for a listener’s reaction as you tell them about your story. Switch out an adjective in your WHO and see if that plays better with more people. Try re-wording your core question. Do you get more engagement? Do people smile, or frown, or glaze over at the same place each time you share your pitch? Maybe cut that piece out and see what happens.
Also, listen to the pieces that your pitch ISN’T covering. If people ask you the same question about the story over and over after hearing the pitch, you might have discovered a gap. The good news is, people are interested in that piece, so it might be worth finding a way to tie it into your starting pitch.
This is only the beginning
This guide is by no means intended as a way to make a sure-fire, 100% effective pitch every time. Today we’ve covered the basics, but that doesn’t mean that the basics will be the perfect fit for your unique comic. Keep pushing yourself to find new ways of presenting your work, and test those pitches on as many people as you can. Only you can seek out your audience and find what appeals to them the most. However, it is my hope that you’ll get a lot more traction with a simple pitch with personality, than a flat genre mash-up!
What’s YOUR pitch? Share it in the comments below!
Do you need some assistance writing your comic pitch? Let me help! I’m a Creative Consultant, and my first call (or text chat!) is always free. I also offer project development, crowd-funding coaching, and developmental editing. Contact me!
Curious about my creative work? LeyLines is the story of an irresponsible prince, his dream-weaving sister, and their adopted brother. When their mother dies under suspicious circumstances and a goddess asks them for help, they embark on a quest that will force them to choose between their family and their future. Read it at LeyLinesComic.com