Of course you have. We pitch ideas to other people all the time, whether we realize it or not. Whether you get what you want out of it is a whole separate question.
Authors know this as the “querying” process. You write up a compelling cover letter, a synopsis of your book, perhaps even a marketing plan, and you hope that whoever reads it will give you the time of day. And then you hit “send.”
I know the drill very well by now. So well that the adrenaline rush of hitting “send” has quite worn off. No doubt part of my calm is because of familiarity with the process—but another part of it has to do with the safe nature of written submissions. The agent, publisher, or general big-wig does not know how apprehensive I may feel. They cannot see my face. They cannot hear my voice or see the pre-submission jitters in me. There is no way for me to feel intimidated by my judge’s presence, because the judge is simply not present.
In the film-making world, screenwriters have to physically sit down across from the producer and unpack the story in a handful of minutes (at least they did before covid). A query letter accomplishes basically the same thing, but the difference is that your demeanor becomes part of the pitch itself. Your level of confidence in your own story will come through in the way you talk about the plot. Your understanding of your own story (or lack thereof) is suddenly laid bare.
I recently submitted a video pitch for a short film contest, which meant I had to record myself explaining the script in 60 seconds. Actually, it meant I first had to condense my story to one sentence (a.k.a. the logline) and use that sentence as the foundation for my synopsis. I found this a challenging and revealing exercise as a writer.
You don’t have to be a phenomenal public speaker in order to make a clear pitch—but you do have to be precise and concise.
This means you have to shave off the extra layers of flab that surround the muscle of your idea. In short, you have to tone your story up. Writing a one or two-page synopsis of a novel is hard work. Orally summing it up in a couple of minutes is even harder.
If you find you are comfortably able to summarize the main points of your 500-page novel in under sixty seconds, you are either really good at summarizing or you might want to do some manuscript trimming.
This doesn’t mean that every non-crucial part should be cut. Some elements, while not essential to the plot, add a depth and richness to the story’s development. But if you find that the nonessential elements are taking up more pages than the essential ones, you might want to rethink your page distribution.
Regardless, honing your ability to cut to the chase on your story is always a good idea. Just like everyone looking to advance their careers should have an elevator pitch prepared, I suggest that every writer who plans to publish practice boiling their stories down to a couple of minutes’ oral explanation. You may never have to present this pitch to a publisher, but at the very least it will give you a better understanding of your own creation—and it prepares you for selling your book later down the road!
Have you ever had to present an idea to a decision-maker? What helped prepare you for that moment?
Do you find it difficult to explain your creative ideas to other people? What do you find most challenging about it?