Monday, January 2, 2012

Pitch 101 - Part 4: Pitch Autopsy

This was actually part of Part 3, which you can read here. It got its own section when I realized how long that post would be.

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series are also worth your time.

Note: What follows are sample pitches I created for this post - they ARE NOT actual client pitches.
Note 2: They may be pitches I wished actual clients had used.
Note 3: Yes, I got their permission.

If you've been following along, you should be aware of and comfortable with USPs (Unique Selling Points), pitch styles and Velcro Theory (which was just introduced in the last section, but operates on the idea that a pitch hooks into particular interests of the audience).

Previously, we talked about our Eskimo Tim (Assassin who has to kill a senator) property. Let's look at a sample pitch for the novel. (You may recognize this as a query letter, which is a pitch, written down.)

The corrupt senator Aloysius Fedora is about to engineer his largest political coup to date - an oil pipeline from Alaska all the way to Arizona, with all the contracts going to his company, EvilDoucheCorp. This pipe will run from the frozen north to the scorching desert, bringing black liquid wealth thousands of miles. 


But that pipe ran into a problem. A small village of Eskimos sits where a critical part of the pipe goes. And in the village, there is one Eskimo not ready to move.


Eskimo Assassin Tim is about to run muckluck first into EvilDoucheCorp and slice it to ribbons.

Yeah, that's a rotten pitch. Let's make it not suck. Drag that bloated word-corpse to the table, and get ready to learn how to dissect your pitch.

Step 1: Write your pitch down. In full sentences. And paragraphs. As if it counted.
Step 2: Don't judge it, just write it down.

I combine these two steps because you're not going anywhere until you can get them both accomplished. You may need to refer back to Step 2 often to get Step 1 done, which is okay. This isn't the part where you edit the pitch as you write, this is where you just lay it out, all messy and not-how-you-want-it, so that we can in subsequent steps, make it better.

Bring our pitch back. And hand me a knife.

The corrupt senator Aloysius Fedora is about to engineer his largest political coup to date - an oil pipeline from Alaska all the way to Arizona, with all the contracts going to his company, EvilDoucheCorp. This is a great establishing, expositive sentence. 

 This pipe will run from the frozen north to the scorching desert, bringing black liquid wealth thousands of miles. This is still good, and even has a little cute turn of phrase.


But that pipe ran into a problem. Red flag #1 - This is a cliche. And it's a poor bridge to whatever comes next, as most cliches are.

A small village of Eskimos sits where a critical part of the pipe goes. And in the village, there is one Eskimo not ready to move. While these two statements are true, and good, they're also incredibly boring ways to relay this information. If I wanted to sleep, I'd go watch War Horse or listen to parade commentary. Boring sentences, especially when words count, the way they do in a query, will kill your pitch.


Eskimo Assassin Tim is about to run muckluck first into EvilDoucheCorp and slice it to ribbons. I like this sentence. I also like the idea about running muckluck first. Not happy with the dull 'slice it to ribbons' bit, but we can rewrite it.

I know, I'm basically asking you to be objective about your own work so as to dissect it. And I know you're going to be blind to a lot of the red flags, errors, weak spots and loose connections in your pitch. This is why we get step 3.

Step 3: Get someone else to read your pitch. Get someone who knows pitches. Sales professionals, consultants, editors, writers...people in the industry you're pitching to - that's who you need to chat with for step 3.

If you can't find anyone, email me. Put 'Pitch 101' in the subject of the email, and we'll talk your pitch through. Seriously.

Now, wait, maybe you're going to tell me that you did find people who knew pitches, but they didn't help you. And I'll ask you, who did you talk to about your novel (for example), and you'll tell me you talked to a librarian.

And when I'm done laughing, I'll say that a librarian knows books the way a consumer knows books - via popularity or similarity. They don't know how to take your idea and make it excel or how to amplify it so that it can then become popular or super-successful.

Oh, and then you'll say you've taken your script and given it to your three friends who go to the movies all the time, and that one time about fifteen years ago they all wanted to be Kevin Smith, so they know. Oh sure they know. They know what not to do, they know where the potholes were in the road forward. But if you want to get past the potholes, find the people who found the potholes, patched them (or are patching them) and kept driving. Yes, such people exist. And you should go seek them out.

Step 4: Rebuild/Rewrite your pitch to make the USPs stand out, while remembering your velcro.

The success of your pitch isn't only the charisma you have, you need to back it up with substance. That substance is your USPs. If you're more formula minded, try this:

Good pitch = USPs + Charisma + Hooks + Receptive Awareness

We'll talk more about that formula in Part 5 of the series, but for now, understand that you can immediately control what the USPs are and how they're presented to the audience. Do you build tension in your voice when talking about the tense parts? Do you race through way too quickly because you're nervous? Do you skip around all over the place because, 'you're so ADD, lol'? (Please don't ever write a professional email and use 'lol' in it. PLEASE.)

Let's rebuild Eskimo Tim's pitch:


In two days, EvilDoucheCorp will run a pipeline right through Eskimo Tim's village. In two days, the ancient Eskimo ways will be gone, replaced by gallons of liquid wealth, fattening the pockets of Senator Aloysius Fedora. 


All that culture, gone. And it's not just mucklucks and seal clubbing. Eskimos are also Assassins. And Tim is one of a long line of proud killers for hire. 


In two days, the village will be destroyed. In three days, EvilDoucheCorp will come to know that Eskimos have 40 words for snow and 41 words for murder.


BLOOD OF THE SNOWMAN is a novel of 92,000 words.

See how much more compelling that is? We added a time element (the two/three days bit), toyed with Eskimo knowledge (40 words for snow) and kept the mucklucks.

We made the product matter for our audience. We gave them a reason to keep their eyes moving down through the pitch. We made the story engage them, not just lie flat on its back like a bad date.

Pitches aren't just for novels. Your game pitch (here's a great one from Rob Donoghue) is built the same way, and can benefit from the same reconstruction. The same is true for your script.

But it all starts with writing SOMETHING, some kind of pitch down. And then getting eyes on it. And hopefully those are objective eyes. Then the rebuilding can begin.

Once the pitch is rebuilt, trust me, you won't want to wait to show it off.

In Part 5 of the series, we'll talk about that formula for making a good pitch.

Happy writing.