Friday, May 6, 2011

Pitching and Log Lines, Part II

For the second part of this, I'd first like to address Linda Rohrbough's Second Log Line workshop. It sets the second foundation for the ultimate goal: a pitch.

To start, Linda first gave us her two principles:
1. Even a poor plan, properly executed, will work. It's all in the execution.
2. Nothing can change when you're comfortable.

Your book's first log line (or pitch line) is the one sentence that sums up the book's plot. Remember the GMC? She further goes on to define the log line as the condensed view of the main story action, including the emotional element. She provides a slightly different approach to figuring out that log line, though it is related to the GMC. She says it should go as follows: hero, flaw, life changing event, opponent, ally and battle.

Now, this is the first log line of three. While some will tell you to create a 25 word or less log line, Linda recommends three sentences (the first log line, second log line and third log line).

The second log line should cover the character arc (who the main character is and how they change).

The third log line is the theme of the story.

She gave an example using the film Rocky, putting the three log lines together: "A boxer with a loser mentality gets a chance for a title fight. With the help of his girlfriend, he learns to see himself as a winner before he enters the ring. The theme is love lifts us up."

The elements of her first log line outline are in the first sentence, though some are implied, rather than blatantly said. The second sentence is the character arc, with the change that occurs. The third sentence is the theme.

Linda Rohrbough recommended that we take the basic formula and tweak it until it works for us. She knows that the precise layout may not work for everyone or every story. It was also pointed out that the reason authors have trouble with a pitch is because we learn to show, not tell, through our writing, but a pitch (as well as a synopsis) is about telling, not showing. It goes against what we've learned as good writing.

I think her conclusion sums it up nicely, so I'm quoting it here precisely from her handout: "While the Log Line delivers the essentials of the plot, the second log line focuses on the character arc and delivers an even more emotional element. A strong log line followed by a second log line and ended with the third log line takes into account the major change in the story, allows you to start a dialog, and creates interest and identification in the listener or reader."

Now, how do you use all of this information to make your pitch, and how do you otherwise prepare for it? I'll tell you, courtesy of Chris Mandeville and Linda Rohrbough from their "How to Pitch" workshop.

So you've got your pitch, which involves GMC and the three log lines. Now it's time to prepare yourself for your pitch. First, they gave us two keywords: polite and professional. Don't be aggressive and don't argue. Be prepared to accept what they say, rather than debating about it. The publishing world is a fairly small one, and they do talk amongst themselves, so being rude to one agent or editor can easily blacklist you among many others. Will that definitely happen? Nah, but why would you want to chance it?

As far as being professional, dress nicely. Business casual is good, but you can choose to dress more nicely. If you think you might do an "elevator pitch," which is a very quick, first log line pitch in an elevator, at the bar, in the hallway, or wherever you might attempt this, be sure to dress business casual the entire conference, just in case. Do not chew gum. Use a breath mint before you go in. Or you can do what I did, and bring a toothbrush to use just before you go up. I'll cover my experience in a third post, just to give you an idea of how it might work.

Remember what I said in Part I about treating them like another human being? This was one of many workshops I heard that information in. They are people like you and me. John Hart told me that they need us as much as we need them (he was incredibly nice and gave me a pep talk before I went up to my pitch). After all, they're at a conference to find authors, just as you are there to hopefully get published (and, therefore, find an agent or editor). They want to like your story, just as you want them to like it.

When you walk up to the person you're hoping to pitch to, offer your hand and introduce yourself. Don't forget your name like Linda Rohrbough did at one of her pitches. Say something like "I'm excited to tell you about my book" to begin then give your first log line, the basic GMC statement. Pause after you've given this; do not instantly jump into the second log line. If they're interested, they will ask you questions, one of which might be to tell them more about it, at which time you will give your second log line, and so on. If they ask other questions, answer those, rather than just sputtering out the second line you've rehearsed.

Be prepared to answer questions about the following things:
Target Audience
Length (words and pages, just in case)
Is the manuscript complete? (one would hope it would be if you are pitching fiction; nonfiction does not have to be complete)
Describe the protagonist/antagonist/setting
What do they want and why (GMC)?
Inspiration for the story
Why are you right for this story? Why are you the one to tell it?
Compare yourself to other authors
compare your book to others
What have you read lately?
What do you do when not writing?
Do you have other ideas? (have a log line/plot/pitch worked out for those, just in case)
Target Market (not to be confused with target audience)
Who would be interested?

Things to have ready for your pitch: your business cards, the first page of your manuscript (do not offer this up unless they request it), a breath mint for before the pitch. Personally, I recommend a glass of water. It's the first thing they teach you in college speech class. Your mouth may dry out if you get nervous (IF? HAHAHAHAHAHA), and that will cause you to make those horrible smacking/clicking sounds when you talk. Something else I learned in speech class is that you can take a sip of water to delay a response and take a moment to think.

Chris and Linda spoke about cognitive dissonance. This is a lovely name for those horrible thoughts going on in your mind, like "I can't do this," "my book sucks, what was I thinking," or "they're going to hate me." To curb this issue, take a deep breath and tell yourself that you are right where you are supposed to be, that this is perfect. Tell yourself you can do this. Think of a happy memory that you can pull up easily then remind yourself that you're a writer, and a good one. Question the thoughts running through your mind and try to find the base for them so you can address that.

After you've received the "send it" request, make sure you ask:
Where to send it and how (email or snail mail, email address or address),
How much should I send? Do they want a synopsis or just the x amount of chapters/pages they have requested?
Should it be embedded in the email or sent as an attachment (some won't open an attachment)?
What would they like to have in the subject line so they know it's from you?

If they do not give you something to put in the subject line, always make a point of writing that it was a requested submission and where you met them. Also, put that in the body of your email.

If they do not say "send it," be sure to thank them for their time and take that answer. Remember not to argue or defend. If it doesn't work for them, it simply doesn't. You should continue making a good impression, because maybe a future project will work for them (and because of the whole blacklisting thing).

Okay, you've finished your pitch and gotten the "send" request, but it only took up about two to three minutes of your eight minute pitch. Now what? Be prepared to make polite conversation. Ask them about their trip out, their flight, or something you may have found out about them, possibly during research or a workshop. To reiterate, they are people, too.

Did I miss anything? Any questions? For my Saturday post, I will briefly outline my specific experience, just so you can have a bit of a snapshot of what a pitch could be like and what to expect. I will also briefly tell you about a woman I witnessed get an elevator pitch of sorts. I was inspired, but still too chicken to do it. More on that tomorrow!

Happy Writing!


  1. Great post. It made me nervous just reading it. Lots of important stuff about what to know before your pitch.

  2. Great post but getting the pitch opportunity is the biggest hurdle of all.


  3. I agree with j.a., it made me a little nervous just to read this, as I can imagine forgetting my name like Linda Rohrbough did! This is so helpful though, thank you very much for writing this out in such a clear and straightforward manner. It's great to have an idea of just what it takes to get this accomplished.

    I'm looking forward to reading about your own experience!

  4. J.A., it made me nervous all over again writing it! LOL!

    Joyce, very true. And outside of conferences, I'm not sure where to find that opportunity.

    Julie, I was sure I'd forget something and was shocked I didn't. Putting the next (and last) of this series up now!

  5. Great post. :-) I have my logline good to go. This is how I learned it. When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], he [CONFLICT]. And if he doesn’t [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES]. Kinda like you said.

    I love the info about when you're actually making the pitch. Sweet. Thanks. :-)

  6. Robyn, thank you for the alternative way to figure out the log line.

  7. Great post. And thanks for following my blog. Would you mind if I excerpted something from this post on my blog and gave you a mention and a link through to your blog?


  8. Lara, thank you. I'd be flattered if you posted an excerpt.