Screenwriter Tip for Novelists – Pitch Before You Write

If you’ve read my first post, you’ll know I’m a screenwriter who took 2013 off from a career penning cartoons to write a novel. Now it’s 2014 and I’m back in the TV biz writing on a super fun animation show. Not that I’m shelving the novel, no way! I’ll still work on it in between the many stages of writing scripts. However, this television gig is reminding me of all the useful (and sometimes nerve-wracking) things screenwriters go through before they get to that final draft, and I’m going to share that info with you in a little blog series called Screenwriter Tips for Novelists. First tip? Pitch before you write!

So what is a pitch? A pitch is a paragraph or two that tells the whole story from beginning to end, touching on just the important beats: protagonist’s problem and goal, rising action, midpoint, crisis and finale. (Check out this post for a refresher on story elements.) You can either let someone read a pitch and give feedback, or pitch it verbally and gauge your audience’s reaction in real time.

Often novelists don’t even think of how to pitch their novel until they start querying agents or publishers. Why would they? You can’t sell a novel until it’s written! But freelance screenwriters have to pitch before they write even one episode. That’s how we get the job. We must prove to the story editors, producers and broadcasters that we’ve thought up a great story worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will take to create the episode. If not, they won’t agree to produce it and you don’t get the job to write it.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But producers and broadcasters don’t want to invest in a crummy story. Neither do agents or publishers.

So think of pitching as a way to save time, money and heartache. You want your novel to be published, right? Pitching could mean the difference between a pile of rejections and a publishing contract. Here’s how to do it…

4 Tips To Pitch Like A Screenwriter

  1. Create lots of story pitches! This way you’ll force yourself to pick the absolute best one, and have more ideas waiting in the wings for later.
  2. Pitch out loud to friends and strangers. Watch for their honest reaction. They may say they love it, but did you see their eyes glaze over? Better to learn now that your idea isn’t so great before you spend years writing it.
  3. When your pitch doesn’t pass muster, edit it or write another. Then repeat step 2 until the reaction is, “Oh my gosh, I so want to read that!”
  4. Don’t take it personally. Seriously, if there’s any wisdom us screenwriters can impart, it’s this. Not every idea is gold.

Whether you’re coming up with a brand new novel idea, developing a story, or editing a manuscript, pitching will help hone your story and make it better. I know it’s tough and daunting and scary, because feedback can be harsh, but fear not – next post will help with that.

Next Up from Heather… How to handle feedback.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “Screenwriter Tip for Novelists – Pitch Before You Write”

  1. Thought I ‘d share in support of your post. I had an idea for a new book and had written about 25K words. At breakfast with my sister and niece one morning and in response to their usual inquiry as to how the writing was going, I pitched my idea for a new book. They listened intently not saying a single word. When I finished my sister said, “Holy crap! I’ve got goose bumps!”
    Oh yeah, I’m finishing it!

    1. That’s awesome, Caryn! Often writers, myself included, worry so much about getting negative reactions to pitches we forget that positive reactions happen too. Glad pitching your novel has motivated you to keep writing it!

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