A Writer’s View: Pitches And Product

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Lately Serdar was commenting on the use of pitches in our writing.  I tend to love making them, and he calls out my current work, “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” which I summed up as “A sorceress, an engineer, and a priest on a planet-hopping road trip with the owner of a mysterious collection of holy books.”  As amusing as such pitches/summarites seem, they’re actually powerful tools for writing – not just marketing.

The way I use pitches/summaries comes from a mix of my own research into resumes (which are a kind of writing), Agile Product Ownership, the theories of Joel Orr, and the must-read Snowflake method.  They’re not just a way to sell your book – they’re a way to help you write your book.   Stick with me here – let me walk you through an exercise.

Go and take a communications project and sum it up in one sentence.  Such as:

  • Superintelligent whales end up in a religious war over the controversial theory they were created by beings called “humans.”
  • A no-nonsense guide to building your writing career by setting, measuring, and meeting goals.
  • A song parodying internet memes by calling out as many as possible in alphabetical order.

OK, we’ve got three summaries – which are also pitches.  I’m sure at least one might interest you and one might horrify you, but let’s go on.

Now, imagine someone doing any of the above projects takes the summary and then begins to outline the project, figuring what’s really going on in it.  That pitch, summary, acts as a seed and gives you something to aim for – and also an idea of what the boundaries of the project are.  The summary helps you focus (or in some cases, realize the summary is bunk and start over).

But, somewhere in that outline, you may find the summary should change a bit.  The deeper you get in touch with the work, the more you find that one sentence may not communicate it.  So, perhaps you change it.  The summary defined the goal, the work on the project made you rethink it slightly, and so on.

  • Superintelligent whales disagree over the theory they were created by “humans,” which plunges them into a species-threatening religious war with an unsure outcome. (Changed because it gives a better idea of the plot).
  • A practical, step-by-step guide to a writing career with measurable goals and milestones that anyone can use. (Changed as it focuses the goal more)
  • An electronica song that parodies the most enduring internet memes – in alphabetical order. (Describes better, more clear goals).

It’s a dialogue. You have a summary, then an outline, which may influence each other.  Then as you flesh out your work you may change the outline, or the summary, and vice versa.  The ability to write summaries and pitches gives you the ability to create a dialogue among all levels of your work so they stay coherent – because it all comes back to making sure the summary is accurate.

If you can get an idea of what your work is about on all the different levels, from a summary to a scene, from character arc to story arc, you have a much better idea of what’s going on.  In turn, you’ll make a better work because all your work, at all levels, keeps reinforcing what you’re doing.

Plus you get a great sales pitch that’s been well-honed!


(Remember I do all sorts of books on creativity to help you out!)

– Steve