I recently picked up Save the Cat by Blake Snyder to learn it’s infamous plotting method. I’d heard the book talked about one too many times. It was time for me to read it, finally. Imagine my surprise when the first three chapters were not about plotting your work, but about pitching your story.
Save the Cat is a book written specifically for screenwriters so it’s really about pitching your movie to big screen executives, but what applies to big blockbusters applies to mainstream fiction. It’s all about communicating your idea in a logline, elevator pitch, one-liner, whatever you call that one sentence.
Yes, we all want to write the book of our heart, but we also want editors to publish our work and readers to read it. We can’t hope for either of those things if we don’t know how to pitch our stories.
We need that one sentence to hook someone into reading our work. Which also, incidentally, helps us focus our ideas. You need it every time you open your mouth to talk about your book whether it’s to you friends, your family, your writing buddies, or hopefully, your agent, your editor and for marketing to readers! Without a good pitch, the chances of a book selling well get much smaller.
Here are the four vital ingredients to a pitch, according to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat:
What’s it about?
The number one thing Blake Snyder says a logline must have is irony. Irony highlights the struggle, the conflict. It incites the big question in our minds of “well, how is that going to work?” which makes us want to read it. It’s the hook, to pique our interest.
It helps, according to Snyder, if the logline creates a mental picture. If the listener can visualize how/where/when it takes place based on the pitch, that’s an added bonus. “A good logline, once said, blossoms in your brain.”
What’s the title?
Snyder calls the title and logline a “one-two punch…a good combo never fails to knock me out.” The title must have irony, like the logline, but it also has to tell the tale without being too corny or on the nose, while not being too vague either.
Titles are hard. I’ve spent days with hundreds of failed options thinking of book titles, but it’s worth the work to search for just the right one. It’s the number one marketing tool of your book.
Snyder admits to sometimes thinking of the title first, before even coming up with the story concept—just to highlight how important title is to pitching. He recommends writing the logline and title before even writing the story.
What’s the genre?
Giving the book context for how it fits in the wider genre, is simply polite, Snyder says. Referencing other familiar books or stories that resemble your story or even other authors in the same genre who write work similar to yours helps your work context and find its audience.
Snyder devotes a whole chapter title to, “Give me the same thing…only different!” In other words, knowing where your book will fit in the market, how it relates to what’s come before it, how it’s similar and how it’s different is important.
This also brings up the concept of tropes. Snyder lists a page of 10 story types which he claims every story falls under. Every story has tropes in it, types of characters or storylines that have been seen in other books, but yours won’t be exactly the same. It will give that trope a twist. Know which tropes you’re using and how you’re altering them uniquely in your story to help others understand what it’s about.
Who’s it about?
Audiences grab onto a character to usher them into an idea. The main character is the point-of-view every story is told from and that POV is the readers window into the world you create in your story.
Here’s a place Snyder indicates we can play with irony. Whatever character would have the most conflict with the location or situation in your idea will create the most interesting, gripping story. Whether you think of a story idea first or character first, Snyder talks about having it be about a character the audience will root for.
Snyder recommends having the main character’s goal be attached to a primal urge: survival, hunger, sex, protecting loved ones, fear of death, etc. The basics he lists for whoever your story is about, are: someone we can identify with and learn from, someone who gives us a compelling reason to follow who we believe deserves to win.
That’s the summary for Save the Cat’s three chapters on pitching an idea. After that, it goes into beats and plot structure.
I do have one caveat: The book is full of story examples that are of a sexist nature, and the discussions of who the story is about were entirely directed at the male gender, but looking past these flaws, it had very helpful details to say about pitching your story.
Robin Lovett is a romance writer of erotic sci-fi and dark thrillers. She’s published with Entangled Publishing and SMP Swerve. She loves to chat on Twitter @LovettRomance and every Sunday evening you can find her with other romance writers at #RWChat. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of BookEnds Literary Agency.