5 Essential Elements for Pitching Romance — Guest: Marcy Kennedy

by Jami Gold on September 17, 2013

in Writing Stuff

A bouquet of roses in a vase with text: 5 Essential Elements for Pitching Romance

Whether we’re aiming for traditional publishing, small/ebook publishing, or self-publishing, we have to pitch our stories. We might call it a query letter or a back-cover blurb, but in essence, a pitch is a pitch.

Those who regularly read my blog have probably heard my woes of coming up with pitches. It doesn’t help that much of the advice out there for how to write pitches doesn’t apply to romance.

Unlike most genres, which focus on one protagonist and one antagonist, romance pitches need to include both the hero and heroine. How do we put it together? I’m thrilled to welcome the phenomenally talented Marcy Kennedy, who’s here to rescue us. *smile*

*****

5 Essential Elements of a Romance Novel Pitch

Whenever we finish writing a novel, it can come with a rush of exhilaration. We’ve finally done it. The hardest part is behind us…and then we realize we still need to write our pitch.

No matter what publishing path we take, we’ll need a pitch to use when meeting with agents or editors at a conference, submitting query letters, designing our back cover copy, or posting the Amazon description of our book.

Suddenly writing 50,000 to 100,000 words seems like the easy part.

I’m so glad Jami allowed me to guest blog for her today so that I can make writing your pitch a little less intimidating. Romance pitches need to include five essential elements. If you can remember to add in these elements, you’ll set the foundation for a great pitch.

Essential #1 – Introduce both the male and female leads with a detail that makes the reader go ooo.

Most of the advice you hear about pitching says “only tell us about your main character and keep it brief.” That works great for every other genre but not for romance. In a romance, you’ll often have two main characters. That means you need to introduce them both equally and in an interesting way. Romance pitches are heavy on character introductions, and that’s okay because what we come to a romance for is the relationship between those two characters.

Throughout this post, I’m going to use Jami’s pitch for her paranormal romance Treasured Claim as an example because she’s done a fantastic job on it.

Let’s look at how she starts her pitch:

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

So we now know that our main characters are a starving dragon who can shapeshift into human form and a rich philanthropist with a secret in his past. Better yet, Jami makes a clear juxtaposition between them by calling him a “knight.”

Essential #2 – Tell us what they want/need when you introduce them.

Elaina needs two things—more treasure so she doesn’t starve and a way to hide from her murderous father.

Alexander needs redemption from his past.

Why is it important to tell us what they need? Each character’s need contributes to the tension in the story, and often those needs end up being in direct conflict. How they each meet what lies at the core of these needs defines the relationship. (Jami talked more about this in her post “Are These Characters a Perfect Match?“)

Essential #3 – Tell us they’re attracted to each other.

This makes it clear to everyone that, yes, this is a romance. You don’t need to give a lot of space to this (one sentence will do it), but it does need to be there.

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize.

Essential #4 – Make it very clear what’s going to keep them apart.

Make it big. It needs to seem like a lose-lose, unsolvable dilemma. In a romance, we technically know that the hero and heroine will end up together. But while we’re reading, we still need to feel worried that maybe, this time, they might not.

Listen to how Jami does this.

A predator made prey…

But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.

The lose-lose dilemma is that Elaina will lose Alexander no matter what she chooses. How can this possibly end well?

Essential #5 – You still need an antagonist or villain.

Your two protagonists aren’t each other’s antagonist. It needs to be an outside force that will stand in the way of them finding their happily ever after.

In Treasured Claim, this is Elaina’s father. In Abby Niles’ Defying Convention, it’s bloodthirsty fans and rival reporters.

If you want other examples of excellent romance pitches, you can also go to Amazon and read the descriptions of Wait for Me by Elisabeth Naughton and Time’s Enemy by Jennette Marie Powell. One of the best ways to improve your own pitch writing skills is to dissect pitches that would make you buy the book.

Want to learn more about creating loglines, taglines, and pitches?

On Saturday, September 21, I’ll be teaching a 90-minute webinar ($45) where I give even more tips on crafting awesome loglines, taglines, and pitches. You can get 15% off by using the discount code MarcyLogline15. Sign up or learn more by clicking here. If you can’t make it at the time it’s scheduled but still want to attend, sign up anyway. The webinar will be recorded and sent to registrants along with a PDF of the slides.

I’ve also put together something special as a thank you to people who sign up for my newsletter where I let you know about my upcoming classes and books. I’m offering a free PDF called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Hiring a Freelance Editor But Were Too Confused to Ask. Click here to sign up for your copy.

*****

Marcy KennedyMarcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy) is a speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at www.marcykennedy.com.

*****

Squee! Thank you, Marcy! Okay, no joke, I had no idea that Marcy was going to analyze my pitch for the topic of this guest post. After all my self-doubt and struggle with the darn thing, I can’t tell you how happy I am that she liked it.

But more importantly, I’d never thought of all the ways romance pitches differ from normal pitches. That probably wasn’t helping my attempts. *grin*

The multiple protagonists, romance genre “formula,” and reader expectations all require subtle—but important—changes to our normal approach for pitching. I especially loved her point about taking our time with character introductions, even though that’s the opposite of most normal advice. But in a romance, the additional information helps readers get a sense of the characters’ relationship, which is why readers read the story.

I’m so grateful to Marcy for her insight and ability to analyze and break down the elements of pitches. She’s this good with non-romance stories too. Anyone who struggles with pitches should definitely take advantage of her knowledge and sign up for her class.

Thank you for sharing, Marcy! Er, now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go do a happy dance. *smile*

Registration is currently open for my workshop on how to do just enough story development to write faster, while not giving our pantsing muse hives. Interested? Sign up for “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “savethepants” to save $15 on registration.)

If you write romance, had you thought about how those pitches differ from the norm before? Which of those essential elements do you struggle with the most? Do you have any questions about Marcy’s tips or her upcoming class? Do you have questions about how another genre might differ from the norm? (You might give her ideas for a new class!)

Pin It
24 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Marcy Kennedy September 17, 2013 at 7:34 am

Thanks so much for having me here, Jami!

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 7:37 am

Hi Marcy,

Thank you for an awesome post! 🙂 I can already see how I need to tweak some of the pitches for my other stories. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Anne R. Allen September 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

Very useful post. You’re right that romance pitches need to be different. Character matters. 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 11:22 am

Hi Anne,

Yes, and like I mentioned in the post, I hadn’t thought about all those differences before, but Marcy nails it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Marcy Kennedy September 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

Almost more than in any other genre, I really think characters are the heart of romances. Thanks for stopping by!

Reply

Wendy Estelle September 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Thank you for an awesome post Jami and Marcy!! I’m not quite ready for the pitch process and would never have thought to consider the differences of how to pitch different genres. I’m sure you’ve saved me a great deal of confusion ahead of time!! Thanks 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Hi Wendy,

Yay! And yes, I speak from experience that these differences can cause a lot of confusion. 🙂 I can’t tell you how many times I tried squishing those character introductions down–like what the normal advice would say–only to have the pitch fall flat. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Marcy Kennedy September 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm

That’s the danger in the generic “how to write a pitch” sessions. Some principles cross genres, but each genre has certain conventions that go along with it as well. I’m glad I could help!

Reply

Taurean Watkins September 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

First, I have to disagree slightly with some of your findings on blurbs. A certainly level of “Excess” info is needed in a lot of fantasy novels too, even if it’s NOT romance (paranormal or NOT), partly because you want to reach out to people who don’t easily get it at face value, and have all but FATAL inability to suspend disbelief.

In my genre (Animal Fantasy for NON preschoolers and just isn’t paranormal…) it’s par for the course, and that’s ONE aspect to romance or various nonfiction I envy, as much as I don’t discredit how hard it is to nail the best of what romance novels can do.

I know we have lot of back and forth conversations on this blog about appeasing your primary readers FIRST (After YOURSELF) but financial reasons aside, we also want to be read by the widest possible audience, and if it’s possible for me to read out of my comfort zone, the same is true for others, too.

Especially for those of us non-romance or erotica authors who don’t have a GIANT readership on our own numbers-wise.

Second, I strongly believe we need to remind all authors that writing “About a book” is NOT one-to-one with writing the ACTUAL BOOK, for our personal sanity if nothing else, because as I always say-

“Not all authors are/were in advertising outside the context of publishing.”

I say that not as an excuse. But as fact so we can try to not be so hard on ourselves if this is a sticking point.

I’m learning to work through that but it’s slower than my drafting process right now. I just don’t want to see new authors like me have a nervous breakdown thinking they’re frauds solely because this part of authorship is breaking their spirit because WE GET THIS IS IMPORTANT!

Something I feel a lot of “Boot Camp” style folks forget. You’re telling us not to be defined but what we suck at, yet tell us we HAVE to do it and expect us to be smiling androids who are confident without coming off vain like it’s the EASIEST mindset on Earth to access. NOT!

So no, ten years for my debut was NOT the easy part, and I say that as someone who still loathes writing blurbs for the simple reason that it can make or break someone’s opinion of the whole book before it’s even read.

Jami, I hope you know I mean this in a non-egomaniac way, I really do. I say it because I GET how hard it is.

Third, I’m so glad a lot of my suggestions for your query aided in getting the praise EVERY career author wants to hear from any reader, but earned praise from a peer is special. I’ll never forget when an author who I only knew from her book came by my blog. She didn’t critique my blurb, but I’m glad she just stopped by.

In my genre, Jami, you need support big and small from peers who
“Get it.”

Okay, I ‘ll shut up now, or I’l depress myself again…

Take Care,
Taurean

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Hi Taurean,

I don’t disagree that other genres have special needs for pitches as well. (That’s why one of the questions I posed at the end for discussion was about that specific point. 🙂 )

And yes, I’d put fantasy and other world-building type stories into that category. I know I’ve struggled with my urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic story blurbs for that reason. How do we introduce a different world with different rules, expectations, and conflicts in just a sentence or two? I don’t have a good answer to that, which is just one more reason this pitching skill will never be a strength of mine.

That’s why I appreciated Marcy’s guest post so much. My romances are paranormal romance, which have the romance pitch structure and the world-building requirement. So her tips gave me structure for at least half of the issue.

My trouble with pitches has been one of the main things holding me back from being published. So believe me, I understand–we’re not all good at this and it does suck that we have to do it anyway.

Anyway, I don’t think we disagree as much as you’d assume. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Marcy Kennedy September 17, 2013 at 4:20 pm

You made a lot of good points. One of the things about pitching that no one seems to tell authors is that pitch structure differs some from genre to genre. When you get a romance author or a fantasy author or an author writing in a “non-standard” genre, and make them feel like they need to fit the same structure as someone writing a thriller (for example), they’re going to feel like they’re fatally flawed and will never be able to write a decent pitch. Writing pitches is difficult and frustrating.

So is writing the book. I don’t mean to belittle that in the least. But my experience has been that writers struggle with their pitches more than almost anything else. They’re used to writing long and pitches need to be short. They know the book so well that they don’t know how to distill it down, and they can’t see how it will be viewed by “virgin” eyes. That fresh perspective is why it’s much easier to help others than it is to fix our own work.

In response to your next comment, keep in mind that even if you have three very important characters, it’s likely that the story still belongs to one of them. My experience has been that most of the time when authors think they have three main characters who need to be in the pitch, they really don’t. Obviously, that’s a generalization because I don’t know your particular case, and there are exceptions, but, if you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend looking at who drives the heart of your story. That won’t necessarily be the POV character (look at The Great Gatsby for example), but that will be the character your pitch should focus on. Very rarely does a pitch/blurb *need* to highlight multiple characters. That’s my two cents anyway 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Hi Marcy,

Thanks for sharing your experience! This comment here isn’t in reference to Taurean’s specific situation, but about pitch confusion in general, which your reply reminded me of.

For me, part of the confusion in the past also came from what people meant by (your term) “highlighting” a character. We talk about focusing on one character in most pitches, and yet we also need to mention an antagonist (and maybe the big bad villain or the best friend, etc.). So I think it might be useful to keep in mind that mentioning a character in reference to how they tie into the main storyline can be different from fully introducing a character to the point of presenting their independent needs, goals, and motivations.

In the case of a romance, the hero and heroine each have their character/emotional arc that’s near-equally important to the story. In other words, romances are about two full stories that intersect and become one.

But in other genres, the additional characters might all play into the same main storyline, or they might have their own subplot. It can be tricky to decide how to present those additional characters. If they play into the main storyline, just a mention might be enough. And if they have their own subplot, any “highlighting” might muddy the pitch of the main storyline. I think that’s the gist of why most (not all) non-romance pitches struggle when trying to highlight multiple characters.

Note that I’m doing this thinking “out loud” as I’m typing it, so I could be completely off base. LOL! But I just know the types of issues that caused problems for me in pitches and synopses before. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing all your knowledge!

Reply

Taurean Watkins September 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm

That’s what I should’ve clarified, Marcy and Jami, I do focus on my protagonist primarily in my forthcoming book, but I still had to mention the antagonist and another key character because they tie directly to the conflict, and not mentioning their significance in some way read hollow to many, many beta-readers whenever I tried to write the drasted blurb.

Jami, what you replied here-

“We talk about focusing on one character in most pitches, and yet we also need to mention an antagonist (and maybe the big bad villain or the best friend, etc.). So I think it might be useful to keep in mind that mentioning a character in reference to how they tie into the main storyline can be different from fully introducing a character to the point of presenting their independent needs, goals, and motivations.”

That’s the context I was speaking from. Sorry for not being clear enough there.

Right now, I’m working with my editor a few chapters at a time, but I will need to revisit, I really think I sold the book on the story. Though my query at least avoided a lot of the boring stuff that weighed it down.

I’m so proud of how Jami’s query came together. I’m honored I was able to be some help with something I know is hard.

Marcy, I know you weren’t belittling writing the actual book versus blurb for said book, I was just letting off steam personally on the matter, and I have met some authors who give that false impression, not to intentionally harm, but it trying to get people to see why writing blurbs is so important, I feel they inadvertently at time belittle what it took to write/rewrite the book in the first place.

I just want all authors to first acknowledge that before they let blurb writing tear them apart. I speak from personal experience on this point. It’s also why I don’t jive with the “Write the blurb before the actual book” because it can trap you in weird ways.

Anyway, thanks for both your replies to my comments. Sorry for the confusion there.

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Hi Taurean,

Exactly! And no worries. 🙂

We all know that advice can be unclear sometimes and that what we think is clear (“Focus only on one character.”) might be taken the wrong way (i.e., “Don’t even mention other characters.”) by some writers, especially when they’re new. So I appreciated the opportunity to expand on that point.

Aww, you just made me tear up about my query. Honestly, I’m so blessed to know so many wonderfully supportive people, and I’m gratified that you’re one of them. 🙂 Thanks again for your help and your comment!

Reply

Taurean Watkins September 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Oh, an aside-

Because a lot of the praising points Marcy made about your blurb were inspired by my some of my suggestions (You know which ones), that gave me hope even if blurbing my own work is hard, I can help others more than I thought.

Also, my debut has three key characters, but isn’t a romance, though a love story’s in it, and I have to work all three in, even though I only have ONE POV character. So maybe you can hunt down some authors outside romance who have more than one character to show in the “almighty blurb.”

Trust me, Jami, there are authors outside the romance world who have more than ONE POV character to consider.

Hope that ends things on a more positive note! (LOL)
Taurean

Reply

Jami Gold September 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yes! Very true! We can often help others more than we can help ourselves. 🙂

Your suggestions were very helpful, and I’m very grateful to you and all the others who helped me get that pitch into shape. 🙂

Oh, good point about multiple characters! I think Query Shark had an example that tackled that problem well, but I couldn’t find it on a quick search. If I come across it again, I’ll let you know. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Serena Yung September 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Yay the shape-shifting dragon/ need for jewellery part is clear now!

Apart from that…

Ooh, I really like the tips about showing character info for both the guy and girl, what they each need/want, that they’re mutually attracted, what keeps them apart, and who the antagonist(s) is/are.

I’ve actually never realized that romance blurbs have different needs from other genres’, so this was interesting to read. And I especially liked how for the romance genre, you need more character info (as opposed to plot info) than other genres do, and that you need to talk about 2 characters. I will keep these tips in mind when I come to publish my romance novella. ^^

Reply

Jami Gold September 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Hi Serena,

Yes, I’d read plenty of romance back cover blurbs before, but I’d never thought about what made them different. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

mooderino September 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

Great post with a huge amount of helpful advice. I’ve added a link on my writer’s site The Funnily Enough

cheers,
mood
Moody Writing

Reply

Jami Gold September 20, 2013 at 9:34 am

Hi mood,

Yes, I love all of Marcy’s insights. Thanks for sharing and for the comment! 🙂

Reply

Jennette Marie Powell September 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

I’m behind in my blog reading, but wow, lots of good points Marcy makes! And big thanks for the shout-out! It’s really tough to distill a 120,000 word book (or heck, one half that length!) down to a few sentences, and still get the gist of the story in a way that will entice the reader to pick it up. I’d say Jami’s blurb does the job – I hope it sells soon, because I totally want to read about a *female* dragon shapeshifter in modern-day America!

Reply

Jami Gold September 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Hi Jeanette,

Exactly. We want to be true to the story, interesting, clear, etc. That’s a lot to shove into a couple of sentences. 🙂

*blush* Thanks for the kind words about my blurb and story. *fingers crossed* that something will happen soon. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

What do you think?

24 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Previous post:

Next post: