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September 17, 2013

5 Essential Elements for Pitching Romance — Guest: Marcy Kennedy

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*

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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24 Comments on "5 Essential Elements for Pitching Romance — Guest: Marcy Kennedy"

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Marcy Kennedy

Thanks so much for having me here, Jami!

Anne R. Allen

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

Marcy Kennedy

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

Wendy Estelle

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 🙂

Marcy Kennedy

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!

Taurean Watkins
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… Read more »
Marcy Kennedy
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,… Read more »
Taurean Watkins

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

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[…] is packed with great resources for writers of all stripes. She’s letting me talk about the five essential elements that need to go in any romance pitch. I hope you’ll join me […]

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[…] 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.  […]

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

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. ^^

mooderino

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

Jennette Marie Powell

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!

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