Reader Question: Is there a specific way to pitch?

November 15th, 2012 by

Question from Aarthi Ramanathan:

Hi Scott, can you tell us more about pitching? Is there a specific way spec writers should pitch? If you are artsy (like I am), can you use visuals of some sort or music??

There are no rules about pitching. That’s in part because every writer is different and so you need to play to your strengths. Also there are all sorts of pitches for all sorts of circumstances. For instance, you may have a formal pitch where you set a meeting with a producer or studio to convey a condensed version of your story [on the order of 10-20 minutes]. There are pitches where you are called back to go through a more comprehensive version of the story [perhaps a half-hour or more]. On the other end of the spectrum, you may need to tell the story in 5 minutes [for example, on the phone to a director as they are speeding to the set]. Or the proverbial ‘elevator pitch’ where you may have mere seconds to share the essence of your story.

So one piece of advice: Prepare yourself to be able to tell the story in a variety of ways and time-frames.

In terms of a formal pitch, one approach is the 5-5-5 template:

5 minutes for Act One: To establish the story universe, primary characters, central conceit, genre, etc.

5 minutes for Act Two: Hit on key dynamics [usually Plotline and subplots], interweaving them and giving some overall sense of the narrative’s flow.

5 minutes for Act Three: Go through the build-up and execution of the Final Struggle.

With everyone nowadays seeming to suffer from Short Attention Span Syndrome, perhaps you’d be smart to work up a 10 minute version for that introductory formal pitch.

In any event, some other pieces of advice:

* Memorize your pitch: Yes, it may be a scary thing to work without notes. And a pain in the ass to rehearse your story a zillion times. But you want to come off like you really know your story. Remember: You are trying to hit a buyer’s comfort level. They want to know if they can trust you to deliver the goods. If you sit there futzing around with note cards or stumble through your presentation, you’re less likely to inspire confidence in the listener.

* Work the room: Every pitch environment is different. Some listeners simply do that: listen. Others will interrupt you with questions or comments. Some are attentive. Others distracted. You have to be prepared to read the room and vary your pitch approach in terms of tone, pace, even volume level to get and hold their attention.

* Entertain them: This is probably the single most important thing. Remember: You are not only selling your story, you are selling yourself. And oftentimes what’s most important – along with the basic story concept – is the impression the listener has of you as you end the meeting.

Some writers simply aren’t very good at pitching. If you consider yourself to fall into that category, don’t just assume that is a permanent condition. Take an improv or acting class. Sit in front of a mirror and go through your pitch, noting your body language and expressions, then working on them to make you more expressive.

If all else fails, there is the Elliott & Rossio “The Board” approach described here in Word Player column. Movies are a visual medium. So it makes sense to use visuals to help sell a story.

That said, it’s not like you can carry around your story on a board 24-7, therefore you need to learn how to pitch verbally.

How about you? What tips do you have on how to pitch?

2 thoughts on “Reader Question: Is there a specific way to pitch?

  1. WriterCarmen says:

    Well, the right person might be able to carry something like this and use it effectively —

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/18/the-noteboard-is-an-amazing-10-foldable-pocket-whiteboard/

  2. Thanks Scott! That’s really good to know. I have always been an overthinker, daunted by the whole pitching thing, so in the simplest terms this would be a good way to look at the process.

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