Three-Word Pitches

You know those loglines one gets where all the action seems to be crammed into a simple trio of words? Well, how effective are they for highlighting the main points of a piece of prose and attacking as a hook? If we all addressed our audiences in three or so words, we might never get anything said so particularly. Indeed, my blog post would end up being three word pitches?.

I’m being facetious, but you see my point that this technique cannot work for a variety of writing, for its fundamental simplicity.

Let’s look at the converse, though. The tool of the writer is to describe one’s work in as few words as possible – concision at its most trimmed. Obviously, this never occurs in the midst of a first draft.

Tongue-in-cheek steampunk performer Professor Elemental argues that it’s a British thing—

“Probably the case with everything in honesty. I use ten words when two would do, honestly.” (from the song I’m British)

—But I reckon that, in today’s societal climate, most English-first-language-speakers grow up with a conglomerate of excess syntax. As such, it is difficult for us to start trimming down how to pitch, and three words alone…

I’ve never found the need to contain myself to three words. Sometimes they’re fun to throw about – in the Next Big Thing meme, the question asked what might pique a reader’s interest and I replied with the three words: Explosions! Megaphones! Cucumber!

I gave Horology the same treatment over on the WIP page when describing the world Cathy enters: guild-members, iron socialites, apparitions.

Other than that, though, books are a lot less narrow than their components. I’ve read blurbs which only have touched on the first few chapters of books and sent me down a road which I’d not intended to read. Often this is good, yes, but it’s not the reason I would’ve picked up the book in the first place, and one wonders how much of that is deliberate misdirection and how much is simply not knowing where to start in one’s pitch.

I would be naive to say that pitching is straight-forward. You’ve got the simple contemporaries – “girl meets boy but she can’t date him because ” (general example; it’s not my intention to hetronormalise here) – which need something more to jazz them up and get readers/publishers/agents excited about them. I’ve not researched much pitching for literary novels, but I believe a similar problem crops up there.

Then you’ve got the high-concept, commercial fiction, which almost suffers the opposite problem when pitching: too much context/exciting stuff. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve added and removed Zara and the plot points surrounding her from my query and Twitter pitch for WTCB! I think with WTCB, the issue is not, as I previously assumed, trying to explain the NeoVictorian, alternate universe, it’s-2010-but-there-is-no-electricity setting in my query, but the issue is the temporal physics. A couple of critiquers on the AbsoluteWrite forums suggested I remove the definition of temporal fissure – “another reality growing in her sitting room, of all things!” – to leave the word for itself, but I do worry that it makes little sense standing without a definition.

The question is how does one know what to keep and what to throw out when it comes to pitching in such a short space. Three words? More like three arbiters of one’s doom. (As with any pitch, I suppose) choose wrong and you sell your story as something completely off what it ought to be. And some elements have to be considered ‘lesser’ to those other elements.

In fairness, I think the idea of a short pitch, though maybe not one so slim as three words, has merit in that it encourages the mind to stick to concision and  to pull out the main points and possible hooks of a manuscript, and, to an extent, the theory works, but how is one able to prove the originality of one’s pitch in these nouns? Perhaps in three phrases: chemical explosions, megaphone weapons, and possibly-poisonous cucumber yoghurt. Nevertheless, they can never fully accomplish what a longer pitch can do, but, on the contrary, they might accomplish a better hooking than a whole paragraph of pitch.

What about you? Do you think these sorts of three-word pitches are a valuable tool or more of a marketing spunk? If you had three words, how would you describe your story?

PS. Is there a new WordPress post maker?? I had trouble posting this for a while, but then I managed to get the normal post-maker.


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