Tag Archives: Trail of Lightning

The Essential Parts of Any Book Pitch

13 Sep

Trail of Lightning is the debut novel from Rebecca Roanhorse.

A book pitch, whether it’s in person or printed in a query letter or book jacket, must do two basic things: tell readers what the book is about and make them flip to the first page to read more.

In future posts about book pitches, this blog will dig into the various nuances and styles of pitches, but no matter how you tweak the voice or the structure, every pitch must accomplish those two main tasks. (We’ve probably all seen jacket copy or a movie description that made you think, “Huh?” That’s bad.)

So let’s begin this new blog series by looking at the pitch for what is probably the coolest and most thrilling book I’ve read so far this year: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.

The Pitch

If you look this book up online, you’ll see that it actually has two pitches. Here’s the official jacket copy:

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Notice how clearly this pitch lays out what the book is about.

The general situation (what’s going on in the world): most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse

The setting: Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation)

The overarching conflict: The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

The main character: Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer.

Why this story now (what sets the book into motion): When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

The most important secondary character: Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man

How the story plays out: They travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

The deeper conflict: As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

A genre indicator: the Sixth World

See how much information is packed into a short passage? Breaking a pitch down this way is a good way to remind yourself that all of these different types of information exist. A lot of not-ready-yet pitches focus too much on the worldbuilding parts and leave out character and story. Or, they leave out situation and setting and focus entirely on how the story plays out.

A couple of things to keep in mind: Don’t name or describe all of your characters. This novel has some amazing minor characters, some of whom are absolutely essential to the plot, but they’re not in the pitch. A pitch isn’t a summary. If you can leave a character out and still convey the main thrust of the story, do it.

Also, situation isn’t the same thing as story; this goes for any genre. Don’t confuse the backdrop for the main action. Notice, too, how the pitch divides the story into “what kicks it into gear” and “the mechanics of what the characters will do in the story.” Both are important.

Read enough jacket copy, and you’ll notice that many pitches end on a larger, deeper sort-of-thematic line (confront the past if she wants to survive). Notice the placement. If you’re going to add this, put it at the end.

Finally, readers need/want to know what sort of book it is. It would be hard to read this pitch and not know that Trail of Lightning is a fantasy novel, but that final line really drives it home. “The Sixth World” is pure fantasy convention.

So, that’s a lot to play with in your pitch. But here’s one more thing to think about: the pitch that actually leads the page at both Amazon and Roanhorse’s publisher, Simon & Schuster:

“Someone please cancel Supernatural already and give us at least five seasons of this badass indigenous monster-hunter and her silver-tongued sidekick.” —The New York Times

The blurb give a comparison title (Supernatural) and a pithy description (“badass indigenous monster-hunter) that is pure adrenaline for a reader’s curiosity. Whenever you can come up with a memorable phrase to do the basic work of a pitch, do it!

The Writing Exercise

Let’s write a pitch that hits on all of the essential parts, using Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse as a model:

  1. Break your novel (or your memoir) down into these pieces: the general situation, the setting, the overarching conflict, the main character, why this story now (what kicks the story into motion), the most important secondary character, how the story plays out (the mechanics of what the character do to resolve the problem posed by “why this story now”), the deeper conflict, and a phrase that is clearly a genre convention.
  2. Start cutting. Once you’ve got some sentences (and, perhaps, paragraphs for each of these), distill them down to a single sentence or, even better, a phrase. That’s how concise a pitch has to be.
  3. Have fun with it. The pitch for Trail of Lightning conveys the story, but it also knows which parts of that story sound cool: monsters, gods, legends, tricksters, dark witchcraft. Think like a marketer: what words and phrases can be amped up to catch a reader’s attention (while remaining true to the story)?

Good luck!

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