Your work of fiction is done. You’re aching to connect with readers. You dream about where you will publish it. Brimming with enthusiasm, you tell people about it. But how can you condense this intimate experience known as your story into something that won’t take as long to explain as it does to read? How do you let readers know that your fiction is worth their precious time? You need a pitch and a tagline.
The tagline is a phrase that gives the essence and emotions of the book or story. The pitch lays out the basic conflict–what the protagonist wants, what stands in the way, and what the consequences are.
Here is a delightful resource on the topic.
A new author might find it painful to squeeze their work into such a small printed space. A paragraph? A sentence? After all that struggle! But not only does doing this help your potential audience, it helps you focus on what your tale is about.
You can get a feel for pitches and taglines by looking at your favorite books and movies. Here are two familiar ones.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE
TAGLINE: In the World of the Near Future, Who will control women’s bodies?
PITCH: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leae the home of the Commander and his wife to walk to the food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids, are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
HIDDEN FIGURES (Movie)
TAGLINE: Meet the women you don’t know behind the mission you do.
PITCH: Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.
When I began writing and submitting and getting rejected, I found pitch and tagline creation painful and limiting. Here’s the good news, you get better at it.
Here’s my first successful attempt, for
TAGLINE: What happens when a traveling preacher who’s never been kissed inadvertently shares a love potion with a young female scientist who has taken the guise of a man?
PITCH: Clementine is an ambitious young Dutch-American naturalist from Spookstad, Michigan, who hopes to make her mark as a scientist in the post-Civil War United States. She takes a tonic, which causes her to appear male, so she can join a prospecting expedition as a naturalist. She wins the heart of the expedition preacher, Wesley, who will be her unflinching companion, as she travels the country facing acts of nature, cowboys, freak shows, ambitious bosses, unique rodent species, a trippy sage and even the Chicago fire. Wesley is betrothed to another and Clementine fears her affection for him will hinder her dreams of becoming a well-renowned scientist and his of gaining a small parish. When Wesley disappears and Clementine can no longer hide her gender or her feelings, she must accept her true identity and keep his secret or lose everything she’s worked so hard to gain.
Penner Publishing worked with these a bit and came up with this transformation.
TAGLINE: To get ahead she’ll have to become a man–and a man, she always thought, never lets love get in the way…
PITCH/BOOKBACK: Clementine dreams of being a naturalist—a career that leaves no time for romance. To sneak on an adventurous prospecting expedition, Clementine will have to convince everyone she’s a man. A mysterious tonic offers her just that disguise.
But “Calvin,” as she calls herself now, had no idea what she was giving up. When Wesley, the expedition’s gentle preacher, catches her eye, she can’t get him out of her head; not his lush lips, wide brown eyes…or broad chest. Dare she reveal her secret to him? Can she keep her career if she does?
Among run-ins with cowboys, natural disasters, and traveling shows, Wesley’s most fascinating adventure is meeting Calvin. Though Wesley’s betrothed to another, the cute, clever naturalist threatens to make him fall into temptation.
My second novel, MIXED IN, was submitted with this pitch and no tagline:
When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous it is. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. Their relationship puts them both in peril as Catrina begins to understand the dark side of her employer and their society.
Working with my editor and asking friends what they thought, I came up with this pitch (now used as the book back) and tagline:
TAGLINE: When passions are regulated, which laws will you break?
PITCH/BOOKBACK: When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work as a chemist for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. As their loneliness draws them together, they become allies in what will become the fight of their lives in the sexually repressive and culturally backward dystopia.
Catrina’s invention, No Regrets—a scanner to test for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections– brings increased scrutiny from the town’s Vice Patrol, made worse by an ambitious new agent who hangs around Union Station and takes up with Ulysses’s vindictive ex. Catrina’s relationship with Ulysses and her company’s new products put them both in peril as she begins to understand the dark side of her employer, her society, and science without humanity.
But science is all she’ll have to spare the men of Cochtonville a mortifying fate and to save the life of Ulysses.
You can see that the pitch got a lot sexier–and something you might not want to show your Mom or Aunt or your students if you are a teacher. However, it immediately helps the reader know if they are going to be the right audience for such a tale.
By the time I wrote my third novel, I had learned the secret. Work on your pitch and tagline as you are writing. This helps you, the author, focus. Here’s an example:
WOLVES AND DEER
TAGLINE: Whatever happened to the actress and the prince?
This was changed by the editors to
A CRUEL BETRAYAL. A MYSTERIOUS DEATH
(Note that this has more emotion.)
The pitch did not get much editing because with time, I got better at pitches and had a group of people I could run my pitches past.
Here is the banner with the tagline and the pitch. And here is a link to purchase.
In summary, taglines and pitches aren’t simply a crass commercialization of your creative work. They help you distill the essence of it. And with time, you’ll come to enjoy them.