From Pitch to Slam: Part 2, The First 250
I’m a twitter contest junkie. A downright “women of ill repute” when it comes to this stuff, and one of my favorites is right around the bend!
If you’re not familiar with Pitch Slam, here’s a short rundown:
It’s put together by L.L. McKinney, and the contest consists of submitting the first 250 words of your MS along with a 35-word pitch. There’s things about feedback rounds and being selected for your stuff to appear on a blog where agents can request (*squeal*) but I’m gonna leave all those details to the Queen to explain and answer when it comes time. Apart from, of course, where my own experience comes into play ;)
I entered Pitch Slam twice: Once in April 2015 for my Adult Romance, Auto In, and once in October 2015 for my Adult Contemporary Romance, Hands-Free. I made it to the final blog round both times (where agents have the opportunity to make requests). And just so you know Pitch Slam people aren’t paying me off in Rolos to talk them up, know that while I earned requests, neither contest concluded with my signing with an agent. However, I absolutely feel that the things I learned from participating in Pitch Slam are what helped me accomplish that goal.
So without further ado (and lots of my embarrassment to come) let’s talk about the second part of what you need for Pitch Slam and how to make it sing!
PART 2: THE FIRST 250
So . . . What’s the deal with the first 250 words? IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO JUDGE ME!!!
I know it’s tough – you have an entire book full of wisdom and metaphors and themes and plot and maybe some rockets or a lot of good kissing, and the first 250 words of that 100k is just NOT ENOUGH to get a sense of how AMAAAAAAZING your book is, right? Um, actually, it is. And here’s why:
When your book gets all super glittery formatted by the people in the suits who use the computers and make all the rules, your first 250 words equals your first page. Then the page ends, and you have to turn the jerk to keep going (or swipe if you use one of those fancy techy thingys). Want people to turn the page? Your 250 has to be STELLER.
The best way I’ve heard this described is that your first 250 words are a promise to your reader. From CHAPTER ONE to the bottom of that single shot you have at winning them over, we’re setting the stage for all things to come.
Now, there’s a boatload of articles on how to write the perfect first page (and definitely what NOT to do), but here’s a quick rundown of what works for me (and passes the test of my CPs and beta readers) along with some examples from my own contest entries:
That first line that pops off the page. BE BRAVE. Make it something I’ll remember. But that doesn’t mean it has to wow me with technical difficulty or words so fancy, I have to look them up. Make it clean, easy to understand and even easier to read. I don’t want to be brain-mushy-tired from the start, you know?
The more books I write, the more I find that sharp, shorter first sentences draw me in more than a long twisty one. But again, this is coming from the girl whose current MS starts with: Third gear. (Followed by a paragraph break).
This new shiny person I know nothing about? I need to care about them. I need to care where they’re going. I need to know why I want to turn that page 300 more times. Is this easy? No. It’s nearly impossible to build an instant connection between strangers, and that’s what we’re doing. Like going up to the hot guy at the party and introducing yourself with just enough charisma that five minutes later, he’s following you around like a puppy trying to figure out why you have a pet skunk named Tombstone. Make me want MORE. How? EMITTING EMOTION. (I wrote a post about that, check it out here). Make me scared for them, excited for them, because that's what they're feeling and I can't help but join in.
Are we in the desert racing scorpions? Are we in a period piece? Just something, preferably small, to tell me where I am in time and space. Again, the smaller, the better. There’s not much space in 250 words, so save it for character and plot and voice. As well, starting with a long, epic description of surroundings and talking about the weather is (I’m pretty sure) on one of those No-No lists.
This is where stuff gets tricky for me. Get the plot in there somewhere in the first 250? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!?! I need like 4 chapters of character and world building to reveal my plot!
My way around this? If you can’t get a clear line on the plot in the first 250, at least give me a hint or a nod to the theme. Just a line that says: Toto, I know we’re still in Kansas right now, but do you get the feeling there’s a big ass storm coming?
Yeah. Have it. Whatever yours is, just have it. Own it. And know that there’s such a thing as TOO MUCH. Don’t believe me? Check out my first 250 feedback below ;)
Now, considering everything I just wrote, you would think my entry to Pitch Slam (which I’m going to mortify myself by posting) would have been better. Stronger.
It has overcomplicated sentences, too much world building and not enough plot (basically no plot, let’s be honest), and WAY TOO MUCH VOICE. So yeah, it’s gonna make me look like a hypocrite. BUT those things above? That’s what I learned from entering Pitch Slam, so I think it’s only fair to show the before and after because this contest has a lot to teach (and I had a lot to learn-still do).
Here is my ORIGINAL first 250 entry to Pitch Slam for Auto In:
And here is the feedback I received on my first 250:
So yeah. A lot of voice. Too much voice. Watch sentence length and characterization, and OMG TOO MUCH VOICE! Oh, and someone took Dante for a girl. I obviously did a fabulous job!
But overall, their feedback was not only kind and professional, but also totally fucking right.
The answer for me was to move my opening. Start somewhere else. And slow down that voice before it ate people like the blob.
The thing is, this is your FIRST PAGE. It’s a promise to your reader. I want to make sure you’re hooked, for you to know who you’re reading about and why, and to get a sense of what’s going to happen in the future. Oh, and I want to impress you with my pop-culture references. *smacks self from two years ago*
If your first 250 aren’t accomplishing all those things, try again. Try starting somewhere new. In my case, I took the end of my Chapter 1 and made it into my beginning. That was where my story started. Below is my revised version, and not because I think it’s perfect (ha!) but because I have the desperate need to show you I CAN TAME THAT VOICE I SWEAR
Here’s my revised entry of my first 250 for Auto In, just so y’all can see the difference:
So there you have it. Granted, this first 250 still isn't perfect, but it's a little more hooky, gives a better sense of character and emotion, a touch of world building, and a general idea of where this story goes. (If you can't tell this is a workplace romance, just kill me now.) And again, this was originally the end to my first chapter, so if it's just not working for whatever reason, make absolutely sure you're starting in the right place.
In case you missed it, here's the link and a preview of
Yep, you read that right. Thirty-five measly words to describe your book in a hooky fashion and get the attention of mentors, judges, and eventually, agents.
It sounds so simple. You wrote a whole book, 35 words should be nothin’! Well, sure. And you could just jot down any old thing, but you wouldn’t send out a query letter you winged at the last minute, right? Well here's the funny little secret about this: The pitch needs all the same things as a query letter—just about a billion times faster, so think of it as a Query on a serious, serious diet.
Speaking of those elusive "things" you need, what are they?
I hope you enjoyed both Part 1 and Part 2 of Pitch to Slam! May your pitches be poised and poignant, and your first 250s shine like glitter.
Make sure you keep an eye out for my upcoming Writers on the Rise interviews with querying writers (nominations welcome! don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss a thing!)
And until next time, Happy Reading!