What Makes a Great Pitch?

Rebecca Hilsdon, Fiction Editor, Penguin Michael Joseph

Your pitch is the perfect opportunity to tell us about your novel. The snappier the better. Think carefully about what makes your novel distinct from anything else out there. What is its unique selling point? How is your concept fresh? Showing your novel’s distinctiveness will help it stand out from the crowd. We’re looking for a novel that’s fun and unique!

What makes a good Rom Com?

Madeleine Woodfield, Assistant Editor, Penguin Michael Joseph

  • A strong hook: the hook is crucial – it’s the opportunity to entice a reader to pick a novel up! The hook (or elevator pitch) has to be intriguing, pithy, and ideally condensable into one line. Setting can also inform the hook – where will readers be swept away to?
  • Humour: it’s in the name… As well as the emotional drama and will they/won’t they dynamic, the reader will be looking for laughter and light relief, and seeing the funny side in the everyday. Think of that blue soup scene in Bridget Jones.
  • A dilemma: no good story is without its twists. For a memorable romantic comedy there need to be red herrings, mishaps and moments of tension – scenarios that will make people read between their fingers!
  • Some brilliant protagonists: rom coms are character led, so readers need to feel invested in the protagonists of the novel, otherwise they will not want to follow the characters to the end. The characters must be likeable, despite their flaws.
  • A satisfying ending: an uplifting and memorable conclusion is a must. Maybe the main protagonists do not end up together, but that’s ultimately for the best? Or they overcome the plot’s dilemmas to finally fall into each other’s arms? Regardless of the plot’s turns, the reader needs to finish the novel feeling like they have been on a journey with their best friends!

What makes a great first chapter?

Emily Glenister, D. H. H. Literary Agency

  • Whatever the main conflict for the book is, get to it straight away. You’ve got the rest of the first third of the book to world-build, so don’t fall in to the trap of doing that in the first few chapters. Hook me in - make me want to keep turning the pages. 
  • While world-building can wait, establish where we are (time of year, setting etc). This can be alluded to via dialogue, or indeed prose – simply make it applicable to the scene you are writing. Similarly the tone and genre of the novel is important to get in straight away (fantasy; crime; romance; historical etc.
  • I have no issues with swear words but do try and stay away from a myriad F (and other letter)-bombs in the first chapter. It can be off-putting at the beginning of a book. 
  • I am a sucker for a first line. This isn’t an exclusive prerequisite to interest me, but if an enticing first line is appropriate, and can be thought of, you are guaranteed to interest your reader. A few examples of first lines that have stayed in my mind:

    “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)

    “It’s a funny thing about mother and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” Matilda (Roald Dahl)
  • Please Avoid Clichés. We’re talking about the main culprits like your character waking up from a dream, or getting fired from their busy city job… If you must go down this route, give it a unique twist.
  • While perfection is not something you need to worry about at all (that’s what editing is for), do take care with spelling, grammar etc. Basically be proud of your work!

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