I spend a lot of time reading and hearing project pitches, both at work and in my own time, especially on social media and various message boards and bulletins. Inevitably, I see scribes repeating the same mistakes, over and over. So here are my thoughts for you on grabbing people’s attention and ensuring you get the most engagement possible, both online and in “real life” scenarios …
Loglines & Summaries
Whether you’re a screenwriter or a novelist, a snappy description of your story is an absolute MUST, especially in this age of social media. The likes of Twitter offer up only 140 characters for you to pitch your screenplay or novel to potential agents, producers, publishers and/or readers (add to that your title and a link and it’s actually far less! Plus, even though you have more space on Facebook, Linkedin et al, it’s wise not to exceed 2 or 3 lines maximum; people’s attention spans are TEENY). So a great logline or summary is:
1. Not a tagline. This is the biggest issue STILL in the internet age, with writers galore confusing the two. Do not confuse the two! MORE: Logline Hacks
2. Tells us what the genre and/or audience is. If you don’t know what the genre and/or audience is for your screenplay or novel, no one else will either – and this is a MAJOR issue, because this means your work now effectively has an identity crisis!!
3. Gives us a “flavour” of your writing style/genre. If you’re pitching a comedy, don’t make it sound like a downer. If it’s a Horror, it should sound horrifying; a Thriller thrilling and so on. This is obvious stuff, but check out some of the pitches for scripts, movies and novels you see online – can you tell what they are? REALLY??
4. Ideally does not use questions. This is a particular issue for screenwriters: I’ve heard and read multiple pitches involving questions (ie. Will [protagonist] take on the[antagonist] to save his wife and child??”] and to date I have NEVER heard one where this is justified, simply because the answer is nearly always, “Well obviously, as there will be no story”. That’s not to say they CAN’T work, but because there are so many in the system that don’t do it well, you’re starting on the back foot.
5. Is not a “woolly”. A good pitch tells us WHAT IT IS … this means, if it’s a murder mystery, for example? Mention the murder in it! Never “hide” details thinking it’s more interesting; it is NOT more interesting. We want to know what goes on in your story – this will make us click your links and/or engage with you.
One Pagers & Synopses; Extended Pitches or “Sizzlers”: note all of these are SELLING DOCUMENTS. In other words, they’re your chance to sell your story and characters “off the page”, so on this basis, they should read in a dynamic, interesting way that hooks the agent, publisher, producer or whomever you’re targeting – and yes, that includes the person viewing your Amazon listing or website sales page, indie authors! So here’s a breakdown of the differences.
6. One Pagers
You can use a One Pager to attract attention for your screenplay OR your novel. I’ve written extensively about these and created a specific B2W resource as well, so here’s 6 Tips For Writing A One Pager For Your Screenplay Or Novel. You can also access a good template courtesy of Stephan as well as notes from Screen Yorkshire via The B2W Resources Page.
7. Synopsis [Novelists only]
These are for novels, NOT screenplays. Usually one page in length, a synopsis is “blow by blow” account of the important beats of your novel’s story and generally includes the main characters (ie. protagonist and antagonist), plus the beginning, middle AND end. Most synopses also include a short author bio and some include a few references to reviews by beta readers, especially if that reader is someone significant in the industry already (ie. a bestselling author in their own right). Again, the synopsis should read in a dynamic and interesting way, NOT “and then … and then … and then …” Lots of authors believe it’s *impossible* to write a synopsis of their ENTIRE novel into one page, but believe me: I’ve seen plenty of good ones! Do not skimp on your synopsis. The authors that can do this are your competition! Yes it’s terrifying and time consuming. But DO IT ANYWAY. You won’t regret it, honest guv! MORE: Writing A Synopsis For Your Novel by Holly Robinson
8. Extended Pitches aka “Sizzlers” [Screenwriters only]
As little as three or four years ago, agents, producers and filmmakers would request treatments from screenwriters. Like the synopsis novelists are asked for, a treatment is a “blow by blow” account of the plot and the characters and their page counts could vary, but they were usually in the region of approximately ten pages. Nowadays, as agents, producers and filmmakers have so many MORE submissions in the pile to comb through, screenwriters are more likely to be asked for what has become known as an “Extended Pitch” or a “Sizzler”.
This document is usually in the region of 2-4 pages maximum and like their name suggest must SIZZLE – or rather, be really, really interesting!!! I’ve seen Sizzlers employ all sorts of (literary) techniques to grab their readers – the favourite appears to be giving a flavor of the characters and events by breaking up the text with dialogue quotes from the screenplay – but there’s no “right” way to write a Sizzler. One last nugget of advice I will offer however is that it’s generally thought a good Sizzler is “the shorter, the better” – so if you can write it in two, rather than four pages? Always write two pages. MORE: 5 Questions To Help You Write A killer Treatment
Boiled down, if you want to grab Industry Pros’ and your potential audiences’ attentions? You must:
– Tell us what your project is
– Make sure we know who it is for
– You must give the important plot beats/details (including the ending!!)
– You must be concise and dynamic
– You must be interesting!
Put simply, those you are targeting will forgive nothing less!